Alta. finance minister Morton resigns from cabinet

Alberta Finance Minister Ted Morton has stepped down from his ministerial post to run for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership.
Finance Minister Ted Morton, right, looks on as Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach speaks at a news conference in Calgary on Thursday. Morton resigned his post in cabinet and announced his intention to become the next leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Alberta Finance Minister Ted Morton has stepped down from his ministerial post to run for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership.

Morton formally made the announcement Thursday afternoon at a press conference with Premier Ed Stelmach — who announced Tuesday he wouldn't be seeking re-election — and Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove.

"I'd like to say it's been an honour, a great honour, to serve as minister of finance and enterprise … I want to thank Premier Stelmach for these opportunities," said Morton.

"I feel very fortunate to have worked for a premier who has showed the cooperation and understanding Premier Stelmach has showed me … particularly over the last 48 hours."

Morton will remain a PC MLA for Foothills-Rocky View.

Snelgrove will replace him as finance minister. It's currently unknown if Snelgrove will keep both jobs, but he will deliver the upcoming budget sometime during the next sitting of the legislature, which is set to begin Feb. 22.

Morton, considered a fiscal hawk, said Wednesday that he and the rest of caucus support the budget, which the premier said will not hurt health, education or infrastructure spending.

"This does not reflect a caucus divided over the budget," Stelmach said.

Alberta's deficit was projected in November 2010 to reach $5 billion by the end of the fiscal year, a quarter billion dollars more than was projected in the spring budget.

The province ended its 2009-10 fiscal year with a $1-billion deficit.

Morton said he wasn't completely happy with last year's budget and expected others in the party felt the same way.

Morton seeks to unite the right

Stelmach said earlier that any cabinet minister who wants his job should resign once the leadership campaign to replace him officially starts. 

He said that's what he did in 2006 when Ralph Klein stepped down because he didn't want it to appear that he was using his cabinet job to promote himself.

Morton said he remembered when Stelmach did this and admired him for the "principled position" it represented.

He added that it would be "difficult if not impossible" to discharge his duties as finance minister while seeking party leadership, while maintaining the appearance of impartiality.

Morton didn't provide any details about his leadership bid, but he took aim at the Wildrose Alliance Party.

He said he intends to unite the right in Alberta politics, but predicted most conservative-minded Albertans would again find their political home in the Progressive Conservative Party.

Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party, rejected that notion. She said she sees Thursday's announcement as more proof the PCs are in disarray.

"I don't care who they have at the helm of the PC Party," said Smith. "I'm leading a party now that is on its way up. The PC Party and this PC government is on its way out."

She predicted they might even move up an election Stelmach had promised by March 2012.

With files from The Canadian Press