Alison Redford is stepping down as premier of Alberta, effective this Sunday.

Redford announced her resignation as leader of Alberta’s ruling Progressive Conservative party Wednesday evening, following weeks of intense criticism that she was abusing her political power as head of government.

Without addressing specifics, Redford called the turmoil within government in recent weeks “a distraction” that is getting in the way of her party’s mandate, and that it’s been “weighing heavily” on her mind.

“Quite simply, I am not prepared to allow party and caucus infighting to get in the way of building a better future for our province and for all Albertans,” Redford said in a brief speech. “And that is why I am announcing today that with a profound optimism for Alberta’s future, I am resigning as premier of Alberta, effective this Sunday.”

To loud applause, an emotional Redford said she has given her “heart and soul to this province” every day for the last two years.

She touted her government’s record, saying they’ve kept taxes low while implementing social programs and improving infrastructure.

The embattled premier has been facing down critics since early this year, when she expensed about $45,000 for a trip overseas for Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

For weeks, Redford ignored calls to refund the money, which many called an extravagant and unnecessary use of public funds.

In mid-March, Redford apologized and repaid the costs associated with the trip, but it appeared the damage was already done.

Critics lambasted Redford for what they called a sense of entitlement as more revelations of questionable spending were brought to light, including allegations that Redford had flown on her own government plane while Progressive Conservative MLAs took half-empty flights to the same destinations.

Backlash reached a fever pitch in recent weeks, when backbencher Len Webber quit the Progressive Conservatives to sit as an Independent last Thursday, claiming Redford was a “bully.”

And then Steve Robson, president of the PC association in the northeast Edmonton, called on Redford to step down, calling her an “arrogant” leader who doesn’t listen to her caucus.

Donna Kennedy-Glans, associate minister for electricity, also quit Redford’s caucus to sit as an Independent, criticizing what she called the government’s culture of entitlement.

Shortly after Redford’s announcement, Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith said that her resignation indicates the PC party’s problems “run far too deep for one leader to change.”

Smith said that Redford was elected as an “outsider” who would “fundamentally change” what it meant to be a Progressive Conservative.

“I have no doubt that she intended to be that leader, I have no doubt that Albertans had high hopes that she would be that leader, but what we’ve witnessed during her short, 29 months as premier is the clearest indication yet that the PC party simply can’t be fixed,” Smith said.

She added that the business of governing Alberta will now “once again take a backseat” to the internal politics of the PC party as they look for a new leader.

However, Smith said Redford “gave everything she had” to her job as premier “and for that, she should be proud and for that, we should be thankful.”

In a statement, Stephen Harper thanked Redford for her years of service and her “commitment to the people of Alberta and to Canada.”

“We wish her the best in whatever comes next,” Harper said.

In a tweet, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called Redford a “smart and classy woman” and also wished her all the best.

Redford’s resignation comes as her approval rating plummeted to 18 per cent, the lowest of all Alberta party leaders. The poll, released Wednesday, show Redford’s approval rating dropped 40 points in the last year and a half.

Redford was elected premier in 2011.