Halifax’s Financial Picture Just So-So: Winnipeg Think-Tank

Media Appearances, Municipal Government, Frontier Centre

Halifax Regional Municipality is in pretty good financial shape, but it could be doing better.

A new report from the Winnipeg-based think-tank Frontier Centre, which is the sister think-tank to the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, has compared the finances of local governments of the 30 most populous Canadian cities.

As a medium-sized city, Halifax isn’t the best, and isn’t the worst.

Report author Larry Mitchell said yesterday Halifax regional council is facing the same constraints as others across the country “and are doing a reasonably good job of it.”

“But it’s still within their capability to decide there’s a better way of doing things,” he said in an interview.

In particular, HRM could be much more transparent with the information it releases to the public. It ought to report its information in a more holistic and complete approach, he said.

So instead of concentrating so intently on costs and income, he said, the municipality should report such things as performance-related measurements.

For instance a water commission would report on costs, but also complaints, leaks, water quality and other factors that influence its operations.

Without performance measurements, you’re really flying blind, aren’t you?” Mitchell said.

By knowing more, he said, you can know more about your strengths and weaknesses and how to improve them.

“Halifax has a lot going for it. It’s just a pity that the level of disclosure, their accountability stuff – they should improve that,” Mitchell said.

The Halifax data are based on 2005 figures.

Chief administrative officer Dan English said the city wanted more time to review the analysis before commenting. He did release a statement to the media yesterday.

“Recently, HRM had an independent review of its financial performance and credit worthiness, and was pleased to see an increase in its rating by Standard and Poor’s from A stable to A positive,” English said.

“The increase was based on strong operating results and a continuing strong economic performance.”

Mitchell said HRM does have some good things going for it, such as its ability to create capital. It also has a good ratio of spending on wants versus needs. That is, the city spends responsibly on core services, rather than additional niceties.

Economic factors such as median income and education levels are good, he said.

He was also surprised at the small amount of money the province gives the city.

“I think they should see that the province does its job and provides funding, which it patently is not doing at the moment,” Mitchell said.

Halifax Chamber of Commerce president Valerie Payn said the city is in a strong economic position.

“These are the good days in the Canadian economy,” Payn said.

“If ever we are to make positive change, this is a really good time to do it.”