It’s a false economy to cut Statscan’s budget

 

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It’s a false economy to cut Statscan’s budget
Editorial, The Globe and Mail April 22, 2014

Federal Public Service Statistics Canada + SSO Canada
Year Population Change (%) Population Change (%) Population Change (%)
2000 211,925  - 7,043  - 30,525,872  -
2001 223,933 5.7 8,631 22.5 30,824,441 1.0
2002 237,251 12.0 8,750 24.2 31,172,522 2.1
2003 242,737 14.5 8,278 17.5 31,476,734 3.1
2004 244,158 15.2 7,779 10.5 31,776,075 4.1
2005 243,971 15.1 7,557 7.3 32,077,339 5.1
2006 249,932 17.9 8,228 16.8 32,394,898 6.1
2007 254,622 20.1 8,382 19.0 32,739,308 7.3
2008 263,114 24.2 7,722 9.6 33,113,330 8.5
2009 274,370 29.5 7,694 9.2 33,527,199 9.8
2010 282,980 33.5 7,403 5.1 33,930,830 11.2
2011 282,352 33.2 8,105 15.1 34,278,406 12.3
2012 278,092 31.2 7,927 12.6 34,670,352 13.6
2013 262,817 24.0 6,131 -12.9 35,056,100 14.8
Source: Population of the Federal Public Service, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

As questionably competent as StatsCan’s become in recent years, it’s worth highlighting one of the reasons it came to be so. As previously discussed, Canada’s Federal Public Service (FPS) staffing had grown significantly out of proportion with the general population in the years prior to the current federal government cuts, announced in Federal Budget 2012. The increase can partly be explained as catch-up following years of understaffing, a result of the previous federal government austerity budgets in the 1990′s that slashed then froze FPS levels for years.

In context, Statistics Canada (and Statistical Survey Operations) staffing is troubling. Not only did it not keep up with general FPS staffing levels, it didn’t even keep up with general population growth. StatsCan’s staffing levels fluctuate with Census cycles, so it’s best to compare pre-Census years, 2000, 2005 and 2010. 2000-2005 saw general FPS staffing increase at nearly three times population growth, whereas StatsCan’s increased just greater than general population. By 2010, general FPS staffing had increased more than three times population growth; StatsCan’s declined relative to general population. According to Treasury Board, Statscan’s staffing level in 2013 was 13% below it’s 2000 level.

Some would argue technological advances have made it easier and more cost-effective for StatsCan to produce data, While improved OCR, web and other computing technologies certainly could improve efficiency, without getting into details, the reality is quite different. Survey administration is labour-intensive. For example, any potential savings from self-enumeration is offset by the increased cost of telephone / in-person follow-up, as such surveys are more likely to produce poorer response rates and quality. Also, staffing cuts are part of broader budgetary restraint, translating to less capital investment and, more importantly, less training. With many older, less tech-savvy workers (at StatsCan and the broader FPS), that’s a huge problem.

Not surprisingly, StatsCan’s faced some difficult decisions and made some unfortunate choices. If it seems economists are becoming increasingly vocal about their lack of access to data, that’s a result of one of those choices: StatsCan has increasingly come to rely on ‘cost-recovery’ and private contract work for funding.

There’s an obvious conflict of interest when a public institution like StatsCan increasingly relies on private funding – especially so when that privately contracted work is shielded from public scrutiny. For context, Statistics Canada meets its clients’ information needs by integrating their questions into existing surveys or by designing custom surveys for them. (More on that in the near future…)

There’s also an obvious moral hazard when a public institution like StatsCan has an incentive to increasingly withhold data from said public – for example, by not updating public-use microdata or limiting the information disclosed in published tables. Requests for what previously would have been publicly available information are increasingly processed as private ‘custom tabulation’ requests on a ‘cost-recovery’ basis.

This goes well beyond false economy; it’s wilfully promoting ignorance.

 

The sorry state of Canadian civil liberties: ‘Hurricane’ passes as his adopted country regresses

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 Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter dead at 76: Former professional boxer became an advocate for the wrongly convicted
Mark Gollom, CBC News Apr 20, 2014

The extensive record clearly demonstrates that the petitioners’ convictions were predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure.

Wrongful Convictions in Canada (PDF)
Kent Roach, University of Cincinnati Law Review 2012

… the Canadian experience is of interest because in recent years an increasing number of wrongful convictions arising from guilty pleas have been discovered. This phenomenon suggests that the unknown number of wrongful convictions may be much larger than many have appreciated. In other words, wrongful convictions may result not only from contested trials, but from the majority of cases in which accused plead guilty…

How many wrongful convictions in Canada are never detected? Even if the error rate resulting in wrongful convictions in Canada was exceedingly small, there may be large numbers of undiscovered  wrongful convictions, given that about 90,000 criminal court cases result in a person being sentenced to custody in Canada each year. An error rate of only 0.5% would result in approximately 450 wrongful convictions a year

Two-thirds of cases in adult criminal court result in  convictions on the basis of guilty pleas, but given the recent evidence of  innocent people making both irrational and rational decisions to plead guilty, it cannot be assumed that all those in Canada who plead guilty  actually are guilty. The prosecution terminates most of the remaining third of criminal cases. Only 3% of cases result in an acquittalsuggesting that criminal trials only reject a very small percentage of all prosecutions.

That ‘error’ rate is not only 0.5%. And those ‘errors’ tend to overwhelmingly accrue against socio-economically disadvantaged Canadians: Aboriginal / First Nations, visible minorities and low-income individuals. That they’re also far more likely to be charged and denied due process is just another unfortunate ‘error’. Or not.

