POLITICS

Harper: Tories Would Aim To Create 1.3 Million Net New Jobs By 2020

09/22/2015 11:30 EDT | Updated 09/22/2016 05:12 EDT

WINNIPEG — A re-elected Conservative government would be able to speed up the pace of job creation, based largely on its past record, despite the perilous state of the global economy, Tory Leader Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

In announcing his party's jobs target, Harper leaned on his familiar refrain: Only his party can protect the economy from the "dangerous and unstable" world.

"Europe has an ongoing debt crisis, economies are slowing, markets crashing in parts of Asia," he said.

"This, friends, is the world we live in. It is difficult, it is dangerous, it is an unstable global economy."

A Conservative government would aim to create 1.3 million net new jobs by 2020, matching the number of jobs created in the six years since the depths of the global recession. Those jobs, he said, are 90 per cent full-time, more than 80 per cent in the private sector, and are "by and large" in high-wage industries.

"I would say there's no reason why we can't have a similar record on that than we have now," Harper said. "We've consulted experts on whether this is reasonable."

Several economists, including some of those consulted by the Conservatives, pegged Harper's target as anywhere from achievable to unlikely, but not impossible. All noted that job creation is heavily dependent on external economic forces.

BMO chief economist Doug Porter said Harper's target implies annual job growth of about 1.4 per cent per year, which is an "aggressive goal, and a growth rate we haven't witnessed since prior to the financial crisis for a five-year period."

"I am not saying it's impossible, but it would be a tough challenge," Porter said in an email.

Porter said policy can play a "constructive role," but isn't the driving factor for growth.

Harper said the Conservatives' commitment to cut payroll taxes by 20 per cent, provide tax relief for the mining sector, and establish a permanent home-renovation tax credit are some of the measures that would help stimulate employment.

A TD Economics forecast this week said growth appears to have resumed late in the second quarter after a mild recession in the first half of the year.

Growth is forecast to be slow this year, but for 2016 and 2017, TD Economics predicted a "steady expansion" of about two per cent a year, helping to support modest employment and income gains.

Mike Moffatt, with Western University's Ivey Business School, said he told the Conservatives they would not likely reach their "aggressive" numbers without strong global growth.

"If we have another recession, technical or otherwise, I don't see how we could hit that 1.3 million," he said.

"We would need to have five consecutive years of average or above average growth. If we have one bad year in the next five years we won't hit that target."

Kevin Milligan, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia, said the target is achievable given projected population growth. Hitting it would involve a mix of external factors and government policies, he said, noting about half of that growth would occur anyway.

"The other half comes from getting back to a bit of a boom in the economic cycle and you can do that," said Milligan, who has also been consulted by the Liberals and said he was not endorsing any one party platform.

In January, Statistics Canada said the country gained 185,700 net new positions last year.

The unemployment rate rose to 7.0 per cent in August from 6.8 per cent in July, but the economy also gained 12,000 jobs last month.

RBC Economics said Tuesday that Canada's real GDP is projected to grow 1.2 per cent this year — down from its June prediction of 1.8 per cent growth. RBC also predicted 2.2 per cent growth for 2016 — 0.4 per cent below its earlier predictions.

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