CALGARY - Alberta's election campaign entered its final week Sunday with the opposition Wildrose party dismissing an endorsement of Premier Allison Redford by a high-profile predecessor.
Peter Lougheed's nod to Redford over the weekend came as her Progressive Conservatives face their toughest test since he ended more than three decades of Social Credit government in 1971.
The endorsement from Lougheed, considered the party's patriarch, is considered a boost for Redford's campaign, which has struggled against the Wildrose party. The fledgling opposition party is hoping to ride the same kind of populist wave that brought the Conservatives to power 41 years ago.
"It's kind of tragic actually that it is considered news for a former premier of the PC party to endorse the current leader of the PC party. That should just be a given," Wildrose leader Danielle Smith told reporters Sunday.
"It is actually kind of sad that they have to go to that extent to try and seek endorsements from prior premiers. Normally premiers do take a step back after they've left public office. I think it just shows the state the PC party is in right now."
Lougheed was originally scheduled to hold a news conference with Redford on Sunday afternoon but the Conservatives issued a news release saying it would be "rescheduled to a later date".
Redford, who was also campaigning in Calgary on Sunday, said she hadn't asked Lougheed for help but considers him a mentor and was thrilled at his endorsement.
"For me, quite honestly, it was an emotional day. I mean this is a man who I think was a great leader and an icon in our province and it was wonderful to see what he sees in our Progressive Conservative party is what he built himself," Redford said.
Lougheed, in an interview Friday night with CTV, urged Conservatives who had left the party to join the Wildrose to reconsider their decision.
"I want them to think about it and I want them to listen carefully to what Alison Redford is saying, to reflect on what I've been saying, to look forward to an Alberta in the future," he said.
Redford, who intends to reach out to undecided voters on the final week of the campaign, said Lougheed's message should help.
"Peter Lougheed said the great thing about Progressive Conservatives is that we not only listen to Albertans, we are Albertans and we do evolve and we do change and we embrace change and we do embrace opportunity."
Lougheed's late game entry is a sign Redford and her Conservatives are in grave difficulties, political experts said.
Chaldeans Menash, who teaches political science at MacEwan University, says he can't recall a situation where Lougheed publicly announced his support for a premier during an election.
It's an act of desperation on the part of the Progressive Conservatives to motivate their core supporters to get to the polls, Menash said.
"It is a sign that the Wildrose threat is real," he said in an interview. "Unlike past elections, this is a very competitive one. There is a sense of change."
"They need to marshal all their resources to make sure their supporters come out."
Lougheed's words for Redford may be in vain, Menash said, adding it would be "a miracle on the Prairies" if the Progressive Conservatives manage to hang on to power.
"It could make a difference in the final days but the trend is definitely against the Tories," he said.
University of Calgary political scientist Doreen Barrie agreed Lougheed's appearance is a sign of storm clouds for the Tories.
"The fact that he's coming out and making this statement (for Redford) means that he must be worried for her, and she must be worried."
Albertans go to the polls April 23.
___ With files by Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton
Highlights Of The Alberta Election
Here's a look back at some of the most memorable moments from the campaign.
Wildrose Anti-Gay Blog Revealed
A blog post saying that gays were destined to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/15/wildrose-anti-gay-blog-alberta_n_1427008.html" target="_hplink">burn in a "lake of fire" for eternity was brought to light on April 16.</a> Allan Hunsperger, a pastor who's running as a Wildrose candidate in Edmonton South, also referenced Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way': "You see, you can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering." Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said she was aware of Hunsperger's religious views.
Smith Booed, Mocked
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith found herself <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/20/danielle-smith-booed-climate-change-alberta-election-debate_n_1439858.html" target="_hplink">on the receiving end of booing and mockery at a debate on April 19 for questioning climate change .</a> "There is still a debate in the scientific community," said Smith before being drowned out by a chorus of boos and catcalls. PC leader Alison Redford said Smith leading the province would be an embarrassment.
Candidate Makes 'White Advantage' Comment
Wildrose candidate Ron Leech <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/17/ron-leech-wildrose-candidate_n_1432653.html" target="_hplink">made some controversial remarks about race on a South Asian radio show.</a> "I think as a Caucasian I have an advantage. When different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslim leader speaks, they really speak to their own people in many ways. As a Caucasian, I believe that I can speak to all the community," said Leech. He apologized for his remarks on April 24, saying that his comments did not come out the way he intended.
Redford Under Seige
During the April 12 debate, the candidates for the Wildrose, Liberal and NDP took the opportunity to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/12/alberta-election-debate_n_1419850.html" target="_hplink">gang up on Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford</a>. It was an unsurprising tactic given that the Tories have held power in Alberta for 11 consecutive majority governments, although polls reveal the Wildrose may have a fighting chance.
When the Wildrose first rolled out their campaign bus, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/23/alberta-wildrose-campaign_n_1375998.html" target="_hplink">there was something distinctly odd about the wheel placement </a>in relation to Smith's image. Late night host Jay Leno even poked fun at the busty bus before a new, less suggestive design rolled out.
Closing The Gap
An April 10 poll showed that Danielle Smith's Wildrose party was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/11/alberta-election-2012-poll_n_1417267.html" target="_hplink">neck and neck with the Progressive Conservatives</a>. The Leger Marketing poll showed the Wildrose has the support of 36 per cent of Albertans, compared to 34 per cent for the governing Tories.
22 Minutes Pokes Fun At Candidates
This Hour Has 22 Minutes gave their own take on the Alberta election by poking fun at the similarities between Alison Redford and Danielle Smith. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/03/alberta-election-2012-22-minutes_n_1400747.html" target="_hplink">CLICK TO WATCH</a>
PC Staffer Gets Personal
Progressive Conservative staffer<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/31/pc-staffer-resigns-danielle-smith-wildrose-tweet_n_1393807.html" target="_hplink"> Amanda Wilkie "resigned" on March 31 after tweeting</a> "If @ElectDanielle likes young and growing families so much, why doesn't she have children of her own? #wrp family pack = insincere." Backlash came swiftly from the PC, the Wildrose and Twitter users alike. Alison Redford herself issues an apology, but not before Smith revealed that she didn't have children due to fertility issues.
In a moment of levity, but mostly embarrassment for Danielle Smith, the Wildrose leader's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/31/danielle-smith-dogs-wildrose-alberta_n_1394069.html" target="_hplink">dogs got frisky during a photo op in Calgary</a>.
The Other Guys
In a province where conservative values dominate politics, Brian Mason's NDP and Raj Sherman's Liberals are left to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/06/alberta-election-liberals-ndp-edmonton_n_1408884.html" target="_hplink">duke it out in left-leaning pockets such as Edmonton</a>.
On April 10, for the second time, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was called out for her<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/10/danielle-smith-pro-choice-gay-marriage_n_1416319.html" target="_hplink"> supposed opposing stance on abortion and gay marriage</a>. Smith however snuffed out the controversy: "When our members elected me they knew they were electing a candidate that was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage." The issues came up earlier in the election when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/07/alberta-election-abortion-social-issues_n_1409963.html" target="_hplink">Smith was less forthcoming</a> on the subjects.
Tory Candidate Assaulted
Alberta's education minister Thomas Lukaszuk claimed he was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/07/thomas-lukaszuk-assault_n_1410308.html" target="_hplink">assaulted while canvassing in an Edmonton neighbourhood</a>. He said he knocked on the door of a residence with a Wildrose support sign and, once recognized, was punched by the resident within. The resident, Al Michalchuk, says he merely nudged Lukaszuk when he refused to leave.