by MARILLA STEPHENSON
WITH another well-timed kick in the ribs, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies released its review of Canadian cities last week, just as Paul McCartney, the tall ships festival and Kiss were drawing thousands of visitors to Halifax. Our fair city did not fare so well in the results, finishing in 24th place among 29 cities ranked in the institute’s National Municipal Performance Report, which was published in the latest edition of Maclean’s magazine.
Burnaby, B.C., Saskatoon, Sask., Surrey, B.C., Vancouver, B.C., and Longueil, Que., in that order, swept the top five spots. The bottom five, from 25th to 29th, were: Barrie, Ont.; Windsor, Ont.; Fredericton; Kingston, Ont.; and Charlottetown. Results in some categories were given for Laval, Que., and Victoria, but neither had enough scoring to receive an overall ranking. Notables included Saint John, N.B., at 8th spot, Toronto 10th, Calgary 11th, Ottawa 16th, Montreal 21st and St. John’s 22nd.
It was the first review of its kind done by the institute and includes scoring for governance and finance, taxation, safety and protection, environmental health, economic development as well as recreation and culture. These categories have two sub-levels, with grades for efficiency (cost of the service) and effectiveness (quality of the service).
The report also contains information on each city’s population, crime rates, number of immigrants, kilometres of roads and annual revenue, among other items. The report considered three consecutive years of data from 2005 to 2007 and has balancing corrections that provide context in each scoring category. In other words, “the environment in which the city operates,” according to the report, could either boost its result or lower it in a particular category. The authors describe these context corrections as, for example, “making the best of a bad situation” or “resting on its laurels.”
For Halifax, the good news came in the taxation category in terms of the size of our overall property tax burden and in environmental health for the effectiveness of our waste disposal programs. The city scored B and B minus, respectively, in each of the two categories. The rest of the report card was average or below average from start to finish. Our Bs in the categories above were watered down by poorer C grades for the fact that our tax base is not growing effectively in relation to the size of the city, and while our garbage disposal is top-notch, it is also graded as very expensive and drew a C minus.
In terms of governance and finance, Halifax scored C plus for the administrative costs of running the city, and C in terms of the number of councillors and city employees, relative to our population. Indeed, in every other category, the scores were Cs — for safety and protection, for economic develop, for recreation and culture, and for transportation.
We have the fifth-highest crime rate and the second-lowest level of funding transfers from other levels of government. We are the largest geographically by far, at 5,490 square kilometres, ridiculously larger than both Greater Sudbury (3,201 square kilometres) and Ottawa, which is barely half our size. In terms of population, though, we are 11th on the list.
Overall, the report paints a grey report card of frustrating mediocrity. Just getting by, I’d call it. The results will come as no surprise to taxpayers whose frustration continues to grow about how slowly the wheels of progress grind down at city hall.