July 17, 2010

Stephen Harper hates StatsCan

CANADA - “Harper does not like StatsCan, that’s what we kept hearing,” says a longtime employee of the agency which handles Canada's statistical information and national census.

“In particular, he does not like the analytical work we’ve done for years.”

Why? Its because the analytical work tracks inequality between Canadians. It measures things like pensions, benefits, how Canadians spend their money on housing, vacation time, medical expenses, how good or bad we are doing financially, how happy we are, how often we have sex, why we get divorces, why we get abortions, how well different ethnic groups are doing, how well our immigrants are integrating with Canadian society, how well people with physical or mental disabilities are doing. Etc, etc. And then it compares this across all of Canada, between the different provinces and territories.

Basically the analytical work points out everything that is wrong with Canada and which things need fixing.

Thus when Stephen Harper's government announced this weekend that Statistics Canada's 2011 census will have changes to the long forms (which usually effect 20% of the population) that would make it no longer compulsory but instead voluntary it caused a scandal both amongst politicians, but also civilians.

The long form Census is a necessary measurement because its used to determine $60 billion in transfer payments to the provinces and territories.

It also builds a picture of Canada, while respecting the privacy of Canadians (Statistics Canada has never violated the privacy of anyone), so that we know which parts of Canada need extra attention in certain areas. People fill out the forms and send it back in their own time. Some people are slower doing it, but history has shown the speed people mail it back is the same regardless of whether its the short forms or the long forms.

By making the form purely voluntary it means only people with the time to do it (ie. rich or middle-class Canadian) may respond. It will create a skewed picture of Canada.

Worst of all it throws out decades of previous work by StatsCan, because there would be nothing to compare the skewed findings with.

Don Drummond, former chief economist of the TD Bank and a member of the National Statistical Council, says Harper's planned changes to the 2011 census would leave Canada “in a fog” for years.

We would have to wait decades to even begin to make new comparisons and the statistical info would be skewed wildly by lower response rates.

According to a source from inside the party not everyone was happy with Stephen Harper's decision. Tony Clement, the minister in charge of Statistics Canada was against the idea. So was Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Many of the other high ranking ministers were against the changes.

“The PMO thought nobody would care,” says the source, but the backlash is intense.

The conservative C.D. Howe Institute is upset.

So is the Canadian Society for Epidemiology and Biostatistics (health scientists use census data in the research of public health).

And there is also: Federation of Canadian Municipalities; Atlantic Provinces Economics Council; Canadian Association for Business Economics (bankers, applied economists, etc.); Canadian Institute of Planners; Canadian Economics Association (academics who teach economics); Canadian Council of Social Development; Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; Canadian Statistical Society; Canadian Marketing Association; Canadian Research Data Centre Network; Canadian Census Committee; Canadian Association of University Teachers; Caledon Institute; Information and Communications Technology Council; Institute for Research on Public Policy (whose president Mel Cappe is Canada’s former top public servant as clerk of the Privy Council); City of Toronto; Toronto Public Health; United Way Toronto; and Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

And every university and academic is up in arms about the proposed changes, the loss of continuity of Canadian data. Many universities would be forced to use American statistics because the Canadian statistics would be considered inaccurate, flawed and worthless.

And once something becomes worthless it is soon to be cut out entirely. Scrapped from the budget, which would leave Canadian statistics completely in the dark.

Hopefully Stephen Harper will come to his senses and realize his hatred of StatsCan is shortsighted and will have disastrous consequences.

Harper may not like the statistics he is seeing about Canada's changing demographics, but they are necessary so policy makers know what needs to be fixed.

"Burying your head in the sand isn't going to fix the problem."

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