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.

Governance Health Justice Transparency

In debate over drug legalisation, it’s worth revisiting Prohibition (which actually worked)

Canada’s pot policy needs to sober up
Andre Picard, The Globe and Mail August 21, 2014

Sometimes, you catch news items a bit late. Today, that item is Globe public health reporter Andre Picard’s recent write-up on Canada’s marijuana legalisation discourse (which closely mirrors that taking place in the US).

As succinctly stated, a more sombre reflection on the possible / likely ramifications of legalisation than what’s so far passed as ‘debate’ is needed. Mr. Picard seems to pull back a bit in his August 2014 column, grouping pot as a, “recreational drug, such as tobacco and alcohol”. In an earlier (April 2014) column, the ‘recreational drug’ reference was to opioids, such as abused prescription OxyContin and heroine.

While cannabinoid and opioid are distinct, they “share several pharmacologic properties”. The science is far from settled on whether in therapeutic use the combination of the two is more beneficial or harmful. The science is far clearer on the combination’s recreational / mis-use: It’s quite harmful, and can be fatal. Since it targets similar (but not the same receptors) as opioids, cannabis can likewise be addictive (the distinction between ‘habit-formation’ and ‘addiction’ is more art than science).

Decriminalisation, or legalisation?

Cannabis use can be quite socially harmful, to individual users’ health (cognitive development, mental health), and to the greater public (motor vehicle, workplace accidents). There’s also economic harm, to individuals (criminal record implications), and to the state (enforcement, rehabilitation). The interesting debate, it would seem, is whether to simply decriminalise possession or legalise commercial trade (production, distribution, sale).

The interesting line in, and jump-off point from, Mr. Picard’s column:

But there are a lot more alcoholics than there are stoners.

Yes, there are. Now. When one can purchase alcohol at just about every convenience and grocery store. Along with a pack of smokes. For less than ten bucks. Will that still be the case when a pack of marijuana cigarettes is sold alongside the Players and duMaurier for a similar price?

One of the most disingenuous arguments put forward for marijuana legalisation is that government regulation will keep it out of children’s hands – like alcohol and tobacco. It’s a transparently absurd argument to anyone who’s attended Canadian high school any time in the past half century. Because Canadian high school kids don’t have access to alcohol and tobacco.

Similarities to Prohibition debate

Did Prohibition Really Work? Alcohol Prohibition as a Public Health Innovation
Jack S. Blocker, Jr, American Journal of Public Health February 2006

Actually, Prohibition Was a Success
Mark H. Moore, New York Times October 16, 1989


Accountability Transparency

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

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, noting: “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 didn’t include then-Industry Minister Tony Clement – or any member of his party, apparently.

Accountability Governance Transparency

StatsCan to collect Social Insurance Numbers despite lack of authorisation, oversight

If the census test currently underway is any indication, Statistics Canada is planning to collect a critical piece of personal identification from respondents during the upcoming census. 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.

Aboriginal - First Nations Governance Transparency

2011 NHS: Aboriginal Peoples Technical Report released, unreleased, re-released (updated June 23, 2014)

National Household Survey: Aboriginal Peoples – Aboriginal Peoples Technical Report, National Household Survey, 2011 , National Household Survey year 2011 (99-011-X2011002)

Someone should really work on that web page title. Reviewed, and will update with comments shortly. in the meantime, check out the featured map to the right – Aboriginal Peoples Technical Report makes passing reference to that ‘issue’.

Update (09/06/2014)


The release page indicates ‘Date modified:

Update (23/06/2014)


It’s back up, with a bold red ‘Revised June 19, 2014’ tag, along with a yellow caution sign with an ‘R’ up top. Credit for making it obvious the content’s been revised.

Looking at the two sections StatsCan had previously indicated would be subject to revision:

– the ironic error in section 5.3.2 Coverage error for incompletely enumerated reserves and settlements, saw the 2011 NHS estimates in Table 8 Model estimated counts and rates for incompletely enumerated Indian reserves (IER) revised. The pre-revised version estimates were for total on-reserve rather than incompletely enumerated reserve populations. Despite this, the figures still don’t look right. It’s unclear how the voluntary survey 2011 NHS could have had even lower IER counts than the mandatory 2006 long-form Census. As noted immediately beneath Table 8: “These estimates should be used with caution as they are based on a model whose assumptions cannot be verified.” No kidding.

