Despite a better overall score for 2011 when compared to the previous year, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality tied with Clarington, Ont., and St. John's, N.L., to place a lowly 96th out of 100 cities or municipal units in an annual survey on financial transparency conducted by a national think-tank.
The Frontier Centre for Public Policy on Monday released the sixth annual edition of its local government performance index, which the CBRM has been a part of since the index's first year in 2008.
The index ranks the top 100 Canadian cities on their financial transparency and performance over the 2011 financial year, using more than 27,000 pieces of data.
The CBRM's difficulties were twofold this year, said Peter McCaffrey, the centre's policy analyst and local government performance index co-ordinator.
"Cape Breton was quite an interesting case this year. We've actually seen an increase in scores, from 10 points out of 33 to 16 points out of 33 over the last year."
Despite the better overall score, the CBRM slid 23 places in the national rankings from its No. 73 ranking in 2010.
"This was due to a number of things," explained McCaffrey. "Firstly, we've added quite a number of cities through the database this year – an extra 27 cities – and so obviously some of those cities are going to come above Cape Breton, so that's going to push them down the list."
When you factor in an overall improvement across the country in financial reporting standards, he added, it's little wonder the CBRM dropped in the rankings.
"It's not a case of (the CBRM) getting any worse. What we are seeing is a lot of cities improving and perhaps they've improved just as quickly, if not more quickly, than Cape Breton in their standards."
With much of the weight in the final score based on such things as the timeliness of the release of annual financial reports to the public and the amount of detail given in financial breakdowns, it doesn't take many negatives to knock down a municipal unit's overall numbers.
"I'll give you one example for Cape Breton. They actually had a zero out of four on the timeliness of making their (annual financial statement) available to the public. That's why Cape Breton was very far behind a lot of other cities.
"Part of the issue there is that Cape Breton, and I believe all the other cities in the province, release their financial statement on March 31 each year rather than Jan. 1, so you had a slightly different financial year.
"But even taking that into account, the delay between the end of the financial year and the release of the financial statement (to the public) was quite a long delay. The (2011) report came out on Feb. 9, 2012, so we are talking about almost 10 months."
Another negative in the CBRM's annual financial report, said McCaffrey, was because it didn't break down some of its spending into categories that would make it easier for the general public to see where it was being spent.
On a positive side, he said the CBRM received much higher marks this year for giving more detail in the figures in its annual financial report.
The Frontier Centre for Public Policy has its head office in Winnipeg and is an independent public policy think-tank that is not affiliated with any government or political party. According to McCaffrey, most of its funding comes from individual donors and foundations.
The centre does public policy research on an array of issues, ranging from education policy to housing affordability and trade issues. Its website can be accessed at www.lgpi.ca.