Ontario will table its 2009 budget on March 26, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan announced Thursday.

Duncan had previously said the budget could be ready by late February or early March.

Media speculation has suggested the deficit could be as high as $10 billion, partly as a result of auto sector aid and stimulus spending on infrastructure designed to offset the economic harm of the recession.

In his economic update delivered in late October, Duncan said Ontario would have a $500-million deficit for the current budget year.

"We will have new initiatives in this budget aimed at dealing with the changes, not only since the last budget, since the last fall statement," Duncan said Thursday.

"There are still a number of the issues that we'll need to deal with in the coming budget that we're still getting some numbers on, so I think it's quite timely and quite appropriate."

He wouldn't provide details, but on Friday, GM and Chrysler are to submit their restructuring plans for their Canadian operations as part of their efforts to get financial assistance from the federal and Ontario governments.

The two levels of government have offered a combined $4 billion in assistance. Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday that figure could go even higher.

Duncan predicted last fall that this budget year will end in deficit. Some media reports suggest the deficit will be in the $5 billion range -- if not higher.

McGuinty told the legislature that the government has been making infrastructure investments in the past several weeks.

"We're not waiting for our budget to do things," he said. "We will continue to do much along the way, as I would ask my friend to recognize."

McGuinty also signalled the provincial's 2009 budget deficit could be massive -- something that concerned Opposition Leader Bob Runciman of the Progressive Conservatives.

"We're hearing rumours of $10 billion plus of deficit, which takes us back to the NDP era," he said. "Our kids and grandkids will be facing that burden for years and years to come."

Runciman raised the spectre of a structural deficit.

Other Tories slammed the Liberals for not moving more quickly on delivering a budget.

"In less than 30 days, President (Barack) Obama has introduced the most complex, comprehensive stimulus package that the world has ever seen," Tory MPP Ted Chudleigh said.

"But in six years, all this government gave us was a five-point plan."

Duncan has argued it's more important to do the budget right rather than do it quickly.

With files from The Canadian Press