A recent report by the Fraser Institute on economic freedom across all 60 Canadian provinces and US states, has ranked Alberta first, and Saskatchewan right behind in second place.
This news received significant media coverage in Saskatchewan and across North America — great marketing as the province continually strives to attract new investment, businesses and people.
Premier Brad Wall too, was understandably happy to promote this good news as far and wide as possible as his government has worked to raise the profile of the province and implement attractive policies.
However, a closer reading of the report shows that while Saskatchewan’s headline ranking has improved considerably in recent years, there is still much more for the government to do into the future.
Having ranked near the bottom of the 60 states and provinces just a decade ago, moving up from third to second this year can hardly be called a disappointment, but executive summaries typically don’t tell the whole story.
Digging further in to the detail of the report reveals that the scores used to make up the overall rankings actually include scores related to federal policies in both Canada and the US.
Given that the Canadian federal government’s policies are scored more positively than the United States, Canadian provinces receive a boost in the overall rankings compared with their American counterparts.
It’s certainly true that Canada has made strides towards higher quality economic policies than the US in recent years, and these changes have positive impacts on people’s lives. But when it comes to judging a provincial government’s performance, we should focus more on the areas of the economy that they actually control.
With that in mind, when federal policies are excluded from the overall scores in the report, leaving only those policies that provincial and state governments actually have control over, Alberta maintains its number 1 ranking, but unfortunately, Saskatchewan drops down to 27th out of 60.
This shows that at least some of the progress made in the last decade has come on the back of reforms in Ottawa, and that to ensure the province keeps pace with its neighbours in Alberta and beyond, further political resolve will be needed.
Interestingly, Canada holds claim not only to the top two ranked jurisdictions but also the bottom two – Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
This demonstrates the huge variability within the country, and emphasises the many large challenges that Canada still faces.
But it also reveals a significant strength of the Canadian political system that the United States lacks, a distribution of many areas of public policy to the provinces.
While the US Federal government continues to concentrate more and more power in Washington DC, Canada has a golden opportunity to promote decision making at a much more local level.
Decentralization and the promotion of local decision-making is an extremely effective way to improve outcomes from public policy choices.
Instead of one-size-fits-all policies across an entire country, provinces, cities or even communities can try different policies that better suit local conditions.
This kind of experimentation allows for different ideas to be tested to see what works and what doesn’t, helps identify what isn’t working much more quickly, and leads to higher quality policies overall.
Though a second place ranking overall is a significant achievement, 27th out of 60 for provincially controlled policies is a reminder that there is a long way to go before residents of Saskatchewan can be truly proud.
The Saskatchewan government should take another look at the areas of public policy they can have a real impact on, and they would also do well to pressure Ottawa for more devolvement of powers to the provinces, to ensure that vital public policy innovation can continue.