Accountability Media

Why bother? The anatomy of the Kijiji jobs report story

Accountability Civil liberties Governance Media Privacy

Why census privacy matters

For its 2016 census, the country’s national statistical agency announced changes that would impact citizens’ privacy. For the first time ever, census respondents’ personal information would be retained and linked with other administrative and survey data the agency has access to.

The national media quickly jumped on the story. The country’s public broadcaster wrote “If you’re worried about privacy, you should worry about the 2016 census”. The country’s premiere technology publication wrote “Lost our Census: Why the biggest hit to privacy this year is all about you”.

Once aware of the changes, the public was outraged. Calls for a nationwide census boycott erupted. Academics and former top bureaucrats – including a former federal privacy commissioner and a former chief statistician – publicly voiced their concerns.

No, this isn’t a Bizarro universe scenario of what didn’t happen in Canada following the referenced changes to the 2016 census implemented by Statistics Canada. This is what’s actually happening in Australia, where the Australian Bureau of Statistics has implemented similar changes for its upcoming 2016 census, set to take place next month.

Accountability Governance Population Privacy Transparency

The likely reason millions of Canadians have yet to complete 2016 census

The vast majority of Canadians were furious when, in the summer of 2010, the federal government of the day decided to exclude the long-form questionnaire from the 2011 census. They were enthusiastic to fill out their long-form census questionnaires. They had practically no security or privacy concerns.

At least that was the popular media narrative.

Only a few months later, Canadians handed the same government that made that seemingly fateful decision its first majority. Despite their supposed enthusiasm, one in three Canadian households opted not to complete the voluntary 2011 National Household Survey (68.6% unweighted response rate) – and that’s with Statscan spending tens of millions more on ‘follow-up’ and accepting forms with as few as 10 of 84 questions completed. As it turned out, security and privacy were the primary reasons prosecuted census refuseniks offered for their refusal to comply.

Accountability Governance Population Transparency

With 2016 census ‘restored’, it feels like 2006 all over again

Statistics Canada started sending out its 2016 Census letters this week. Shortly after taking office, the recently elected federal government once again made it mandatory for survey respondents to complete the long form questionnaire, presumably restoring the census.

Contrary to promises it made last year while still sitting in opposition, the current federal government did not make any changes to the Statistics Act, which appears to have been last amended in 2005. That means  Statscan can, and, if history is anything to go by, will once again be threatening non-respondents with jail time. Effectively, the clock has been set back to May 2006, when the conditions were already in place for the eventual long form census cancellation.

Accountability Governance Media Trade and investment

Will Trans-Pacific Partnership diversify Canadian economy? Not a chance.

The recent Globe and Mail leaders’ debate focused on the economy. One important – albeit crudely constructed – question asked during the debate was: “Do you have a jobs plan for industry beyond taking things out of the ground”. The question presumed that natural resource extraction has been a big employment driver in Canada, which it hasn’t. That aside, the implicit question was whether the aspiring leaders had a plan for, or even wished to see, greater industrial diversification in Canada. None of the candidates provided a direct response to the question. However, one response in particular stood out for its reference to international trade.

Accountability Employment

Just in time for general election, new Canadian employment survey finds 180,000 more jobs than previously reported

Yesterday, the initial Job Vacancy and Wages Survey (JVWS) release was announced by Statscan. The timing of its release, just a couple of weeks into a three-month long general election campaign, is questionable at best. That the new survey happened to find a previously undiscovered 180,000 job vacancies, 82 percent more than Statscan’s current Job Vacancy Survey (JVS), is even more so. There isn’t much to go on at this point; nevertheless it’s worth taking a closer look at what little there is so far.

First, the release is titled Job vacancies and payroll employment by province and territory, first quarter 2015. Yet the note to readers indicates that data collection only began in February 2015; the so-called ‘first quarter 2015’ JVWS release obviously doesn’t cover the first quarter. Nor for that matter does it cover the ‘W’ part, since the same notes indicate data collection for the wage component is scheduled to start in 2016. Clearly, this was a premature release. The question is why.

Accountability Monetary policy

Bank of Canada adopts ‘ad hoc’ monetary policy as inflation-targeting agreement renewal looms


In the run-up to the 2016 renewal of its inflation-targeting agreement with the Government of Canada, the Bank of Canada (BoC) has been openly musing about whether it should continue the practice of identifying one preeminent measure of inflation as its operational guide, and whether that measure should continue to be the core consumer price index (CPIX). In 2013, the BoC published a working paper proposing an alternative measure of inflation it called the common component of CPI (CCCPI).1 In a speech delivered last November, its Deputy Governor suggested the CCCPI will be the Bank’s preferred operating guide going forward.2

Both the BoC’s research and its Deputy Governor’s statements emphasise the common component’s supposed advantages relative to CPIX, but not its limitations. However, comparing the two measures and taking a closer look at the CCCPI, the new measure’s supposed advantages are less than obvious, and its limitations seem significant.

Accountability Employment Governance Race and ethnicity

Why misleading, misinformed screeds calling for the elimination of race-based stats ought to be retired: In the (former) chief statistician’s words

Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to a post earlier this month that promised to provide historical context.

Chief statistician: Why the census is counting visible minorities
It is in everyone’s interest that debate on issues related to employment equity ‘be supported by objective … data rather than by impressions, unfounded opinion or stereotypes.’
Ivan P. Fellegi

The Globe and Mail
Friday, April 26, 1996

This is the text of a letter sent this week to a number of Canadian newspapers by Ivan Fellegi, chief statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada, in response to criticisms of Question 19 in the 1996 census. (One critic, Reform MP Mike Scott of the B.C. riding of Skeena, had suggested that Canadians identify themselves as Martians to “send a signal to the federal government that Canadians have had enough of this garbage.”)

Accountability Governance Transparency

2016 NHS: Long-form census fiasco as FAMEX redux

2011 NHS: How much less we now know, illustrated * 2011 NHS: How much less we now know, illustrated *

Canada’s 2011 long-form census fiasco was brought to the fore again last week with the introduction of Bill C-626. The private member’s bill seeks to amend the Statistics Act to mandate the long-form survey and provide the Chief Statistician with greater administrative autonomy. While there’s no debating its voluntary replacement rendered useless results at exorbitant cost, the proposed legislation, even if successful, won’t necessarily assure the long-form census’ future success.

It’s been written those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Although never mentioned in the ongoing public discourse, what’s happening with the long-form census is basically the Survey of Family Expenditures (FAMEX) all over again. And that didn’t turn out well.

Accountability Employment Governance Transparency

What’s really behind the peculiar Canadian labour stats lately?

Following Statistics Canada’s July 2014 Labour Force Survey (LFS) flub, speculation about the survey’s reliability abounded. The agency subsequently issued a statement to assure the public it was a one-off ‘human’, as opposed to systemic, error. Then immediately followed it up with  an August LFS release that raised a collective eyebrow. The interesting part about StatsCan’s explanations for the wonky LFS stats of late is the lack of data quality measures to back them up.

According to StatsCan, public confidence in its data quality is of paramount importance. To this end, it maintains a Policy on Informing Users of Data Quality and Methodology. Unfortunately, the policy diverges widely from current practice.