Since 2007, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy has published their Local Government Performance Index on an annual basis. The index ranks the top 100 cities in Canada according to their financial transparency and performance. The elaborate system, driven by more than 30,000 distinct data points, challenges governments across the country to spend responsibly, be forthcoming with their reporting, and use the index as a showcase for positive records.
This year’s report once again saw an overall increase in scores. Markham held its ground in 1st place, but it now shares top spot with Edmonton and Mississauga. The two newcomers to first place received their best scores to date.
On the other hand, Toronto dropped to 22nd after leaping to 5th the previous year. The city received the same score as last year, but it fell relative to an overall improvement nationwide. Kitchener and Saskatoon share the distinction as the most improved cities, joining Toronto at 22nd overall.
Edmonton finished in top spot in the recent rankings.
This index generates a form of competition among municipal governments to perform well, and can serve as motivation for those that are performing poorly. For Saint-Jérôme in Québec, which has swan-dived 44 places since 2011, this latest result will, ideally, serve as an incentive for the city to be more honest about its status.
Municipal governments that have generously disclosed data have seen their rankings rise for the most part, while minimally informative governments have not been so fortunate. Ben Eisen, formerly of the Frontier Centre and now research director with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies in Nova Scotia, says, “I would certainly hope that those municipalities that had less information publicly available for this report would carefully examine practices in other cities and consider different strategies to make their governments as transparent as possible.”
“The project’s website makes it easier for citizens to obtain information about how their tax dollars are being managed,” he says, “and to make direct comparisons between jurisdictions, which are both positive things for accountability.”
The LGPI website put the statistics into perspective by stating: “Residents can’t shop around for a city like they can for a car, but if they know how their city’s performing, then they can bring informed pressure on their elected representatives.”
Those who are unable to pick-up and move cities benefit greatly from the ability to apply pressure on their local governments. For those who have the luxury of leaving a jurisdiction where a government isn’t performing up to standard, the index is a viable metric for comparison.
The city of St. John was the least transparent, and finished last.
The index’s exhaustive trove includes audited financial statements from the top 100 cities. As the authors explain, it examines everything from taxes and debt levels to spending on transport and salaries. Further, it measures these statistics on three distinct levels: absolute, per person, and per household.
Guided by feedback from the public, the government, and the media, the database has been transformed into a “live” source that welcomes questions, challenges, and even new submissions of data. The idea is to engage more minds in the measurement and pursuit of better local government by improving the database by allowing crowdsourced information to challenge certain data points.
In the midst of a global push for more transparent governments, the Local Government Performance Index’s accurate and thorough quantification provides a realistic, factual image of how governments are actually performing. If only more governments would take up the challenge and be forthcoming.