In many jurisdictions, policies are required to achieve short-term fiscal consolidation efforts and long-term fiscal sustainability though programme cuts and/or tax increases are unpopular and often difficult to enact. In many cases, this is the result of a lack of understanding by the general public about the seriousness of the fiscal situation and the need to act aggressively. Often the public feels isolated from the decisions made by their governments and do not fully understand the rationale for them. However, mechanisms can be put in place, which if they are transparent and viewed and perceived as being credible, will improve the understanding of the budget process and encourage the public to be engaged in the process.
A well informed and engaged public about the budgetary process and the economic and fiscal situations helps to promote good governance, through improved citizen oversight and potentially greater trust in government, and helps build support for more responsible economic and fiscal policies, especially when compromise is required. In most cases, the public is eager to become engaged in the process but may lack the opportunities to do so.
Although some mechanisms were in place prior to the 1990s for public engagement in the federal Canadian budgetary process, there was general apathy by the public at large about the process. The government was relatively small and its role limited. Budgets were largely viewed as a “fait accompli” with little public input. With the expansion of government services in the late 1970s and 1980s, its influence began to expand significantly. Throughout the 1980s, persistent deficits were being recorded, in part due to cyclical factors but also because the expansion of programs was not matched with higher revenues. A large and growing structural deficit emerged. Although the national debt continued to increase, there was a general lack of understanding of the consequences of persistent deficits and growing debt.