Should Barrie politicians and city staff lose sleep about being ranked 25th of 31 Canadian cities in a July 22 Maclean’s article? Probably not, given the media normally uses a different yardstick for evaluating governments than municipal councillors, staff and most residents do.
It’s also worth noting that Maclean’s is using data from 2005-2007, which really isn’t all that recent, in rating the efficiency and effectiveness of local governments and how they provide services. And although Barrie is ranked near the bottom of Maclean’s list, it’s barely mentioned in the article, called ‘Canada’s best and worst run cities’.
That said, the article can’t just be discounted either.
Maclean’s magazine has a pretty solid reputation for good journalism, and it doesn’t have an agenda. Its writers aren’t out to get Barrie, or any other Canadian city. Rather the goal is to provide citizens in these 31 cities “with comparative data on how well — or poorly — their city is run, measured by the cost and quality of the public services it delivers.”
And the conclusions reached from this data are not intended to be definitive.
“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?” says Maclean’s.
Despite Barrie’s low ranking, Maclean’s is hardly condemning the city. The article’s numbers say Barrie residents get good municipal services — but at a rather high price. (The efficiency of delivering the services ranks 27th out of 31 cities, the effectiveness of those services ranks 10th of 31 cities, to be exact.) And remember, this was from 2005-2007.
Don’t think anything has changed since then? Think Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), which did the study, is as right about Canadian cities now as it was then?
Let’s look at safety and protection, where AIMS ranked Barrie 21st out of 31 cities.
Last week, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics released a 2008 crime report that ranked Barrie as one of the safest cities of its size in Canada — third under the crime severity index, second under the violent crime severity index, for cities with populations between 100,000 and 500,000 people.
How is that compatible with 21st out of 31?
Again, this doesn’t mean there’s no value in the Maclean’s article or the AIMS study.
But if Barrie residents really want to know how much bang they’re getting for their municipal tax bucks, they need to do a more personal evaluation. In short, are you happy with the services you receive for your tax dollars? Are they worth the money you pay?
Does your water taste good? Is your neighbourhood park clean? Are your trash and recyclables collected on time? Does your toilet flush? Are the streets drivable? Are police officers, firefighters and paramedics there when you need them? Does the snow get plowed in the winter?
Everybody has different answers to these questions. Everybody has a different idea about whether city services are worth the money.
The Maclean’s article and the AIMS study have value. They’re independent ways of looking at Canadian cities, their services and how they stack up.
But Barrie residents have to make up their own minds about city hall’s efficiency and effectiveness.
Then call your councillor.