Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I want to thank the committee for inviting me to appear today. I appreciate this opportunity to provide some brief opening remarks.
I am accompanied today by Andrée Desaulniers, a senior analyst at Statistics Canada. Ms. Desaulniers is here to help me and, more specifically, to answer any technical questions you may have about the bill.
As you know, statistics play a key role in democratic societies. Statistics Canada produces information that helps Canadians better understand our country—its population, resources, economy, society and culture. Statistics provide our elective representatives—you—businesses, unions and non-profit organizations, as well as Canadians in general, with a solid foundation that helps them make informed decisions.
We at Statistics Canada take our role very seriously. We are committed to protecting the confidentiality of all information entrusted to us, and to ensuring that the information we deliver is timely and relevant to Canadians. This as you know is no small task as in addition to conducting a census every five years, we conduct and provide high quality results from about 350 active surveys on virtually all aspects of Canadian life.
Statistical agencies must operate with a high level of independence in order to obtain the co-operation of respondents and earn the trust of the users of our information. Currently, the Statistics Act has no specific provision establishing the independence in how we conduct our business at Statistics Canada.
The amendments proposed in Bill are designed to strengthen the agency's independence to ensure the ongoing impartiality and objectivity of the national statistical system. The proposed changes aim to better align Canada's legislation with international standards promoted by the UN and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
There are limits to independence of course. We must be accountable for the decisions we make and the actions we take. Under the proposed legislation, the minister would retain authority to provide direction on material changes to the scope of the statistical program. The chief statistician, consequently, would be able to request written public direction before acting on ministerial directions relating to the statistical program. The proposed bill would now directly assign authorities for decisions on methods and operations to the chief statistician, including for the collection, compilation, analysis, abstraction, and publication of statistical information.
However, should the minister deem it to be in the national interest to make a decision that directly involves methodological or operational matters, that decision would now be authorized by the Governor in Council and tabled in Parliament.
In our view, working independently does not mean working in isolation. Statistics Canada has never worked in an isolated way. For example, we work in partnership with Public Services and Procurement Canada on contracting and facility issues, and with Canada Post for delivery of census questionnaires.
There are advantages to working with others. One example is cybersecurity. We will benefit from the investments the government is making across the system in terms of security. We will take advantages of opportunities to move to the latest technologies and standards, and to really focus on our area of expertise which is to collect and provide high quality statistics. We have made substantial progress on our IT infrastructure challenges, and I'd be happy to provide additional details on that front.
We will continue to do our part, and hold all our service providers to do their part with no compromise to security or confidentiality, or the integrity of our statistical programs. Bill also proposes to create a new Canadian statistics advisory council. The existing National Statistics Council has been an important contributor to the work of Statistics Canada for more than 30 years. The new advisory council would fill an important gap, and focus on the overall quality of the national statistical system, including the relevance, accuracy, accessibility, and timeliness of the statistical information produced. The council would provide an advisory role to the minister and the chief statistician, and would publish an annual report on the state of the national statistical system.
I for one will welcome the increased transparency the new approach would bring to the important work we do at Statistics Canada, and the perspective and advice the council would offer. If there are things we can do better, we want to hear about them, and we certainly want others to hear about them as well.
Under the amended act, the chief statistician would be appointed to a renewable term of five years. The chief statistician would serve during good behaviour and may only be removed by the Governor in Council for cause.
The bill would remove a requirement for consent to transfer census records to Library and Archives Canada after 92 years, beginning with the 2021 census. This change responds to the growing needs of historians, genealogists, and Canadians, who require this important information for research purposes.
The bill would remove from the act provisions related to the imprisonment of people who refuse to provide information related to mandatory surveys or who impede access to such information. There is general consensus among Canadians that imprisonment for such behaviour is inappropriate and disproportionate to the offence. Provisions related to fines for the same offences will, of course, remain.
Finally, the amended act would offer a technical fix to modernize language that does not align with current operational practices, often due to technological changes such as the introduction of online rather than paper questionnaires.
In closing, Mr. Chair, let me assure members that the employees of Statistics Canada remain dedicated to their work. We will continue to look for innovative approaches to collecting and communicating high-quality information that matters more than ever in today's complex society.
My colleague and I are happy to address any questions or concerns that you may have.
The way the bill is laid out, in broad terms, is to separate the “what” from the “how”. I think for Statistics Canada to be relevant, it has to make sure that it is responding to the policy needs of the nation and how they're evolving, and I think the government sets that policy direction and defines what the gaps are.
