Ahead of next week’s election, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-leaning think tank, has put together a scorecard of how the last seven prime ministers have performed on job creation.
The winner? Joe Clark, the short-lived Progressive Conservative prime minister who governed for nine months in 1979-1980. Jobs in Canada grew at a stunning 3.7-per-cent annual pace during that time.
But if Clark’s record shows anything, it’s that a prime minister’s performance on jobs is often a matter of luck. Clark’s tenure hardly gave him time to put into place any policies to improve employment numbers.
To some extent, luck is a factor for all prime ministers, but those who serve longer can take more of the credit (or blame) for their particular situations.
Even so, national leaders deal with conditions often entirely out of their control, limiting what they can achieve on jobs.
Conservative Stephen Harper governed during the global financial crisis, so his job creation numbers are weaker than those of his successor, Justin Trudeau. But Harper’s record of 1.1-per-cent job growth annually might actually be the more impressive number, given the circumstances.
For his part, Justin Trudeau comes out well. Although he was beaten on average job creation by two Liberal predecessors (Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien), the younger Trudeau has seen the lowest average unemployment rate of any prime minister in Statistics Canada records going back to 1976.
“This positive outcome reflects many factors, and cannot be ascribed solely to the actions of the federal government,” wrote Jim Stanford, the McMaster University professor of economics who put together the CCPA analysis.
Nonetheless, Trudeau’s policies have helped, Stanford argued.
His government’s “willingness to increase program spending (rather than prioritizing deficit reduction), and the impact of its targeted income supports (such as the Canada Child Benefit) on the spending capacity of low-income households, will certainly have contributed to the notable improvement in labour market performance,” Stanford wrote.
Watch: More than one in five Canadian professionals are in “precarious” work. Story continues below.
Some things to note about the data:
For his analysis, Stanford ignored two short-lived prime ministers, the Liberal John Turner (1984) and the Progressive Conservative Kim Campbell (1993), who were never elected, but rather won party leadership races, and “neither of whom served in office long enough to meaningfully impact economic policy or conditions.”
The data also doesn’t cover all of Pierre Trudeau’s time in office (1968-1979, 1980-1984) because the StatCan data set only goes back to 1976. The bar marked “P.E. Trudeau 1” covers the 1976-1979 period.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled former prime minister Joe Clark’s name.