Days after his government delivered its first major fiscal update, Premier Doug Ford said his government "may" balance the province's budget in the final year of its mandate.
Ford made the comments during a "fireside chat" with Toronto Sun editor in chief Adrienne Batra at the Ontario Progressive Conservative policy convention in Toronto on Saturday. Asked how he would eliminate a deficit his government now says is $14.5 billion, Ford stressed it will take some time.
"We're not going to go in there and start slashing and burning," he said. "We're going to do it responsibly. We will balance. It may be in year four, but we're going to balance."
Ford — who did not take any other questions from media during the wide-ranging discussion — returned repeatedly to the topic of the deficit, including when Batra asked what his biggest surprise was upon becoming premier.
His government has said the shortfall they inherited from the Liberals was $15 billion. Critics have disputed the number, saying it's inflated in light of cancelled spending planned by the previous government.
Earlier this week, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli painted a bleak picture of the province's fiscal situation during his first fiscal update. That document — which announced plans to eliminate three independent legislative watchdogs, end subsidies to political parties and halt the development of a French-language university — did not outline how or when the government would return to balance.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking at the conclusion of the APEC summit in Papua New Guinea on Sunday, said he was "deeply disappointed" by the Ford government's plans to abolish Ontario's Office of the French Language Services Commissioner.
This weekend's convention is the first for Ontario's Progressive Conservatives since the party swept to power in the province's spring election on June 7. But the celebration comes at a time when the new government is weathering a series of political storms, including the resignation of a senior minister over allegations of sexual misconduct, a cabinet shuffle and the release of former party leader Patrick Brown's tell-all book.
Meanwhile, earlier Saturday, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called on the Ontario Tories to help him defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals next fall.
In a keynote address, Scheer stressed that while the provincial Progressive Conservatives had defeated the Ontario Liberals, their work to return the federal Tories to power in next year's federal election is still to come.
Scheer hammered Trudeau for a ballooning federal deficit and stressed "fiscal sanity" needs to be returned to Ottawa.
"Never has a government spent so much to achieve so little," he said. "Justin Trudeau's never had to worry about money, so it's no wonder that he doesn't worry about yours."
The prime minister's office said Scheer's Conservatives have been "fixated" on Trudeau for years.
"We've always been focused on Canadians, and we're going to stay focused on Canadians," PMO spokesman Cameron Ahmad said in a statement.
Also on Saturday, Ontario Tories agreed to debate a controversial resolution on the province's sex education curriculum at next year's policy convention.
A motion to consider the resolution proposed by controversial former Tory leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen was approved by members.
Granic Allen's resolution says the Tories should recognize gender identity as a "liberal ideology" and remove it from Ontario's sex-ed curriculum.
Party sources say that while the motion was passed it is non-binding on the Ford government.
Nevertheless, it was quickly condemned by Opposition NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"I'm appalled that the Ford Conservatives would endorse a resolution that attacks trans people and their rights," Horwath said on Twitter. "New Democrats stand with LGBTQ people against this dangerous position that drags our province backwards."
Former premier Kathleen Wynne also slammed the resolution, calling it a "direct endorsement of discrimination" by Ford's government and calling on the premier to denounce it.
"It is dangerous, reckless and irresponsible for a political party to endorse discrimination and tell people that how they identify themselves is not real," she said in a statement.
In the days before the convention, social conservatives had voiced concern that their policy resolutions were being vetted out of the broader debate typically put before party members at the annual event.