REGINA -- Saskatchewan's Opposition leader says Premier Scott Moe deliberately misled voters with his promise to balance the budget by 2024.

NDP Leader Ryan Meili says there has been nothing since last fall's provincial vote to suggest economic factors have worsened since the election campaign when Moe repeatedly committed to that date.

"If anything, they've changed for the better. Oil prices have improved," Meili said Wednesday.

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said earlier this week that eliminating the $2-billion deficit by the 2024-25 fiscal year would be "very, very difficult" because of a slower-than-expected recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harpauer said there is a small hope it could still happen, but projections indicate the Saskatchewan Party government is likely to have to adjust its target date.

"Every day in the campaign the premier stood up and said he was going to balance the budget by 2024. He was lying," said Meili.

"He knew very well that wasn't something he was going to be able to do, but he sold people a lie."

The premier has said more details will be provided when the next provincial budget is tabled in April, and only time will tell if the deficit can be cleared by 2024.

"Scott Moe has never balanced a budget and he never had a plan to balance the budget in 2024," said Meili.

"What we'll be watching for closely is did he lie as well about cuts to key services, cuts to health care, cuts to education?"

During the campaign leading up to the Saskatchewan Party's fourth straight majority, Moe promised that taxes wouldn't increase and there would be no major cuts to services as part of his plan to balance the books.

He said the deficit would shrink by growing the economy and keeping doors open on as many businesses as possible during the pandemic.

Moe's office did not immediately respond Wednesday to question's about Meili's remarks.

Asked Tuesday about waffling on the 2024 promise, Moe said his government will maintain services that residents depend on, and not threaten efforts to bring back thousands of jobs the province has lost during the pandemic.

Before the health crisis hit last March, his government reported it was on track to present a balanced budget, which would have completed a plan set in motion in 2017 by former premier Brad Wall.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2021