ntario Premier Dalton McGuinty speaks during an announcement at the Lexus Assembly plant in Cambridge, Ontario, January 23, 2013.
"Don't let up on our effort as a province to eliminate the deficit," McGuinty said from the Cambridge Toyota plant, where he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced $33 million to help the company build hybrid SUVs.
"We've made tremendous progress and we're $3 billion ahead of schedule, and the efforts we're making together are in fact making a difference.
"So my advice to my successor would be, don't take our foot off the pedal when it comes to reducing our deficit."
McGuinty is retiring this weekend after 16 years as Liberal leader -- nine as premier. After losing his first general election to Progressive Conservative Mike Harris in 1999, McGuinty reeled off three straight victories, the last falling just one seat short of a third majority.
He even won praise from the ardently partisan Harper.
Despite their obvious political differences, the two were able to work together to bail out the auto industry, and harmonize provincial and federal sales taxes.
McGuinty is now the most successful Liberal politician in Ontario history since Sir Oliver Mowat and is revered by his party, which credits him with rebuilding public services such as health care and education.
That rebuilding has come at a cost, though. The province now has a deficit of $11.9 billion and is not scheduled to balance its books until 2017-18.
McGuinty made no apology for the deficit and said it was needed to keep the recession of 2008 from making more of a mess of the economy than it did.
"I'm really pleased with the progress that we've made over the course of the last nine years," McGuinty said.
PC Leader Tim Hudak said the two frontrunners to replace McGuinty -- Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne -- are most closely aligned with McGuinty and likely to continue his big spending ways.
"So if you like what Dalton McGuinty did, you want four more years of it, you've got your two candidates right there. I think people are looking for change," Hudak said.
McGuinty's replacement as Liberal leader -- and premier -- will be chosen Saturday at the party's convention at Maple Leaf Gardens.
-- With files from Antonella Artuso