Welcome back everybody to meeting number 58 of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. Pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, February 7, 2017, we have been studying, an act to amend the Statistics Act.
Today we have with us, from the Department of Industry, for any questions that might be needed, Larry Shute, deputy director general, economic research and policy analysis branch, strategic policy sector.
Before we proceed, the committee was in Washington, D.C., this week, and it was an amazing time. We met with so many relevant people. I just wanted to take a moment to recognize that the success of the trip was because of the hard work of our clerk, our analysts who are with us all the time taking hundreds of pages of notes—it blew me away how fast they were writing—and our logistics person, Suzie. Everybody at the embassy was phenomenal. They kept us on track and on time. I was very impressed, and kudos to our team and to your team. Thank you.
Having said that, we are moving on. We are on clause 1. There are no amendments.
(Clause 1 agreed to on division)
(On clause 2)
The Chair: We are starting with PV-1.
Ms. May, you have the floor.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm here not as a member of this committee but due to a motion the committee passed, which requires me to be here if I should want to put forward amendments. If you had not passed that motion, committee, I would be able to put forward amendments and speak to them at report stage. I still object to the process, but I will dive in.
First of all, I'm really overall pleased that the government is moving to improve the independence of Statistics Canada. I don't think it has gone far enough, and I wish to associate myself with a number of the comments that have been made to you by Paul Thomas and Wayne Smith. You'll note that a number of my amendments are based on their testimony.
The first amendment that we put forward is in relation to ensuring the independence of the appointment process, the fundamentals of chief statistician. We believe Bill should be amended, as Dr. Thomas recommended, to have an advisory appointment panel of three distinguished people of impeccable credentials.
You can see PV amendment 1 says that should the minister establish such an advisory appointment panel, it recommends one candidate and one alternate candidate...that the advisory panel be composed of three persons with appropriate knowledge. And I just want to explain the third subsection to committee members. It's just to ensure that we don't run into any royal recommendation issues for an amendment being put forward by a member of the committee as opposed to the government putting it in the guts of the bill. That's why we're recommending they not receive any remuneration. That's not because I don't believe distinguished people don't deserve remuneration, but I wanted to avoid any issues with the admissibility of this amendment.
From the point of view that the chief statistician has control over methods and the procedures and operation, I think that's quite clear from the bill. However, since this individual is a non-elected individual, there is a need for oversight, and that oversight should come from the minister.
If a case raises a concern over conflict, I think the procedure is very clear and transparent. The minister will prepare a report, present it within a timely manner to the Parliament, and seek approval.
At the end of the day, I believe there is a need for oversight for non-elected officials, and I don't think there's any conflict of interest with the mandates given to the chief statistician to ensure that the methods, procedures, and operations are kept independent. I think that independence has been clearly indicated.
I can see that this process is quickly becoming a farce with regard to the serious nature of this. This is an amendment that deals with the deconstruction on a political basis of the long-form census to that of a short-form census, which is the genesis of many Liberal bills that were presented in the previous Parliament and in this House of Commons, and which led to the minister's tabling of this legislation in its current context. This is to create the science behind the actual census as the imperative measure and also the necessary strength of legislation to ensure the chief statistician is not intimidated and is not prevented from using science as a basis of a census information system to make decisions.
We saw in the previous Parliament a number of different attempts by political means to undermine the census, which is critical for our statistics, not only for agriculture, but for manufacturing, social development, transit, and the environment. One of the more iconic attempts was made by the minister at that time, , in using the insinuation that people would go to jail if they did not fill out the long-form census. Technically, that was correct. That was the case. However, it led to months of exchanges in the House of Commons about the fact that nobody actually had gone to jail related to this. This was one of the obscure elements that was left over from the census process.
When this was moved in the House of Commons, after a long debate and long attempt to stop this from happening, it was instituted as a short-form census. We lost the mandatory long-form census. That's why we're even here today. Again, what this does is completely open the door for political interference with regard to the decision-making and the capabilities of the chief statistician with regard to Stats Canada. It intentionally undermines the whole matter that we're here for today and, more important, I think it sends a message internationally that political interference on our census, our questions, and our capabilities is the status quo and now the norm in Canadian law.
