|Ottawa needs to repair damage to census-gathering process: Ivan Fellegi|
|Mercredi, 09 Novembre 2011 10:20|
Canada’s top statistics man for more than 20 years offered some remedies to the federal government’s much maligned decision to scrap the mandatory long census.
Ivan Fellegi, Canada’s chief statistician emeritus, says he wants Statistics Canada to remain a regular part of the government but he also wants to see some additional protections built into the model.
One concrete change proposed by Fellegi is to embed the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics in an amended Statistics Act.
The first principle emphasizes the need for impartiality, but provides no guidance on how to achieve this goal, he said while giving the Symons Lecture on the State of Canadian Confederation Tuesday in Charlottetown.
The second principle, he says, would be used to retain trust in official statistics by Statistics Canada using strictly professional considerations, including scientific principles and professional ethics, on the methods and procedures for the collection, processing, storage, and dissemination of statistical data.
“This has clearly been violated,’’ he said, lashing out at the Harper government for scrapping the mandatory long census form for the 2011 census and replacing it with a voluntary national household survey.
All Canadians still received a mandatory short census this year. However, one in three households were sent the new household survey as well. Previously, one in five households were sent the mandatory long-form census.
Felligi says making the response voluntary will result in a misrepresentation of the population. He says it is well known that vulnerable groups have a lower tendency to respond to voluntary surveys, as well as people with lower levels of education and income, Aboriginal persons, recent immigrants, among others.
He offered the following quote from an article published in the Hill Times by researcher Armine Yalnizyan as best summarizing the negative impact the government’s controversial move on census gathering will have on a huge range of users of Statistics Canada’s data.
“Without this information, we cannot make informed decisions about where to plan the next extension of public transit, or where to target different types of health resources...the knowledge it offers forms the backbone of our society, an information society that needs and wants to know about itself.’’
Fellegi told the large crowd gathered in the Homburg Theatre at the Confederation Centre of the Arts he does not remember the last time so many well-informed people and organizations became so vocal about a single issue.
Fellegi, who was Chief Statistician of Canada from 1985 to 2008, says his successor resigned when the minister responsible for Statistics Canada implied that Statistics Canada might have supported the voluntary long form as a vehicle that could provide information equivalent to the compulsory census. Fellegi considers such an assessment professionally indefensible.
“If you can’t trust the evidence, you would be stupid to make decisions based on that evidence,’’ he said.
“Trust is utterly fundamental.’’
Fellegi is also calling for a transparent process for the appointment of the Chief Statistician of Canada.
He strongly urges Parliament to modify the Statistics Act to require that, whenever a vacancy occurs in that position, a panel of eminent persons should be appointed to look for suitable candidates and to recommend a short list to the government.
He suggested members of such a panel might be composed of people like the presidents of the Statistical Society of Canada and of the Royal Society of Canada, retired heads of the Bank of Canada, and retired clerks of the Privy Council.
Fellegi concluded his lengthy presentation by stressing the need for appropriate treatment of official statistics.
Like clean water, he explained, the public expects clean official statistics when needed.
To keep official statistics clean, notes Fellegi, requires proactive maintenance through legal safeguards and on-going public vigilance.