In terms of that responsibility, and the resources that go along with it for us to do our job, that's really a responsibility of the government. I think what the bill does now is it puts explicitly in writing that the chief statistician is responsible for methodology, the process of how to collect the statistics so that they are defensible. So if there is a desire, or if there is a need for the minister to intervene, it's going to be clear, because such an intervention would be put in the form of a Governor in Council directive in both Houses, and it would be a transparent process.
Similarly, should a minister decide to intervene on a content matter, the chief statistician can now publicly make that request of the minister in writing. It would be transparent who made the decision and who holds the accountability, and that would be now codified in law.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and my thanks to our guests this morning.
I had the opportunity to go to the Blue Sky III Forum in Ghent where it was obvious that the work done for years by Stats Canada is well received. Of course, Blue Sky II was in Ottawa, and we were able to set the stage for a lot of great things being done with regard to statistical analysis. As a former math teacher, I have had students whom I'm very proud of who have worked in Stats Canada. So it's nice to have you here to talk about some of the issues that are important. From my perspective, it's certainly a case of striking the balance between getting good quality data and respecting the privacy of Canadians.
You mentioned that for 2021, for that census, you would start talking about 92 years. Does that mean we go back to 1929 and say that any information we have there is now fair game, as of 2021, or are we starting the clock at 2021 and moving forward 92 years? My point is, if it is something we're going to start at the next census, what would be wrong with having an opt-out provision for that data to be ultimately given out?
First of all, it's always great to be able to talk statistics with somebody who has had first-hand experience in using and teaching. We're glad that we benefited from your efforts in the form of students. We're grateful for the capacity that's being built across this country, which I think, in itself, is another issue. Statistics seem to scare a lot of people, so it's always great when we can actually create the capacity in an ever more complex society that needs data.
As to your question regarding the 92-year rule, maybe I can provide just a bit of context. First of all, census records have in the past been made public after periods of time. That period of time has changed over time. Records have been made available. With the evolving privacy legislation that's been brought in, and an evolution of the Census Act to the Statistics Act, and so on, there was a legal question about the assurance of confidentiality and the necessity to make those records public. How were those two things going to play each other out?
The concerns were and still are really, on the one hand, that you want to make that information available for research and genealogical and other work, while on the other hand, that you don't want to put the census collection at risk because people are concerned about their confidentiality and privacy. You could see huge numbers of people not participating in the census because they feel in some way that their confidentiality would be at risk.
There have been studies across time about this very balance. For a period of time in 2006 and subsequent to that in 2011 and 2016, the notion of a provision to seek consent was put in place. I think it's important to see how quickly people's attitudes about participation in the census, and then making it public, have evolved. In the 2006 census, just over 50% of Canadians gave an explicit consent to make their information available publicly after 92 years. In 2011 and 2016, that number jumped up to over 80%, where people are explicitly giving consent to make their information available from Library and Archives Canada 92 years later.
The landscape, and the acceptance of this, is changing. On the other side, we're not seeing a massive decrease in response rates on the census. If anything, in the case of the 2016 census, we've seen a higher response rate.
I think responds to that change in people's attitudes. What it proposes now, starting with 2021, is that records be automatically made available 92 years hence and for that intervening period, between 2006 and 2016, that the wishes of people would be respected. Even in that period, people can change their mind about going from a no to a yes. In fact, the overwhelming response so far—well it's not large numbers—shows that people's wishes are going from a no to a yes, even in that intervening period.
Basically you're extrapolating that from 50% to 80% now means that it's going to be even higher in the future, but things do change as time goes on. What might have been the factors that would have caused that increase? We're not sure just what might happen. Historically, around the world you can imagine that there are certain events that take place where all of a sudden people say, “You know what? I think we've been giving too much to the government and therefore, we'd like to have that opportunity to back out.” That's the point that I look at.
I still believe that having that option is valid. We can go 50% to 80% and assume it's got to be close to 99% by the time we get there, but that doesn't really bring into effect some of the other things that could happen worldwide. If my residency was a federal penitentiary or something like that, maybe I wouldn't want that to be known for 92 years, if that was the sort of information that was being presented, but I think there are a lot of others. That's one point that we have.
The other question has to do with the advisory council and what we did have and what we do have now with the federal-provincial-territorial consultative council on statistical policy versus the new entity that is being looked at. When the whole focus was about getting representation from each region, which is basically my conception of what the first part was about, to saying now we only need 10 and of course, we consent to have those 10 chosen in a particular manner. There's this look of impropriety to that. One could say, “Yes, we know that they're all going to be chosen and they're all going to be the best people that are going to be on this, so therefore, we don't have to worry.”
