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Former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed pledged support for Alison Redford as she seeks the premiership in the province's elections this month.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Considered one of Canada's greatest statesmen and an unabashed champion for his home province of Alberta, former premier Peter Lougheed remains gravely ill in hospital, according to his successor, Don Getty.

Multiple sources within the Progressive Conservative Party said Tuesday that the man who unseated the long-governing Social Credit Party in 1971 to kickstart his own party's now 41-year-old political dynasty, is seriously ill. A representative for his family said the 84-year-old was resting comfortably in hospital, but offered no further details about his condition or prognosis.

But Mr. Getty, who took over from Mr. Lougheed in the premier's office in 1985, said the only thing that can be done for his friend now is "hope and pray."

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"He is dying," Mr. Getty said. "It's very, very sad. He's a great Albertan and a great premier."

Mr. Lougheed had long been suffering from a heart condition and blood-pressure problems, according to Mr. Getty, but he "tries not to show it" as he remained committed to his work as a lawyer and with the Tory party.

Mr. Lougheed helped secure Alberta's place at the centre of the national stage and is considered one of the most influential premiers in the country's history.

A married father of four who works at the Calgary blue-chip law firm Bennett Jones, Mr. Lougheed spoke for two hours at a party reunion last fall, but Mr. Getty said he could tell the effort took a toll.

The former premier was politically active as recently as this year when he offered his endorsement to Alison Redford, who fought off a challenge from the Wildrose Party on the right to lead the Tories to another massive majority. Mr. Lougheed did cancel a couple of appearances during the course of the spring election campaign, apparently because of his health.

However, just last June he attended an event where he was named the best premier of the last 40 years in any Canadian province by a panel of experts assembled by the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

"Not only did he receive 21 of 30 possible first-place votes, he also ran the table on nine questions related to leadership, fiscal and economic management and intergovernmental relations," the organization noted.

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Mr. Lougheed, a former Edmonton Eskimo football player, is known for clashing with then prime minister Pierre Trudeau over the 1980 National Energy Program. Those fierce battles with Ottawa prompted some critics to call him "the blue-eyed sheik" because of his strident defence of Alberta's oil and gas riches.

But at a dinner in his honour this summer, Mr. Lougheed stressed the importance of national unity.

"I've said on many occasions that I'm a Canadian before an Albertan," he said. "Don't take that comment lightly. That's a very important view to have and that's been our theme all along here."

Reflecting on his own legacy, Mr. Lougheed said in an interview with The Globe and Mail last year that defending Alberta's ownership of energy resources and the creation of the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, a provincial rainy day fund, remained some of his proudest accomplishments.

Ms. Redford is currently travelling in Asia, but Kim Misik, as spokeswoman in her office, issued a statement from the Premier, who considers Mr. Lougheed a "mentor and a dear friend."

"She continues to be inspired by his leadership," Ms. Misik said. "The former premier's loved ones are requesting privacy and we hope these wishes will be respected. Our thoughts are with the Lougheed family."

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Prominent Canadians and ordinary Albertans turned to Twitter to express their concerns Tuesday.

"Peter Lougheed is a Canadian treasure," wrote Rona Ambrose, a federal Tory cabinet minister from Edmonton. "He has our love and our prayers."

"I know all Albertans wish good health for Peter Lougheed and support to his family," wrote federal Edmonton NDP MP Linda Duncan.

Members of Mr. Lougheed's family did not respond to requests for comment, but a public-relations firm said loved ones would release more information "when circumstances warrant."

"Peter Lougheed and his family are very thankful for all of your kindness and prayers at this time," the statement continued. "We are grateful to the media and the public for respecting our privacy."

It's not clear how long he has been under care at the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary, which is named for him, during this bout of health troubles. He previously had knee surgery at the same hospital and it became a delicious joke in Alberta that, when he checked in, the admitting nurse didn't recognize that he was the Peter Lougheed and thought he was unstable.

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"It is a true story," he recalled in an interview last year. "She just thought, 'What's going on here? Should I call for an orderly?' "

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