Spin Cycle: Does Canada's economic performance really top the G7?

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper says that Canada is "head and shoulders" above the rest of the G7 when it comes to economic growth and job creation, putting the economy front and centre in his campaign. How does that claim stack up? We put it through the Spin Cycle.

Stephen Harper boasts Canada's economic performance is 'head and shoulders' above rest of G7

Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in a meeting with G7 leaders in The Hague, Netherlands, on Monday, March 24, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

"We have been head and shoulders above all of our G7 partners in terms of economic growth over the long term — in terms of job creation. We have far and away the best fiscal management."

— Conservative Leader Stephen Harper

Conservatives have long portrayed themselves as the best "stewards of the economy" among the political parties.

Leader Stephen Harper is now dismissing the all-but-certain recession that started this year as the product of "temporary effects."

Meanwhile, his opponents are challenging the Conservatives' image of champions of the economy — pointing to the fact Harper's government brought in the largest deficits in Canadian history and has now watched two recessions happen on its watch.

The Spin

There is no denying this has been a rough decade — economically speaking.

The financial crisis that started in 2008 triggered a global recession from which few were spared.

But the Conservatives' point is that Canada did better than its peers in the Group of 7 industrialized nations.

So when Canada's economy shrunk by 2.7 per cent in 2009, the government rightly pointed out that was the best performance of any economy in the G7, as sad as the news still was.

The United States was close behind, with a loss of 2.8 per cent, while Europe's uber-economy, Germany performed worst as it withered by 5.6 per cent.

Jobs too were slashed.

Between 2008 and 2009 Canada's unemployment rate jumped from 6.2 per cent to 8.4 per cent.

This time too, while not the best, Canada was not the worst performing economy on that front.

The counter-spin

"[Stephen Harper] has had eight deficits in a row and has added over $150 billion in debt," NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said as he launched his campaign on Sunday.

This is also true.

The NDP and the Liberals chalk up the dismal economic numbers to the Harper government's "failed policies."

They point to the fact that the Canadian economy has shrunk in each of the first five months of this year. 

Barring astronomical, unprecedented growth in June, the first two quarters of this year will have experienced what economists call "negative growth."

Economists go on to define that as a recession.

Which would, indeed, be the second in the life of Harper's government.

The rinse

Harper's contention is that Canada's current downturn is an anomaly, and that what's important is the long-term performance of the country.

Fortunately for us, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), The World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — just to name a few — have tracked global economic indicators for decades.

So let's have a look at how Canada stacks up to its peers since January, 2006 when Harper first took power.

Since that time, Canada has topped the list of G7 performers for annual growth twice. 

The first time was in 2008, the second (as mentioned above) in 2009. 

Between 2010 and 2014, Canada has been in second or third spot.

Interestingly enough, Canada's projected GDP growth for 2015 will put the country exactly where Harper inherited it in 2006 — exactly in the middle of the pack.

As for employment, the other measure on which Harper stakes his claim that Canada is "head and shoulders" above other G7 countries — the numbers are less clear.

In 2006, Canada's unemployment rate stood at 6.3 per cent — fourth-best among the G7.

Today, the jobless rate stands at 7 per cent — sliding Canada to fifth place in the G7.

"Head and shoulders," above the others? That might be a stretch.

Perhaps Harper should stick to his line from Sunday's campaign launch when he said Canada has performed "well" compared to other G7 countries.

Looking at the records of Japan and Italy, there is no denying that's true.