Thank you for being here again. I appreciate that.
The relationship with Lockheed Martin is one of the things I've always been concerned about. I raised it last time, and I hope perhaps you have a little bit more that you could provide on it. Obviously, that was something that I raised immediately, the concerns related to their being an arms manufacturer and distributor of weapons across the world, including bombs, land mines, and a series of other things that we've signed conventions against. The crux of it was the fact that as it was an American company, when we were going to potentially...and it was good that we got the reversal of that...data to the United States. It was susceptible to the U.S. Patriot Act. My understanding is that once that act is engaged in the United States, a company cannot provide anyone else the notation that they're under investigation or review, or that their data is being compromised by U.S. administrative authorities, when that data is then actually requested by their system under the U. S. Patriot Act.
What other types of outsourcing are currently being done at Statistics Canada? That problem with Lockheed Martin seems to have gone away for the most part, at least the main stuff.
One of the strongest components of Stats Canada is the quiet confidence that Canadians had in the protection of their personal information. Unfortunately, we live in a world where some of that protection is at risk, even under the best of circumstances. Most recently we had Snowden, but we also have U.S. legislation, other countries' legislation, and other hacking that has been done on systems across the world. I just came back from Washington, where they are obsessed now with the Russian issue. But what comes to light as the bigger component in the protection of personal data, even in the Canadian government, is outsourcing. I've been here long enough to notice the constant accidental compromise of a person's personal data.
What type of outsourcing does Stats Canada do right now?
That's what I'm saying. When you talk about something that's done inside that is now going to be done outside, which is essentially that definition, anything that is done outside does not involve the handling or access to confidential respondent data. That's the first point.
Our expertise is in collection and disseminating of information and the processing of it, so we don't build our own software if it's readily available and we're absolutely certain...and there are a lot of checks and balances in place to make sure. We have networks that have all the security that's required, so, of course, we don't duplicate things when there's a cost-effective solution out there that doesn't pose any risk to confidentiality and security.
Indeed, we buy software from various vendors, whether it's SAS or IBM SPSS, whether it's our processing hardware, whether it's the databases that we acquire to manipulate and actually process the information. With printing of questionnaires and things like that, we go out and we work with printers to make sure that's done. For distribution of questionnaires out and questionnaires back in, we use Canada Post to help us do that. Absolutely, there are activities out there where we rely on other parties to provide us with information, but never at the risk of putting Canadians' data that is private and confidential at any risk.
As I said, it starts with our deep commitment, because we understand that relationship with Canadians. It's embedded in the law—there are in fact penalties and jail terms should we violate it—and on top of that we have a very rigorous process. Before we engage in acquisition of any of those services, first and foremost we make sure that there's no risk to the confidentiality or privacy of Canadians' information.
Good morning, Mr. Arora. Thank you for coming in.
Let me start by going back to November 16 when Mr. Smith appeared before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates regarding the circumstances of his resignation.
At that time, he cited three major concerns that he had, and all of them were around Shared Services: number one was around intrusion; number two was around confidentiality; and number three, abbreviated, was around effectiveness and cost increases, etc.
Now, with you being in that position for the last four to five months, can you shed some light onto the relevance of those and whether there are points of concern?
I took over on September 19. I think it's fair to say that there were significant opportunities to improve our relationship with Shared Services Canada in ensuring that we had the necessary capacity in the form of disk space and servers and so on for us to be able to do our job and make sure we weren't putting our ability at risk to put out information on a timely basis. We embarked on a formal arrangement, an agreement that Ron Parker, the head of Shared Services Canada, and I penned. We established a very robust governance structure between our two organizations to make sure we were going to minimize any risks associated with the lack of sufficient technical infrastructure that we needed as an agency to do our business.
We broke out the work into phases, and within those phases we broke them out into stages. We had a fairly robust planning session, very collaborative, between our two organizations to prioritize the work, to acquire the necessary hardware and software, to make sure that it was installed in a certain manner and tested and so on, as I just spoke about earlier. I'm pleased to report that we are working as planned. The risks to the inadequacy of the infrastructure that we require have significantly diminished. There's still work to do, and we continue to do that of course, but I think you can see that we're not putting our dissemination plans at any risk.
