Re-elect him and Stephen Harper says he'll deliver 1.3 million net new jobs by 2020.
That's a big number. It's roughly equal to the entire population of Manitoba, or Ottawa-Gatineau.
The Prime Minister chose the figure because it matches the number of jobs created in Canada since the depths of the recession in 2009.
We've done it before, Mr. Harper argues. So, surely, we can do it again.
"We can set this kind of aspirational goal, target, with confidence," the Conservative leader said on the campaign trail this week, "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."
Mr. Harper aptly chose the word, "aspirational." Creating 1.3 million net new jobs will be a very tall order, because Canada is facing some powerful economic and demographic forces that will make the next five years much tougher than the last five.
And Mr. Harper is offering up virtually nothing new in the way of policy prescriptions to achieve the goal, beyond a balanced federal budget and some targeted tax breaks for individuals and businesses.
Neither the NDP or the Liberals are making specific job creation targets.
The most significant challenge for job creation is a Canadian population that is aging and growing much more slowly. More to the point, the growth in the working age population is decelerating fast. Boosting immigration, upping the birth rate and increasing the labour force participation rate are not likely to be enough to alter the trend.
It's not so much a story about future economic growth, but who will be there to do the work. It's a labour supply-side problem, not a demand one.
The fastest growing segment of the population are the boomers, aged 50 and over. And every year, fewer of them are in the labour force. Within that age group, growth is heavily concentrated among those aged 70 and over, most of whom don't work.
Data produced by the federal government demonstrate just how difficult hitting the 1.3-million goal will be. The labour force is expected to grow by just 600,000 over the next five years, an average of just 0.6 per cent between 2015 and 2020, according to the Canadian Occupational Projection System, a forecast produced by Employment and Social Development Canada. That's nearly half the growth rate of the previous decade.
In other words, even if there were job openings, there won't be enough working Canadians to fill them.
Economists acknowledge the 1.3-million target isn't an impossible goal. But it would require some pretty unlikely things to happen. Many more older workers would have to continue working long past the normal retirement age of 65. The participation level of younger workers would have to rise well above current levels. Canada would need to open its doors to vastly more immigrants. And finally, the unemployment rate would have to drop to historically low levels.
The Conference Board of Canada has just produced a new forecast that tweaks all these factors to the upside. It assumes Canada would take in 30,000 more immigrants per year by 2020, unemployment would drop to 5.8 per cent from nearly 7 per cent now, and more older workers would stay in the labour force.
Meeting those ambitious assumptions would produce 980,000 net new jobs, said economist Matthew Stewart, associate director of national forecasting at the Conference Board.
"You're constrained by the supply of the labour force," he explained. "We only have a fixed population, unless we bring in more immigrants or encourage Canadians to work longer."
The problem for Mr. Harper is that he's not running on a platform that would address either of those things.
The Conservatives are not promising to open Canada's doors to vastly more immigrants.
The government is raising the eligibility age for Old Age Security to 67 from 65 – a move that will keep people working longer – but the policy change doesn't kick in until 2023.
Creating 1.3 million net new jobs out of the crater created by the Great Recession was relatively easy.
Repeating that feat over the next five years is well, aspirational.