It would seem the vast majority (2/3) of criminally accused are pleading guilty as they perceive little chance of receiving a fair trial. That a statistically insignificant (3%) share of Canadian criminal cases result in acquittal underscores that in Canada – despite efforts to portray the country as progressive, governed by the rule of law and due process, without prejudice – an accused is not just de jure ‘guilty until proven innocent’, but de facto guilty.

On the bright side, at least Canada doesn’t have the death penalty… yet.

And the Canadian government wonders why it has no credibility when it criticises other nations’ human rights records…

Canada’s (somewhat less) vast emptiness

In Canada, a lack of population doesn’t necessarily translate to a lack of roadway…

Canada_2011_RN

A lot of Canada’s dirt-based wealth can’t be immediately transported via pipeline and/or rail. The remarkable expanse of road infrastructure through the northern Prairies and into the Territories (and, to a lesser extent, northern Ontario and Quebec) – from which a great deal of that wealth is extracted, but where hardly any Canadians reside – speaks to that.

That being said, Canada’s still pretty empty. Few today would choose to live much further north, given Canada’s bitterly cold northern climate. That climate also limits Canada’s dirt-based wealth potential, making it difficult to grow things in and/or dig thing out of all that land up there.

Climate change may ‘fix’ that in the foreseeable future, however. As one of our favourite Econ profs once not-so-jokingly put it (off-the-record): Canada has the most to ‘gain’ from global warming – which goes a long way to explaining its environmental policy, or lack thereof…

Of Kijiji and babysitters: Piecing together Canada’s job vacancy puzzle

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Of Kijiji and babysitters: Piecing together Canada’s job vacancy puzzle
Sam Boshra, The Globe and Mail April 15, 2014

Disclosure of Contracts Over $10,000: Wanted Technologies Corp.
Dept. Ref. No. Contract date Description of work Contract value
ESDC 9110-12 2011-08-16 0812 COMPUTER SERVICES $184,800.00
Finance 6015541 2013-12-06 0361 ELECTRONIC SUBSCRIPTIONS $17,000.00
StatsCan 2314 2013-11-26 1143 PRINTED MATTER $30,795.89

Disambiguation: ESDC is the former HRSDC, under which Service Canada falls

The StatsCan and Finance disclosures above were indexed and easily found using their respective department’s website search functions; On the other hand, ESDC’s disclosure was neither indexed nor searchable (discovered following feedback from Finance). Which is to say, it may not be the only such contract – will update if others come up. Why ESDC excludes its contract disclosures from being indexed and searchable is unexplained…

A few readers and friends suggested there was no point following up on this topic, as the government had been thoroughly embarrassed and was unlikely to try that (use an online job ad index as a labour market measure) again. As the ‘technical concerns’ comment from Employment Minister Jason Kenney suggests, that’s not entirely accurate.

What ESDC plans on doing with the data going forward is unclear. A previous post mentioned HRSDC had used the Wanted Analytics data in a couple of earlier reports (see Notes).

ESDC could create an ‘Indicator of Labour Market Tightness’, like the Conference Board of Canada’s. Such a measure could be used in tandem with the unemployment rate to further deny EI claims in areas where unemployment may be high, but where the labour market could be classified as slack based on the overinflated number of online job ads – suggesting the unemployed in such areas were simply refusing to take all the fictitious jobs available.

What StatsCan plans on doing with the data is also unclear. StatsCan produces the EI region unemployment rates ESDC uses to evaluate EI eligibility criteria.

StatsCan also used to run a Help Wanted Index based on jobs ads. As the Globe post notes, back in the 70′s StatsCan dropped its job vacancy survey for the more ‘cost-effective’ HWI – then dropped the HWI in 2003 after it became unreliable with the advent of online job advertising. It could bring back HWI. Or possibly produce that ‘Indicator of Labour Market Tightness’ for ESDC.

Who knows what kind of creative uses a government could come up with for such questionable data. For readers who doubt a federal government would resort to such measures, it’s worth recalling previous Finance Ministers have produced / projected balanced budgets using creatively engineered ‘surplus’ EI funds.

Readers unfamiliar with how far a government would go to deny legitimate EI claims should look up the recent story of Sylvie Therrien, a former Service Canada worker who was fired late last year after a witch-hunt determined she’d leaked docs to the press. The docs in question showed she and of her colleagues, under then Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, were each given a quota to deny/recover half a million dollars in EI claims. It’s worth noting who the HRSDC Deputy Minister and COO for Service Canada was at the time (hint, media).

Feminomics: (De)valuing women’s socio-economic influence

Chart 1 – Average hours worked per person (employment and self-employment, age 15+)

Chart 1 Average hours worked, labour

Source: CANSIM Tables 282-0001 and 282-0017 – Labour force survey estimates (LFS), Statistics Canada

It’s a website as well as a movement. Unfortunately, that movement has little to do with promoting either equal opportunity or social security for women, let alone acknowledging the value of their unpaid work. Rather, it seems singularly focused on the fact women are paid less than men.

Owing to their dual roles as mothers / primary caregivers as well as labour market participants, it’s no surprise the hours women commit to unpaid work necessarily translate to less hours on average available to commit to paid labour.

That doesn’t sit well with feminomists(?), who apparently see women choosing to be mothers / primary caregivers as a “systemic problem“. The real problem is distilling women’s socio-economic value to little more than labour market widgets. Rising inequality, the decreasing share of income to labour and the long shadow of the Great Recession may help bring things back into perspective.

After Decades of Decline, A Rise in Stay-at-Home Mothers
D’Vera Cohn, Gretchen Livingston and Wendy Wang, Pew Research Center April 8, 2014

From she to she: changing patterns of women in the Canadian labour force (PDF)
Canadian Economic Observer, Statistics Canada June 15, 2006

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