In addition to that, I just want to also clarify that in no way does Shared Services Canada tell us what we can collect or whom we can collect from. That's explicit in the agreement that we signed. They have absolutely no say whatsoever, as with any other vendor that we may work with externally or internally to the government, about how we go about doing our business. They never have, and they never will tell us how to go about doing what we know best. There is no real issue about their interference in statistical matters. As I said, we are putting more and more controls in place to ensure that this infrastructure is managed properly over time. As our programs increase, of course there's a necessity for an increased infrastructure. We want to make sure the resources are there for them to do their job and for us to make sure that we get what we need to do our job, and that we're always going to be vigilant about who has access to information about Canadians.
As I explained earlier, the legislation now codifies the various responsibilities in law. The government and the minister, reporting to Parliament, obviously, are accountable for the broad needs of the nation aligned to the policy needs. I think that is part of the benefit of my being able to sit at various DM policy tables, making sure that I'm certainly aware of where those needs are and where we have gaps and how those needs are evolving and how we can be part of the solution. I think that's a really important aspect: that it's not just independence, and then we go off and do whatever we want. We want to genuinely make sure we're part of the solution because Canadians deserve the best information to make decisions based on evidence.
That's the first aspect. Of course, if there are substantive changes to content in there that Statistics Canada feels are an interference in how we should go about best satisfying that content need, the legislation now gives the chief statistician the authority to ask us to please put it in writing, and it can be a public statement.
Second, there could be valid reasons in the future when a minister may intervene on methodological issues. It could be budgetary constraints, we could be going through a period of war, who knows what could occur in the future. There could be valid reasons that may have to be taken into account in the context of the proper statistical way of doing certain things. Should a government, a minister, wish to intervene, now they have to do it in a way, as laid out in law, through a Governor in Council transparent mechanism.
Earlier on, you mentioned that you don't build your own software. You take a look at wherever it is economically feasible but you have security in all of the data you have.
I always talk about this, but there's a difference between physical science and political science. When you state that no one is going to say there's a 100% chance that you are not going to be hacked and so on, that's where the political scientists jump in and say, well that means that this is going to take place and here's where the future is going to be.
If it did happen, how quickly could one stop such a breach? Do you have the ability to manage it, because, again, that's where the confidence part comes in that I mentioned earlier. You know, all of a sudden, you can find out.... As I said, you don't know what's going to happen in the next hundred years. Knowing somebody's religion today a hundred years from now could be extremely critical, and we've opened up the doors for that type of information to be presented.
How quickly can you ensure that you'd be able to move from one type of structure to another in order to close that gap, or would you simply shut things down until you knew you had that security?
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thanks, Mr. Arora, for being here again.
First of all, as a full disclosure, I have an English and math degree, but I haven't done matrices or linear algebra for a few years now, so it's a good thing there's no test today.
I am interested in the advisory council and how it interacts. In particular, I am thinking of things like the labour market information. Industry is telling us that they are having trouble filling jobs, and youth are having difficulty finding jobs they can fill with their skills.
Does the advisory council look at market needs, or does it play more of an advisory role in terms of governance?
Perhaps I could turn to.... It's not the National Statistics Council per se, but we actually have an advisory committee on labour markets and how that whole situation is continuing to evolve. That also builds on a number of previous studies.
I think Don Drummond did a study earlier, on labour market availability. It looked at the whole system, including our EI system and so on, and how it needs the kind of information to allow policy-makers to make the decisions around where there should be investments in skills and training, and where there should be more information on things such as job vacancies.
In fact, it's the work of that committee and of some of the panels that predate the current period that actually led to a couple of statistical programs being launched.
Today, we go out and look at how many jobs are advertised, how long they have been on the market, what kind of wage rates they pay, and where they are vis-à-vis where things are.
I think that's the kind of information for which we look for advice, and then we make sure, in working with ESDC and other partners, that we're responding to that.
First of all, the robust set of advisory committees we have currently provides technical advice on how best to go about measuring a phenomena, how things are evolving in the landscape of that particular aspect, and how we should go about responding to it. What are the data sources that are accessible to us that balance in respond and burden would cost with the kinds of outputs we get? They are technical committees, and they provide us with technical advice on how we would develop the instrument to go about measuring that gap.
As I said earlier, what the legislation does now, in fact, is fill a gap, because those advisory committees give advice to us internally, and it is very technical. There is no committee, no body that speaks to Canadians about how, overall, the system is evolving and where Statistics Canada is in that evolution journey, both domestically and internationally.
That's what that Canadian statistics advisory council will now do. It's mandate is to make the advice that's sought public, and to put out an annual report that speaks to the various dimensions, if you like, of quality, that consists in the national statistical—