This backgrounder examines how easy it is for residents to assess the performance of their local governments. Transparent government is a basic expectation in the Western world. A crucial element of transparency is the ease with which people can find the policy goals of their government and the success of their government in achieving these goals. Any government will claim to perform well, but unless residents can test this performance, there is no way to distinguish between rhetoric and reality. Municipal government is no exception. Voters’ only power over their municipal government officials is the ability to vote them in or out of office every three years.
With imminent municipal elections in Saskatchewan, the Frontier Centre compares the transparency of Regina and Saskatoon with other cities, both within Canada and internationally. Both cities measure their performance in certain areas but as a general rule fall short of the standard set by other municipalities. In each of the performance areas studied the Saskatchewan cities have fewer measurements. The report also examines the areas of expenditure noted in the financial report and finds that performance and expenditure are rarely linked, making it difficult for residents to gauge value for money.
What is Transparency?
Transparency refers to how or whether municipal governments disclose their performance in achieving their goals.
Two questions are asked:
• What does a municipal government want to achieve?
• What data are available to determine if the goal is being achieved?
This report does not examine how well the goals of a city are being met nor does it judge the validity of the goals. The focus of the report is on whether residents can access the information that enables them to make these decisions themselves.
To be transparent, data must fulfil three criteria:
• It must be quantitative.
• It must be comparable to other cities and other years.
• It must be linked to expenditures.
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About the Author:
Mike Bridge is a policy analyst with the Frontier Centre. Originally from New Zealand, he graduated from Victoria University Wellington with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Political Science. Mike is interested in all areas of public policy but in particular transparency and accountability within the public sector.