The whopping deficit left behind by the last Progressive Conservative government is nothing more than Liberal propaganda, Tory Leader Tim Hudak said Tuesday.
Hudak was a cabinet minister when voters booted the self-styled deficit-busting Tories from office in 2003 and replaced them with the Liberals under Dalton McGuinty.
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Shortly after taking office, the Liberals discovered the outgoing Tories, who for months had insisted the books were balanced, in fact had left a fiscal shortfall of $5.6 billion.
Hudak is pledging to eliminate Ontario's $12.5-billion deficit within two years of being elected if he's successful in his bid to become premier on June 12.
Asked why the Conservatives can be trusted to deliver on that pledge given the previous situation, Hudak attacked the question before dodging the issue.
"I know you're dusting off an old piece of Dalton McGuinty propaganda," Hudak said during a campaign stop east of Toronto.
"That was a manufacture of the Liberals."
Auditor confirmed numbers
In fact, within weeks of coming to office in the fall of 2003, an independent auditor confirmed the Conservative government under then-premier Ernie Eves had left the province with the $5.6-billion deficit.
Erik Peters, a respected retired provincial auditor, had based his report on an examination of the books.
He was also of the view the Conservatives had known about the extent of the shortfall even as they campaigned on having balanced the budget for a fifth straight year, starting with Eves' predecessor Mike Harris in 1995.
At a campaign stop in Sudbury on Tuesday, Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne accused Hudak of rewriting Ontario's history.
"I think what's manufactured is his revisionist history," she said.
"We rebuilt the province...after the mess that was left to us by Mike Harris — and what Mike Harris did is a fraction of what Tim Hudak is saying that he will do."
The 2003 deficit situation was similar to that in 1990, when it was the Liberals who campaigned for re-election promising a budget surplus.
Instead, the incoming New Democrats under Bob Rae discovered a $2.5-billion shortfall.
That deficit, along with a steep economic recession, hamstrung the NDP's ability to implement programs it had long promised — much to the wrath of voters — and led to long-standing accusations the party could not manage the province's finances.
Hudak also reached back into the past on Tuesday — to the long-ignored Taxpayer Protection Act — as he repeated his pledge to balance the budget and accused the Liberals of "runaway" spending.
"If my cabinet ministers don't keep their promises, I'll dock their pay, and I'll dock my pay as well," Hudak said.