Canada's 2012 Fiscal Accountability Rankings

24 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2013

Date Written: February 21, 2013


Canada’s governments have regularly missed budget spending and revenue targets during the last decade. Taken together, the spending overruns of federal, provincial and territorial governments have surpassed $53 billion in the last 10 years. If budget targets were met more accurately, current debt loads, tax burdens and deficits would be lower and more manageable.

There is considerable variation in the financial reporting of Canadian governments. Some jurisdictions present budget and public accounts figures clearly, making the results in both documents easily comparable. Further, some governments table their public accounts in a timely way, with clean audits and updates on changes to budget plans during the fiscal year. Others, however, do not.

The federal government and the governments of Ontario and New Brunswick are leading the way in presenting clear public accounts documents and making an effort to compare and explain deviations from budgeted and year-end revenue and spending figures. At the other end of the scale are the governments of Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territory and Nunavut, which do not present straightforward and comparable figures in their budgets or public accounts.

This fifth annual study of governments’ fiscal accountability measures each jurisdiction’s 10-year fiscal record for bias (the average difference between budget projections and actual results) and accuracy (over-shoots and under-shoots of budget targets).

The results for spending show Ottawa having the best (lowest) bias score with Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Nova Scotia not far behind. On accuracy, Quebec, New Brunswick, Ontario and Nova Scotia show respectable scores. Resource-dependent jurisdictions, such as Saskatchewan and Alberta, have poor bias and accuracy scores, making them more likely to miss budgeted spending promises than other jurisdictions.

The past decade’s cumulative revenue and spending overshoots, and the emerging understanding that a lack of fiscal transparency undermines good management of public money, should inspire Canadian senior governments to improve their financial reporting and their adherence to targets – and for legislators and voters to hold them more closely to account.

Keywords: Fiscal Policy, Tax Competitiveness, Budgets, Revenue

JEL Classification: H20, H30, H60, H61, H68

Suggested Citation

Busby, Colin and Robson, William B. P., Canada's 2012 Fiscal Accountability Rankings (February 21, 2013). C.D. Howe Institute Commentary 373. Available at SSRN: or

Colin Busby

C.D. Howe Institute ( email )

67 Yonge St., Suite 300
Toronto, Ontario M5E 1J8

William B. P. Robson (Contact Author)

C.D. Howe Institute ( email )

67 Yonge Street
Suite 300
Toronto, Ontario M5E 1J8
416-865-1904 (Phone)
416-865-1866 (Fax)


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