Former Statistics Canada chief statistician Munir Sheikh praises the recent amendment to the Statistics Act that will create a Canadian Statistics Advisory Council that would allow for the better allocation of institutional resources in collecting more data about Canadians while preserving privacy and confidentiality.
Munir Sheikh outlines possible ways to improve the performance of Statistics Canada in this article from The Globe and Mail:
Canada also does an extraordinary job in producing high-quality census data at a much lower cost compared with many countries, thanks to innovations like sampling in census and being among the first to use the internet to gather citizens’ responses. Canada can also boast of higher survey-response rates in many areas than the United States. And all this despite having roughly a tenth of the resources available to the U.S. federal statistical system.
That certainly doesn’t mean all is good and well here. We face serious challenges when it comes to acquiring the highest quality and most relevant data. The quality of data deteriorates automatically as the country evolves amid forces like the ongoing tech revolution (e.g. using cell phones instead of land lines) and efforts to gather survey responses suffer. Data also becomes less relevant over time as the country’s needs begin to differ from the available information.
In my view, this has produced data gaps in census information, but bad data may be more dangerous than no data at all, since giving credence to bad information can lead to bad policy. The debate around data would be most productive if it’s framed around both quantity as well as quality, which would enable policy-makers and Canadians to deal with the most pressing national issues in an informed way. On this count, Statistics Canada has struggled, as do many others.
There are three things that can be done to proactively deal with data deterioration. First, the government can increase funding for Statistics Canada to close the most important gaps that exist now, including information that measures the digital economy. Secondly, Statistics Canada should, over time, reallocate resources from less-needed data to those that are more important. Despite its efforts, the agency has not been able to establish an effective resource-reallocation mechanism, because it has had to bend many times to the users of existing data. Users of any data become vocally unhappy if theirs stops being collected. Lastly, Statistics Canada should tap new data sources and new ways of collecting information that can replace or augment existing methods.