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Analysts estimate that the country added 10,000 jobs and that the unemployment rate was 6.8 per cent in September, compared with 12,000 new jobs in August and unemployment at 7 per cent.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Canadians will get a glimpse of the health of the labour market when the monthly jobs data is released on Friday, the last report before the federal election.

A plunge in oil prices, a weak loonie and a mild recession in the first half of this year have made the economy and employment key issues during the campaign.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives are battling with the Liberals and the New Democratic Party to try to show they're the best economic stewards after nearly a decade in power.

Analysts estimate that the country added 10,000 jobs and that the unemployment rate was 6.8 per cent in September, compared with 12,000 new jobs in August and unemployment at 7 per cent.

Canada has seen wild swings in job creation this year. Thousands lost work after Target pulled out of Canada and other retailers such as Best Buy and Smart Set closed stores. The rapid drop in oil prices triggered energy companies to lay off thousands of workers. Meanwhile, employment in the services sector reached a record high.

Although the three main parties have campaigned on job-growth promises, being able to create work is more elusive.

"If policy-makers could just snap their figures and generate job growth, then presumably they would have already done it because for a number of years now we have had undesirably high unemployment," said David Madani, economist with Capital Economics.

When Mr. Harper first took office early in 2006, he enjoyed two years of low unemployment. The jobless rate fell as low as 5.8 per cent in November of 2007, then jumped to 8.5 per cent after the 2008-09 U.S. housing meltdown and global financial crisis. Although the jobless rate has steadily declined since then, it is still higher than before the crisis. This year, the rate dropped to as low as 6.6 per cent, though it has remained mostly at 6.8 per cent before inching up to 7 per cent in August. Meanwhile, in the United States, unemployment is hovering just above 5 per cent.

Mr. Harper has pledged to create 1.3 million jobs by 2020 – a number some economists say is unrealistic given that there simply will not be enough workers to fill those jobs with an aging population.

"We need people's thought process off what the job number is going to be. Anything the government can really do on job creation is putting in structure for long-term growth," said Tyler Meredith, research director with the Institute for Research on Public Policy, a non-partisan think tank.

Many economists agree that some kind of fiscal stimulus would help given that seven years of low interest rates have done little to bolster Canada's economy.

The Liberals have vowed to spend heavily over the next decade on improving public transit, investing in affordable housing and on other infrastructure projects. The NDP has also pledged billions of dollars to boost public transit and has promised to invest in a national child-care plan.

But it is difficult to evaluate their plans and impact on the labour market.

"That's the issue that is very hard. The campaigns throw out a lot of numbers but getting details of how it will be implemented is very hard," said Charles St-Arnaud, executive director of economics at Nomura International PLC. "Sometimes it's not the idea that is bad, but it is the implementation," he said.

Mr. Harper's government spent billions over two years on fixing roads, building arenas and other infrastructure to stimulate Canada's economy after the financial crisis. The spending helped create jobs and repair the economy but the country's economic output remains weak.

"Picking winners is hard for government. Just because it is spending doesn't mean it is smart spending," said Eveline Adomait, an assistant economics professor at the University of Guelph.