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Conservatives would aim to create 1.3 million net new jobs by 2020

Conservative leader Stephen Harper speaks to supporters while campaigning Sept. 22, 2015 in Winnipeg. Mr. Harper said he believes his party could replicate the number of jobs created since the 2008 global recession.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper projects 1.3 million net new jobs will be created in Canada by 2020 if his Conservative Party is re-elected and allowed to continue with its economic agenda.

It's a goal the Tory Leader says he feels comfortable in setting because it mirrors the number of jobs created in Canada since the height of the recession.

Economists say the target is not out of reach.

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But they caution that it would take strong growth both in Canada and abroad, and it would require many people working past the age of 65 because demographics suggest there will not be enough workers available over the next five years to replicate the job growth that has occurred since 2009.

Mr. Harper did not unveil any new policies to spur the predicted increase in the number of working Canadians, saying instead that it would happen naturally if voters embrace his government's economic plan.

"Today, I am pleased to announce that, under our plan, our target for the Canadian economy by 2020 is the creation of at least another 1.3 million net new jobs," Mr. Harper told a crowd of supporters and reporters during a campaign stop in Winnipeg on Tuesday. "We can set this kind of aspirational goal, target, with confidence," he said, "not because the government, the federal government, will create these jobs, but because we have the kind of plan that will allow our wider economy to achieve it."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he is doubtful of his rival's job-growth forecast.

"Mr. Harper's promises, particularly in election times, are tremendously suspect," said Mr. Trudeau, campaigning in Montreal. "And, [from] the Prime Minister with the worst record on growth of any prime minister since the Great Depression, I find that number, to put it mildly, wildly optimistic."

In fact, the government's own numbers suggest Mr. Harper's targets will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

To create 1.3 million net new jobs between now and 2020, the number of employed Canadians would have to climb by 1.75 per cent annually for the next five years. But Employment and Social Development Canada predicts job growth is unlikely to top even 1 per cent in any year during that period, largely as a result of a shrinking labour pool.

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Mike Moffatt, an economics professor at the Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario who is on Mr. Trudeau's economic advisory council, said the Conservatives showed him their numbers before Mr. Harper went public with them.

Under normal circumstances, if the economy is strong, Mr. Moffatt said, it would not be difficult for the Conservative Leader to hit his target.

Other economic experts agree.

"I don't think it's out of the question that that many new jobs would be created if investment started taking off. Private-sector investment," said Robin Boadway, emeritus professor of public economics at Queen's University in Kingston.

Mr. Moffatt stressed, however, that there are not enough young people entering the labour market, or immigrants entering the country, to increase the number of available workers by 1.3 million people over the next five years. So the growth predicted by Mr. Harper will occur only if the baby boomers, who are reaching retirement age, stay at their jobs until their late 60s and through their 70s, he said.

"I don't think it's clear that that is necessarily a beneficial thing, Mr. Moffatt said.

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Philip Cross, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a former chief economic analyst with Statistics Canada, concurs.

"Is it conceivable that the economy could grow enough to create the demand for 1.3 million more workers? I think it's possible," said Mr. Cross, who cautioned that it would require years without another economic downturn. "Is it realistic that our labour force could generate 1.3 million more qualified people to hire? I think I would have some doubts there."

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