C.D. Howe Institute Pans Canadian Governments’ Opaque Budgets

October 24, 2023


OTTAWA – Canadian senior governments’ budgets are too opaque, says a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute. While Alberta and Saskatchewan garnered grades in the A range in its latest annual report card, both the federal government, and Newfoundland and Labrador barely earned Cs.

In “The ABCs of Fiscal Accountability: The Report Card for Canada’s Senior Governments, 2023,” authors William B.P. Robson and Nicholas Dahir grade Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments for the clarity, reliability and timeliness of their budgets, estimates and public accounts.

This year’s version of the C.D. Howe Institute’s annual fiscal accountability report card covers year-end financial statements for fiscal year 2021/22 as well as budgets and estimates for 2022/23. The scores ranged from Alberta’s and Saskatchewan’s class-topping grades of A+ and A-, to the federal government, and Newfoundland and Labrador, each with grades of C-minus.

“The fiscal impact of COVID-19 has made transparency in government budgets and financial statements more important than ever. This report card is not about whether governments spend and tax too much or too little, whether they run surpluses or deficits, or whether their programs succeed or fail,” says Robson, C.D. Howe Institute CEO. “It is about whether Canadians can get information they need to form opinions on these issues and correct any problems they discover.”

Provinces in the B-range include: Yukon (B+); Prince Edward Island (B); New Brunswick (B); Nova Scotia (B-); Quebec (B-); Ontario (B-); and British Colombia (B-). While Nunavut earned a C+, Manitoba a C, and the Northwest Territories a C.

The good news, say the authors, is that the financial transparency of Canada’s senior governments has improved over time. They note that in recent years more and more governments adhere to public sector accounting standards, and that it has become easier to compare plans from budgets with financial statement results.

Robson and Dahir also provide a preview of senior governments’ scores using budgets and estimates for the 2023/24 fiscal year, and note that most produced timelier budgets than in the 2022/23 budget cycle. The bad news is that too many governments hide key numbers, with the authors singling out federal budgets for burying them under hundreds of pages of irrelevant material, and that confused estimates processes mean that legislators often do not consider, let alone approve, the spending they are supposed to oversee.

“This annual report card hopes to encourage further progress and discourage backsliding,” say Robson and Dahir. “Canadians can get more transparent financial reporting from their governments – if they demand it.”

Read the Full Report

William B.P. Robson, CEO, C.D. Howe Institute; Nicholas Dahir, Research Assistant, C.D. Howe Institute

The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. Widely considered to be Canada’s most influential think tank, the Institute is a trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.

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