Making Budget Promises Matter: Canada's 2012 Fiscal Accountability Rankings --C.D. Howe Institute

Feb 21, 2013, 10:00 ET from C.D. Howe Institute

TORONTO, Feb. 21, 2013 /CNW/ - Canada's senior governments have regularly missed budget spending and revenue targets during the last decade, according to a report released today by the C.D. Howe Institute. In "Canada's 2012 Fiscal Accountability Rankings," authors Colin Busby and William B.P. Robson find the combined spending overruns of federal, provincial and territorial governments have surpassed $53 billion in the last 10 years. If budget targets were met more accurately, they point out, current taxes, deficits and debt loads would be lower and more manageable.

Based on a nation-wide analysis of budget promises and ensuing spending records over 10 years, the authors answer the following questions: Which governments present the most meaningful financial information -- and which the worst? Which governments were chronic over-spenders in the past decade? Who tends to hit budget targets -- and who tends to miss? How can legislators and taxpayers better hold governments to account?

The authors start with transparency. Their review finds that some jurisdictions present budget and public accounts figures clearly, making key figures in both documents easily comparable. Further, some governments table their public accounts in a timely way, with clean audits and updates on changes to budget plans during the fiscal year.

The federal government and the governments of Ontario and New Brunswick lead the way in presenting clear public accounts documents and making an effort to compare and explain deviations from budgeted and year-end revenue and spending figures. Other governments do less well. Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territory and Nunavut do not present straightforward and comparable figures in their budgets or public accounts.

As for reliability in hitting spending targets, the study shows Ottawa having the lowest tendency to overshoot, with Ontario and Nova Scotia not far behind. Newfoundland and Labrador, uniquely, showed an average undershoot. As for accuracy, Quebec, New Brunswick, Ontario and Nova Scotia show respectable scores, while resource-dependent jurisdictions, notably Saskatchewan and Alberta, did poorly, with a tendency to badly overshoot budget targets.

"The past decade's overshoots, and growing awareness that lack of fiscal transparency undermines good management of public money, should inspire Canadian governments to improve their financial reporting and their adherence to targets - and for legislators and voters to hold them more closely to account," concluded William Robson.

For the report go to:

For the Pinocchio Index go to:

SOURCE C.D. Howe Institute