What You See is Not What You Get: Budgets versus Results

Canadians always hear that their cities are strapped for cash. Yet a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute reveals that Canada’s biggest municipalities ran aggregate budget surpluses of $11 billion in 2018.

In “What You See is Not What You Get: Budgets versus Results in Canada’s Major Cities, 2019” authors Farah Omran and William B.P. Robson show how municipal budget debates mislead councillors, commentators and citizens about the state of city finances. They compare the budgets of Canada’s 31 most populous municipalities from 2010 to 2018 to the results reported in those municipalities’ year-end financial statements. When it comes to spending, the difference between what a reader of city budgets would have expected and what the financial statements showed averaged 8 percent over that period. And far from what the annual angst around balanced budgets would lead people to expect, these municipalities reported a staggering accumulated surpluses of $207 billion by the end of 2018.

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