Does Public Reporting Measure Up? Federalism, Accountability and Child-Care Policy in Canada

By Anderson, Lynell; Findlay, Tammy | Canadian Public Administration, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Does Public Reporting Measure Up? Federalism, Accountability and Child-Care Policy in Canada


Anderson, Lynell, Findlay, Tammy, Canadian Public Administration


Governments in Canada have shown growing interest in accountability and citizen engagement, including within federalism. The 1999 accountability provisions of the Social Union Framework Agreement (SUFA) emphasize "collaborative" federalism, public reporting and the involvement of third parties in the social policy process (Boismenu and Graefe 2004). Since that time, public reporting has become the preferred mechanism in a range of policy areas, including early learning and child-care. This new approach departs significantly from federal/provincial/territorial (FPT) accountability mechanisms, such as legislated standards, audited information and reporting to legislatures, that were applied in the past to social policy. While we have serious questions about whether public reporting can replace traditional approaches in Canadian federalism, in this article we assess its effectiveness as an accountability measure. The article is based on our experience with the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada's community capacity-building project that explores the relationship between public policy, funding and accountability mechanisms under the FPT agreements related to child-care. (1)

We argue that, in its current form, public reporting has not lived up to its promise of accountability to citizens. This evaluation is based on the standards that governments have set for themselves under the FPT agreements, as well as guidelines by the Public Sector Accounting Board, an independent body that develops accounting standards through consultation with governments. We begin by outlining the case study of early learning and child-care. Next, we elaborate on our research methodology and the criteria on which we base our analysis. We then move on to the review and critique of the process and substance of child-care reporting and the prospects for citizen engagement. Finally, we offer several policy recommendations and draw some conclusions about the future of public reporting.

Public reporting, accountability and child-care

Those concerned with Canadian federalism have long been interested in accountability between levels of government, and a substantial shift in the approach to social policy and FPT relations in Canada has renewed attention. This shift has involved a movement away from a regime based on conditionality and cost-sharing towards a new paradigm, initially spelled out in the SUFA.

Barbara Cameron has traced changes in intergovernmental relations over two different "accountability regimes:" the Canada Assistance Plan Act (R.S., c. C-1) and the Social Union Framework Agreement (2007:162). In the former regime, the accountability mechanism revolved around federal conditions placed on financial transfers to the provinces and cost-sharing. This regime included legislated standards, such as those in the Canada Health Act (R.S.C. 1985, c. C-6), bolstered by the federal spending power (Day and Brodsky 2007). Accountability for federal funds also required approval by elected legislatures and reporting to Parliament (Cameron 2007).

The Canada Assistance Plan regime certainly was not perfect. For instance, it problematically defined child-care in terms of welfare. It has also been criticized for its heavy-handed federal oversight of the provinces (Boismenu and Graefe 2004; Cameron 2007). Despite these weaknesses, federal conditions were attached to fiscal transfers (Friendly and White 2008), providing guarantees of social citizenship rights, and the procedural right to appeal (Cameron 2007), which have since been greatly weakened. By the mid-1970s, there was a shift in fiscal federalism and an accompanying loosening of accountability for federal transfers (Boismenu and Graefe 2004). New accountability techniques, especially public reporting, have gained currency in intergovernmental relations (Phillips 2001). Performance reporting has been developing in health care in Canada, as well as internationally, since 2000 (Morris and Zelmer 2005). …

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