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OTTAWA, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper often touts his job creation record as he campaigns for a federal election this month. But a rise in the number of unemployed on his watch has taken some of the shine off his claims, and his polling numbers as the best economic manager have suffered.
He accurately states that 1.3 million new jobs have been created since the depth of the 2008-09 recession, and during the current campaign for the Oct 19 federal election, he set a target of another 1.3 million jobs by 2020.
Canada's unemployment rate has fallen sharply since the 2008-09 financial crisis.
But the growth of the labor force, combined with the residual effects of that recession and this year's oil-induced downturn, mean the number of unemployed workers and jobless rate are higher than when he took office in 2006, giving ammunition to his opponents.
"He hasn't created enough jobs to counteract the population rise and the other demographic factors," said Liberal Member of Parliament John McCallum, a former cabinet minister.
New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair has also pointed out that Canada has close to 300,000 more unemployed people than before the financial crisis.
At 7.0 percent, Canada's jobless rate is well down from its recessionary peak of 8.7 percent, but higher than the 6.6 percent that prevailed when Harper took office.
"We are privileged to have the best job creation record of any country in the G7 (Group of Seven countries)," said Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre. "Our plan is to continue to create jobs through trade, training and tax cuts."
A Conservative spokesman added that Canada had the best G7 employment growth since 2006 at 10.7 percent and highest real GDP growth of 15.9 percent.
While the economy has been adding jobs, immigration and other factors mean the labor force has grown by 1.2 million people since before the recession and by 1.05 million since the recession.
Ahead of the 2011 election, Harper overwhelmingly polled as the best party leader to manage during tough economic times, by a margin of 51 percent to 23 percent in an Ipsos survey.
But on a similar question in a poll released on Sept 28 - who would be best able to deal with the struggling economy - Ipsos paints virtual deadlock, with 35 percent favoring Harper, 34 percent Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and 31 percent the NDP's Mulcair.
Ipsos pollster Darrell Bricker characterized the numbers as "a big change and challenge." (Additional reporting by Andrea Hopkins in Toronto and Leah Schnurr in Ottawa; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Cynthia Osterman)