Canada’s premiers ranked on fiscal policy — Dunderdale is tops, Selinger hits bottom

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Ranking Canada's premiers can be a mug's game — each provincial leader obviously faces very different circumstances.

But, you've got to give credit to the Fraser Institute for coming up with — what I think — is the most credible ranking system in the country: their annual fiscal performance measures.

The think-tank's 2012 report tells us that when it comes government spending, taxes and level of debt and deficit, Newfoundland's Kathy Dunderdale was the best, Ontario's Dalton McGuinty was mediocre again and Manitoba Greg Selinger was the worst.

Dunderdale finished with a score of 71.4 (out of a possible 100.0) earning points for keeping average program spending growth below the rate of provincial economic growth and for being one of only two premiers to reduce debt during their tenures.

By comparison, Selinger ranked last with a paltry 19.2 points. The report's authors chided Manitoba's NDP premier for increasing spending at an average rate of 7.8 per cent per year while doing nothing to curb the province's ballooning debt and deficits.

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The report's authors also had some parting shots for outgoing Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty — as chronicled by the National Post's Jen Gerson:

"Most of the institute's chagrin was reserved for this Liberal premier of Ontario, even though he scored only third from last.

After nine years as premier, the Fraser Institute noted Mr. McGuinty's program spending increased by 6.1% per year. Meanwhile population and inflation growth maintained a rate of about 3.1% and economic growth at 3.6%.

"If you go into the details, the reason for his poor performance over the course of [several] years was his inability to restrain growth in government spending," said Charles Lammam, Fraser's associate director for tax and budget policy.

"[Mr.] McGuinty increased program spending far beyond the rate of economic growth in his province.""

A right-wing bias?:

Since the report's release, on Thursday, there have accusations leveled against author Charles Lammam and the Fraser Institute, suggesting that this report has small 'c' conservative ideology written all over it.

Indeed, if you  look at the top 5 premiers on the list, you'll notice that they all lead right-of-centre political parties.

But, in an email exchange with Yahoo! Canada News, co-author Lammam said past reports have had NDP premiers atop the rankings.

"In our 2010 report former Premier Gary Doer, an NDP from Manitoba, ranked second overall."

Besides, he says, what's required from premiers to be sound fiscal policy managers does not change with political affiliation.

"Research shows that excessive increases to government spending can hinder an economy's performance. Tax rates and the structure of the tax system have a significant impact on incentives that influence whether businesses and individuals engage in productive economic activity," Lammam said.

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"Finally, debts and deficits are a critical aspect of fiscal performance because annual deficits increase the overall level of government debt, which if too high can be a drag on future economic growth. Increased debt also requires more tax dollars to be spent on interest costs and less on public services and tax relief."

Premier rankings:

1. Kathy Dunderdale (Newfoundland & Labrador): 71.4

2. David Alward (New Brunswick): 70.4

3. Brad Wall (Saskatchewan): 61.6

4. Christy Clark (British Columbia): 60.8

5. Ed Stelmach (Alberta): 49.1

6. Darrell Dexter (Nova Scotia): 37.9

7. Jean Charest (Quebec): 35.9

8. Dalton McGunity (Ontario): 28.9

9. Robert Ghiz (Prince Edward Island): 23.5

10. Greg Selinger (Manitoba): 19.2