Tag Archives: Statistics Canada

What, us worry?



So we are, after all, a rollicking, jolly bunch. We stick our fingers in our ears and sing “la…la…la”. We believe in the power of positive thinking and even giggle appreciatively when some curmudgeon suggests we’d be better off sticking our digits in the fiscal dam that’s just about to break in this province.

Oh well, what shall do about the inveterately “happy” amongst us?

Give them all a kiss, a slap on the back, a high-five?

Sure, why not. After all, summer is the best two-and-a-half weeks of the year in these parts, and the rumors are that it didn’t actually die in 2015, after plummeting into a pothole sometime between the first snowfall and the last.

Maybe it’s time to accept the fact that despite what nature and man throw at us in this often-benighted corner of the world, we refuse to be sad, morose or even (gasp!) realistic about our present circumstances. Maybe it’s time to take the win, for a change.

According to a Statistics Canada survey released last week Saint John and Moncton are the fourth and seventh happiest cities, respectively, in Canada. This, despite the fact that downtown development in both bustling metropolises is moribund, house prices are plummeting, for-sale signs are springing up like tulips in an April downpour, and municipal mothers and fathers are just about at the end of their wits trying to figure out how to keep the figurative wheels from falling off their metaphorical trucks.

Still, reveals StatsCan, “Many factors account for differences in life satisfaction, and there is a growing body of international and Canadian research in this domain. This includes work that examines the role played by the physical characteristics of geographic areas, such as urban size and population density, natural endowments, economic opportunity or deprivation, and access to, and quality of, infrastructure, amenities and services.”

Sure, and why not jump aboard the “happiness” train? It goes to Pleasantville by way of the big, rock candy mountain. There, at that mythical depot, we will meet all who went away from us, and all who will return someday – just as soon as we can invent and sustain good, long-term jobs for them upon their arrival.

This “happiness” garbage is a pug’s game, played by the powerful to rook the penurious. If we spent more time genuinely examining that for which we are grateful, we might discover the joy that’s mere illusion to a vast swath of our fellow men and women, under the influence of daily propaganda.

I am, for example, grateful for a democracy in which periodic voting is not always a pro-forma exercise designed to establish and enable despotism.

I am grateful for knowing that I can still count on my neighbours ­– even some elected representatives of my province and country – to boost me when the economic chips are down.

I am grateful for my parents, siblings, wife, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren and for the fact that they are alive and kicking against the bleak and black of daily imbecilities that seem to proscribe everyone’s life these days.

I am grateful for the home I can offer to them, for the absurd amounts of snow I shovel, for the weeds I pull, for the lawn I mow, for the people I meet at the local Sobeys and liquor store, for the guy I greet at the corner of Main Street and Robinson Court – the guy who needs a coin or two to continue singing and playing his acoustic renditions of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” and “Old Man”.

Am I happy?

Ask me after the next federal election.

For now, I’m merely waiting, with ears wide open.

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Clucking all the way to the knowledge(less) bank


Chickens come home to roost in surprising numbers, even when the coop has been closed and the barn doors have been bolted. Any farmer will tell you this.

Of course, we don’t listen to farmers, or barn builders or coop-tenders, anymore. We no longer regard the expert opinions of teachers, economists, writers, artists, scientists, urban planners, and early childhood developers.

And when we talk to our neighbours, who may have something cogent to say about the way we live now, we’re apt to smile lamely as we dismiss their pontifications as rarified opinions. . .Nothing to do with us.

Evidence is, after all, just a matter of conjecture – is it not?

That, at any rate, is what certain federal politicians want us to embrace and hold close to our hearts, as, thanks to them, we have been without a mandatory long-form census at Statistics Canada for nearly five years.

But, wait, the chickens are finally coming home to roost.

According to a Globe and Mail story this week, “planners” insist that the cancellation, in 2010, of this worthy instrument of public and social policy – on nothing more than a whim to warm the backbenches of certain Conservative office holders in Ottawa – has “damaged research in key areas, from how immigrants are doing in the labour market to how the middle class is faring, while making it more difficult for cities to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.”

How? The answer is: We literally don’t know.

We don’t know enough to ask the right questions, sculpt the right surveys, obtain the right data.

What we suspect, however, is that the preponderance of evidence we do have strongly indicates that our federal government, in its move from a formal census to a voluntary question-and-answer sheet, actively wants to keep Canadians in the dark about themselves and their communities.

Worse, the new-normal actually costs taxpayers more money. “The last census in 2011 cost a total of $652-million, including an extra $22-million due to the change to the voluntary National Household Survey, “ the Globe reports. “The total budget for the 2016 census won’t be decided until February or March, Statscan has said. But the current plan is to hold another voluntary survey. All told, 35,000 people will be hired for this effort.”

Says Charles Beach, a Queen’s University professor of economics, in the Globe piece: “It has certainly impacted my own work on what has been happening to middle-class earnings in Canada.”

Indeed, he says, it has “inhibited research into inequality and identifying winners and losers in economic growth, research into understanding the national problems of the have-nots in the economy, and research into how best to provision local government services.”

Adds Harvey Low, Toronto’s man in charge of social research for that city: “It has definitely had an impact in the way we plan for services. . .We are less sure. . .We definitely have to spend extra dollars on pursuing other sources of data. . .and the staff time to assess whether we can use it to compare over time.”

Meanwhile, complains Sara Mayo of the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, Ontario: “In terms of fiscal prudence, this made no sense. Why would any government want to pay more for worse-quality data?”

As the group, Evidence for Democracy astutely notes: “Voluntary surveys receive lower response rates when compared to mandatory ones. Typically, vulnerable populations [new immigrants, Aboriginals, low-income, single parents] and those with the highest income have lower response rates; thus, data about their demographics is poorly represented in voluntary surveys. This lack of robust information about important groups leads to skewed data sets, poor decision-making, and costly government policy mistakes.”

Shall we count the ways in which governments make poor policy decisions even when presented with good, countable evidence?

After all, the price of oil was supposed to soar forever, pundits insisted, despite the fact that, historically, it has always plunged.

Cluck, cluck. Something scratching this way comes.

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Ottawa’s penny-pinching pound-foolishness



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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