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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Alberta's finance minister resigned from the provincial cabinet on Thursday in order to enter the leadership race to replace Progressive Conservative Premier Ed Stelmach, who announced two days ago he is stepping down.
Though some media reports said the right-wing minister would resign because he opposed an upcoming deficit budget, Ted Morton has said he agreed with the spending plan and is now resigning in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest while seeking to replace the premier.
"It is my intention to seek the leadership of our party upon the premier's departure," Morton said at a press conference. "Under these circumstances I believe it would be difficult, if not impossible for me to ... continue to discharge my duties as minister."
Morton will be replaced by Lloyd Snelgrove, a close ally of the premier, who currently serves as president of the province's Treasury Board.
With its vast oil sands reserves, Alberta is one of the top energy suppliers to the United States.
When he announced his resignation on Tuesday, Stelmach said Alberta's deficit is now expected to linger into 2013-14, one year longer than the government had promised.
A date has yet to be set for a leadership convention for the Conservatives, who have been in power since 1971.
Reporting by Jeffrey Jones and Scott Haggett; editing by Rob Wilson