2011 NHS: Environics Analytics makes critics’ fears reaility, and why you shouldn’t buy its ‘CensusPlus’ product

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Thanks to Prof. Murtaza Haider, whose HuffPost write-up drew our attention to this.

When the long-form Census cancellation story first broke in June 2010, an astute fellow (ahem) observed the move would negatively impact provincial governments, community groups and other organizations that previously relied on its data. He noted: “It will be a disaster. A lot of policy across Canada has been based on that long form.”

That the data for smaller geographic areas wouldn’t be reliable enough to publish was anticipated by most people with a basic grasp of stats. Unfortunately, that nowhere-near-exclusive group excluded then-Industry Minister Tony Clement – along with every member of his party, apparently.

The first hint came with the initial 2011 NHS release, when the census tract data wasn’t published along with the census subdivision data, as it had been in 2006. The CT data was subsequently released. However, both the CSD and CT data reliability were misrepresented as StatsCan failed to draw attention to the fact it had doubled the acceptable global non-response rate (from 25 to 50%) – effectively lowering the bar to allow for the data to be published at all.

Among the concerns with the data being too unreliable to release was the possibility private firms would take advantage of / seek to profit off Canadians’ collective misfortune. Enter Environics Analytics.

To start, the company’s ad suggests the lack of an official release of the 2011 NHS DA-level data was unique, and that the data was not available from StatsCan – neither of which is accurate.

While it did officially release it in 2008, StatsCan never made the 2006 (20%) Census cumulative profile that includes DA-level data publicly available (see 94-581-X200602). Despite that same dataset being freely available through certain channels – we have a copy, in case readers are interested – StatsCan has advised those requesting that it’s only available on a significant ‘cost-recovery’ basis.

While StatsCan did not ‘officially’ release a 2011 NHS cumulative profile that includes DA-level data, last summer university librarians advised the agency was again offering to sell the data to those requesting it on a significant ‘cost recovery’ basis. As if it wasn’t enough that the data was garbage, users were still being hit up for access to it. Like the 2006 (20%) Census, the 2011 NHS DA-level data is likewise freely available through certain channels – we have an ‘unofficial’ copy, though will not be sharing it with readers.

Not because there’s profit to be made off of it, but because it’s garbage data. As it did with the already released CSD and CT data, StatsCan’s doubling of the global non-response rate masks how unreliable the 2011 NHS DA-level data is relative to prior long-form Census. An impressive 85% of DAs (47,746 / 56,204) met the significantly lowered data quality threshold (50% GNR). However, with the pre-2011 NHS standard (25% GNR) only 25% of DAs (14,110 / 56,204) would have been fit for release.

That’s the same data Environics would be providing potential clients through its ‘CensusPlus’ – but with extra tabs using variables from previous short and long form Census to impute (guesstimate) the missing data. While that may fill in the gaps, it’s no assurance the data will be any more accurate. (And yes, it’s just as likely to make the already inaccurate data even more so – remember the GIGO rule.)

That may be good enough for some profitable businesses in terms of cost-effectiveness. But it would be tough for community organisations and charities to justify digging into their limited financial resources to pay for unreliable data. Yet without reliable data many of those organisations could face losing future funding from larger umbrella groups (Centraide / United Way, for example) and provincial social agencies for failing to provide reliable estimates of the impact they have on the clients and communities they serve.

It’s a lose-lose for just about everyone. Except perhaps a federal government with a low-information, ideologically-driven policy agenda. And shady agencies looking to profit off Canadians’ collective misfortune.

Exclusion of wealthy households from CPI among issues likely confounding Bank of Canada

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A few months ago, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz announced he was giving up on economic models as the Consumer Price Index (CPI) stubbornly remained at or below the Bank’s target minimum rate. Then suddenly the CPI rose and remained at or above the Bank’s target midpoint as other economic indicators continued to show slack. Last week Mr. Poloz attributed the recent price surge to “temporary effects” while announcing the Bank was exploring a ‘neutral interest rate’ policy, effectively abandoning inflation targeting.

A closer look at how the CPI is produced may shed some light on why the measure has confounded the Bank of late.

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June 2014 LFS: An alternative view – The ‘self-employment’ report, Part 2

Chart 1 Self-employment and paid help
Chart 1 Self-employment and paid help

Source: CANSIM Table 282-0089 Labour force survey estimates (LFS), employment by class of worker, North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) and sex, unadjusted for seasonality, monthly (persons x 1,000), Statistics Canada

The ‘self-employment report, Part 1

After skimming through half a dozen national media and labour reports following the June 2014 Labour Force Survey (LFS) release this morning, it was surprising / disappointing that not one mentioned self-employment. All led with some variation of “Canada lost 9,400 jobs.” As indicated in Table 2 of the release, Canada supposedly lost an LFS-estimated 32,800 payroll jobs, the more modest 9,400 figure tempered by the estimated 23.400 gain in self-employment — with the usual caveat that all these monthly figures are meaningless as they’ll be revised in the coming months.

There are more than a few reasons to be wary of a ‘jobs’ report that’s increasingly being affected by self-employment noise.

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2016 NHS: StatsCan to collect Social Insurance Number, despite not being authorised to do so (updated July 15, 2014)

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StatsCan requests SIN data for survey test run
Jennifer Ditchburn, The Canadian Press July 8, 2014

An interesting story idea that somewhat missed. A quick ‘told ya so’ (see What’s the end game) before proceeding.

A Social Insurance Number (SIN) can be used to obtain much more than just Canada Revenue Agency tax file data. That’s why the Government of Canada advises citizens to closely guard their SIN numbers from those not authorised to collect or use them.

Who can ask for my SIN number?
Frequently Asked Questions, Office of the Privacy Commissioner May 15, 2014 (last modified)

Annex 2 – Authorized Federal Uses of the SIN
The Social Insurance Number Code of Practice, Service Canada March 4, 2014 (last modified)

The referenced Privacy Commissioner and Service Canada pages both indicate the legislated and authorised users of Canadian SIN numbers. One agency absent from the list: Statistics Canada. The advice from both the Privacy Commissioner and Service Canada is that citizens shouldn’t share their SIN numbers with unauthorised users; at this point, that includes Statistics Canada. Whether that changes remains to be seen.

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The sorry state of Canadian civil liberties: Hate crime up, race primary motive

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Hate crimes in Canada: Most violent against gays, black people most targeted racial group
Craig Takeuchi, straight.com June 27, 2014

The referenced StatsCan release. As the article notes, the majority of all police-reported hate crimes (704 incidents, or 52 percent) were racially or ethnically motivated. Yet, remarkably, the few stories published focused on sexual orientation, a far less frequent motive (185 incidents, or 13%), albeit one involving greater incidence of violence.

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