Ottawa’s penny-pinching pound-foolishness

 

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For a government that purports to hold the interests of hard-working, middle-class folks close to heart, Harpertown sure has a funny way of showing it. 

Unless, of course, by showing it, our estimable representatives in Ottawa mean to produce precisely nothing to show for the $4.6 million they recently flushed down the public’s drain.   

That was the tidy sum Statistics Canada spent in 2012 asking 25,000 employers across the country about such timely matters as the workplace skills gap – surveys that now sit on a shelf, unanalyzed and unpublished, because the money’s run out to complete the job. 

Not for nothing, but no less a formidable parliamentarian than Employment Minister Jason Kenney has framed skills shortages and mismatches as one of the most important issues in the nation’s recent history. Indeed, in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada last fall, he was adamant and unequivocal. 

“As the head of Canada’s economic union, the federal government plays a critical role in creating the conditions for strong private sector job creation to position our country for success in an increasingly competitive global economy,” he declared. 

“What I’m going to do is to share with you my take on what many agree is the biggest challenge facing our economy. I’m going to talk about how we can tackle skill shortages and skill mismatches, turning them into good jobs for Canadians and greater prosperity for the long term because I think my number one priority is to address this paradox of too many Canadians without jobs in an economy that has too many jobs without skilled workers.”

Of course, to do this, one needs an arsenal of good, accurate information. Or, does one?

Thanks to some intrepid reporting by the Globe and Mail this week, we now know that the StatsCan data, which was collected at the behest of Employment and Social Development Canada, “has sat idle for two years due to lack of funding to make it public. . .StatsCan collected the surveys over the first three months of 2012, but the funding ended there, before the data could be analyzed.”

In the wake of a $30 million budget cut to the numbers-crunching Agency’s budget over the past 24 months, it’s hard to avoid a creepy sensation of deja vu.  

In 2010, when the federal government announced it was scrapping the mandatory long-form census in favour of a “voluntary” household survey, editorials in just about every major newspaper in Canada screamed their disapproval. The nation’s two top statisticians, Munir Sheikh and Phil Cross, actually resigned their posts in evident, if dignified, protest.

In a news advisory at the time, Mr. Sheikh wrote that while he could not “reveal and comment on (the) advice” he gave the government “because this information is protected under the law,” he wanted to “take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census. . .It can not.”

Only last summer, Robert Gerst, a partner in charge of operational excellence and research and statistical methods at Calgary-based Converge Consulting Group Inc., declared in an opinion piece for the Waterloo Region Record, “The quality of the results has come under criticism because the voluntary survey replaced the compulsory long-form census questionnaire. In effect, this replaced a random sample with a non-random sample. Non-random samples have their place, but making conclusions about the population isn’t one of them.

Naturally, then, “no conclusions about the Canadian population can be drawn from the national household survey. Since making these types of conclusions is the whole point of a census, the survey data is worthless. (This is also true for any survey where participation is voluntary, including citizen, customer and employee satisfaction surveys).”

Apparently, we’ve devolved from worthless survey data to non-existent survey data – or, at least, unexamined and, therefore, worse than worthless if only because we’ve still had to pay the bill for its compilation.

When will this government get it through its institutional head that to speak with any degree of authority about anything, one must first have facts and figures – evidence – at one’s disposal? 

That’s what truly concerns hard-working, middle-class Canadians about their elected officials and the policies they pursue in the interests they purport to hold dear.

 

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