-the explanatory text added to section 4.2.1 NHS Profile doesn’t clarify so much as correct an oversight. The revised version mentions both the NHS Aboriginal Population Profile and the NHS Profile. The pre-revised version neglected to mention the NHS Aboriginal Population Profile. The reader is left to assume both were used for comparisons between the Aboriginal / First Nations and general population.

If readers notice other changes (beside the ones StatsCan noted), please write to let us know.



Accountability Justice Transparency

‘Broken Trust’ in Canadian justice system goes beyond lawyers’ criminality

Law Society of Upper Canada

Project: Broken Trust
Kenyon Wallace, Rachel Mendleson, Dale Brazao, Andrew Bailey, The Toronto Star May 2014

The law society is responsible for regulating Ontario’s 46,000 lawyers and 5,000 licensed paralegals… Of the approximately 4,700 complaints received annually, about 3,100 are authorized for full investigation. About 100 make it to a disciplinary hearing each year… 236 lawyers were disciplined by the law society for behaviour the Star characterized as criminal-like. Of those, 41 were charged criminally… 12 served time in jail…

Amount of client money these lawyers were responsible for misusing by stealing, defrauding, failing to account, overdrawing, improperly dispersing and other law society classifications, as found by the Star: $61,457,642

236 lawyers, $61.5 Million stolen – and those are just the ones against whom complaints were filed and disciplinary action was taken. The first story in the series gives an example: a defrauded client who had to pay $50,000 in legal fees to recover a $90,000 claim from the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC). Given that it takes more than a bit of time, effort, and financial security to file a complaint against a lawyer, that 1:10 complaint-to-lawyer ratio along with the total funds stolen by Ontario lawyers is likely the tip of the iceberg. That LSUC lawyers are more likely to become judges could help explain the dismal state of the Canadian justice system.

Accountability Governance Transparency

Cuts to StatsCan capacity go beyond false economy


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’s come 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’s cuts, announced in Federal Budget 2012. The increased FPS staffing could partially be justified as catch-up following years of understaffing, a result of the previous federal government’s 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 since 2000, 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; StatsCan’s had increased slightly greater than population growth. By 2010, general FPS staffing was still increasing at three times the rate of population growth; StatsCan’s had declined relative to population growth. According to Treasury Board, Statscan’s staffing level in 2013 was 13% below it’s 2000 level.

Some argue technological advances should have made it easier and more cost-effective for StatsCan to conduct surveys and 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, potential savings from self-enumeration are 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 in the broader FPS), that’s a major problem.

Not surprisingly, StatsCan’s faced some difficult decisions and made some unfortunate choices. If it seems economists have become increasingly vocal of late 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 beyond false economy; it’s imposed ignorance.


Employment Social security Transparency

February 2014 LFS: An alternative view. Why job vacancy is now more relevant than unemployment

Labour Force Participation Rate-Finance

Source: Jobs Report – The State of the Canadian Labour Market (PDF), Budget 2014, Department of Finance.

The Budget 2014 companion Jobs Report: The gift that keeps on giving (thanks for forwarding, Tavia). To continue a long-standing (What, it’s been like eight months?) tradition of ignoring the monthly Labour Force Survey (LFS) release in favour of broader issues/trends, this month’s topic is why relative employment change is rendering the unemployment rate less meaningful than the job vacancy rate (possibly explaining the recent effort to ‘fudge it a little’).

Employment Governance Transparency

As Canadian jobs become scarce, government publishes conflicting job vacancy stats

Job Vacancy Rate-FinanceSource(s): Jobs Report – The State of the Canadian Labour Market (PDF), Budget 2014, Department of Finance.

This story was mentioned in passing a couple weeks back, but it’s worth expanding on a bit. As noted, the preceding chart is from Budget 2014, tabled two weeks ago by current Finance Minister James Flaherty. Immediately following the referenced chart, p.30 of the companion ‘Jobs Report’ notes

Canada’s unemployment rate in January 2014 was 7.0 per cent, about 1 percentage point above its pre-recession level, whereas the job vacancy rate reached 4.2 per cent in January 2014, a level similar to its pre-recession level, when the unemployment rate was just above 6 per cent.

The 4.2% rate reported by Finance is remarkable, considering the following week StatsCan Job Vacancy Statistics (JVS) release pegged the job vacancy rate at 1.5%. While StatsCan’s figure was practically unchanged from a year earlier, Finance’s reported rate soared. Using the January 2014 LFS figure for total employees – seasonally adjusted, that’s an extra 432,000 vacant jobs reported by Finance (1.5% vacancy = 230,000 jobs, 4.2% vacancy = 662,000 jobs). How and why did this happen?