Tim Hudak wants to delay full-day kindergarten until Ontario’s $11.9-billion deficit is eliminated.

“Schools should be focusing on the basics of math and literacy and putting a greater emphasis on science,” the Progressive Conservative leader told CityNews on Thursday.

Currently, more than 1,700 of the province’s 4,000 elementary schools offer full-day kindergarten. Hudak said he wants to stop the expansion until the Ontario government balances its books.

MPP Kathleen Wynne, a former education minister who is currently running in the Ontario Liberal leadership race to replace outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty, called the program “essential.”

“Hudak’s plan to cancel the implementation of full-day kindergarten will hurt kids and parents,” Wynne said in a statement.

“Full-day kindergarten is essential to helping our children get the best start.”

Hudak said the quality of the program is not the issue – it’s the cost.

“We need to balance the books in this province because if we run up massive debts, nobody will invest,” Hudak said.

“There will be higher taxes or fewer services in the long run.”

Earlier this month, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said Ontario’s projected deficit for 2012-13 fell nearly $3 billion to $11.9 billion.

The better-than-expected projection from last spring’s $14.8 billion is due to higher-than-expected revenues and lower expenses, Duncan said.

The government wants to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18, and he said it’ll be challenging to eliminate the deficit by finding savings of $2-$2.5 billion a year until then.

McGuinty resigned and prorogued parliament in October, triggering the Liberal leadership race.

The new premier will be chosen this weekend but might not be in place for long.  The opposition will likely oppose the new budget, which will be introduced in March, triggering a provincial election.

With files from Showwei Chu & The Canadian Press