As a marketing strategy, Tim Hudak's one million jobs act is masterful. It is simple, appealing and perfect for headlines, slogans and campaign brochures.
As a plan to get Ontario back to work, it wouldn't pass an elementary economics test. It consists of unproven assertions, nostrums that haven't worked for 20 years and wishful thinking.
Strip away the rhetoric and there is not much left.
Somehow, according to the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, an all-out push to eliminate the provincial deficit coupled with a corporate tax cut will induce employers to start hiring.
Hudak might want to check the federal record. His former colleague Jim Flaherty has been using exactly that formula since the recession ended. Canada's job creation record has been dismal.
He might also want to take a look at corporate balance sheets. Businesses can afford to rebuild their workforces without provincial help. They've amassed such a huge stockpile of idle cash that former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney accused business leaders of hoarding "dead money" rather than hiring workers or investing in new technology.
Somehow, according to Hudak, freezing public sector wages will create private sector jobs. When asked to explain this, he replied: "Well-run provinces attract well-run businesses."
He might want to talk to a few corporate leaders. A province's fiscal rectitude is not the deciding factor — not even one of the top five — in deciding where to locate a business. First, company executives look at input costs, access to credit, infrastructure, proximity to transportation hubs, availability of qualified workers and quality of life. Then they might check government finances.
A province that couldn't pay its bills or manage its day-to-day affairs obviously wouldn't be a smart place to invest. But Ontario, for all Hudak's alarmist rhetoric, is nowhere close to that.
It is true that the addition of one million jobs over eight years — 125,000 new jobs a year — would be an improvement over last year's anemic gain of 102,000 jobs. But taking a longer view, the Tory leader's goal doesn't look so ambitious. In the 1990s, Ontario chalked up an average of 122,000 new jobs a year.
Moreover, he hasn't told voters what kind of jobs he envisages. Would they be full-time or part-time? Would they be permanent or short-term? Would they pay enough to support a family? An upsurge in precarious, minimum-wage jobs is a shaky building block for future prosperity.
It is true that dismantling interprovincial trade barriers would give Ontario an economic boost. But Canada's premiers have been trying to do that — with no success —- for roughly 20 years. They have held talks, set up working groups, launched negotiations and announced agreements in principle. Yet, free trade within Canada remains a pipe dream.
Maybe Hudak knows how to unblock internal commerce. But all he has told voters is that he would enact legislation requiring Ontario to undertake negotiations with Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. That falls well short of a solution.
It is true that reducing energy costs and winnowing the buildup of provincial regulations would cut business costs. But lowering the environmental bar, skimping on product safety and cutting back on site inspections could cost Ontarians dearly.
Furthermore, Hudak blithely assumes companies would use their savings to hire workers. Their recent behaviour suggests they'd be more likely to lock up the money than spend it.
The Tory leader, who has a master's degree in economics, knows governments can't create private-sector jobs. But he is willing to gamble that he'll catch the economy on the upswing, as employers are rebuilding their workforces. It worked for his mentor, Mike Harris.
He is also gambling he won't be held to account for his promise. That, at least, looks like a safe bet. To reach a day of reckoning, he would have to win two elections, survive numerous votes of non-confidence in the legislature and at party leadership reviews. And then Ontarians would have to remember his 2014 pre-election promise in 2022. The odds of all that happening are negligible.
For now, he just has to sound confident, fling around a few numbers, and count on a distracted and desperate electorate to do the rest.
Carol Goar is a news services columnist.