Thursday, July 23, 2009

Canada’s best and worst run cities


This survey, the first of its kind in Canada, provides citizens in 31 cities across the country with comparative data on how well—or poorly—their city is run, measured by the cost and quality of the public services it delivers. (Why 31? We took the 30 largest cities in Canada, added whatever provincial capitals were not on the list, then subtracted a few cities from the Greater Toronto Area for better regional balance. Somehow that left 31.)

Though the overall results—Burnaby, Saskatoon and Surrey, B.C. lead the pack; Charlottetown, Kingston, Ont., and Fredericton trail—will be of particular interest, they are less important than the process this is intended to kick off. We aim not merely to start some good barroom arguments, but to help voters to hold their representatives to better account, and indeed to help city governments themselves. For without some sort of yardstick to measure their performance, either against other cities or against their own past record, how can they hope to know whether they are succeeding?

To compile the survey, Maclean’s commissioned the Halifax-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, expanding on the institute’s earlier work measuring the performance of municipalities in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Unlike other studies, this does not try to measure quality of life, or which city is the “best place to live.” Rather, it focuses on the contribution of local governments to this end.

This survey looks at a city’s efficiency—the cost of producing results—and the effectiveness of its services, including how well each city does when it comes to things like maintaining roads and parks, picking up garbage and putting out fires.