Proposed subsection 4(1) is clear about that. Proposed subsection 4(2) is of a prescriptive manner, so that the minister can provide accountability. Proposed section 4(2) is particularly important for public issues, because then they can actually get a public record. The minister has to go on record by providing a written form of the explanations as to why he or she feels that there should be interference on the census itself. That accountability would be there not only for the general public and those people who actually fill out the census themselves, but for scientists as well.
I think every Canadian should be seriously interested in proposed subsection 4(2), because as you sit down at the table with your family and decide which information you will forever disclose to the government, you at least will know that the minister, if you are uncomfortable with that, had the opportunity to express himself or herself on that, or that there was at least some type of an evaluation that went to the chief statistician at some point in time to reject that, if there was a possibility to do so. It would actually be vetted at that point in time. Political interference would be very much accountable through the process, and the minister would also have to provide the necessary information to publicly sell this.
Let's say, for example, that there are privacy issues with a question that Canadians are having to answer. There would then have to be that process in place where the minister would go to the chief statistician and ask for that type of a privacy question, and there would be a public process and an inclusion all the way to that point in time when you actually sit down later on and have to divulge information that later on is going to be provided to the public. Also, the fact of the matter is that when we're discussing census information later on, it will be disclosed in its entirety.
If this amendment at this particular point is not passed, it is clear that this government has no intent to deal adequately with this issue. It will completely undermine all the efforts of the former chief statisticians who have tried to publicly advocate for a more reasonable approach, and unfortunately we will again have wasted taxpayers' time with regard to trying to compile a proper census that returns Canada to being a leader with regard to census-taking, as opposed to a passive vessel that we will have in legislation at the end of the day.
I'd like to add to what Mr. Masse said. This is now the second bill that we've had at this committee, and we probably had four or five meetings with witnesses, and there were many experts who provided many opportunities or options for amendments. I see amendments here. I don't see any amendments from the Liberals. That's a little disappointing because there were some really fine, highly qualified experts who did appear at this committee, and not one amendment has been brought forward.
Again, it's another thick-headed approach to the whole committee process. I don't mean from my colleagues across the way. I mean from the minister and his officials, because the whole process of having witnesses here is to not waste government's time, and the time of members of Parliament and staff. The idea is to have these experts come, hear their suggestions to make the bill better, and make the bill better.
Again, this minister is “Minister knows best”. I've known that for a long time, and I think my colleagues on this side know that as well. He is absolutely unwilling to ever accept a suggestion, and that will be to his own peril. On this process with the last bill, try as we might, we didn't get anywhere. This is going to be the same way, so I wish my colleagues all the best.
Hearing no further debate, we shall vote on NDP-2.
The Chair: Shall clause 2 carry?
Mr. Brian Masse: On division.
(Clause 2 agreed to on division)
(On clause 3)
The Chair: We'll move to clause 3, and NDP-3. Mr. Masse, you have the floor.
This amendment again was one recommended from the evidence that the committee has heard. As much as one would like to think that Bill made it impossible for the political interference and the collection of statistics that we saw in the 41st Parliament from ever happening again, from the decision that was made by , one must pause for a moment and say that Munir Sheikh is probably one of the bravest, most dedicated civil servants this country has ever seen. He lost his job rather than see Statistics Canada fail to do a mandatory long-form census while the minister pretended that nobody had told him that it would be a bad decision. I would urge the government to consider bringing back Munir Sheikh, because there you have a person of such impeccable integrity that we would know that our Statistics Canada division was run by someone who is independent.
However, the law at this point, as drafted, won't ensure that we won't see that happen again, so my amendment goes to the issue of the potential for interpretations by the court, that the questions that go to a particular segment of the population, and not to every Canadian, are somehow not mandatory. As you see, after line 36, on page 4, I would insert PV-2:
The census of population and census of agriculture are mandatory even if not all the questions are addressed to all respondents and regardless of the method used to obtain the information.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I have a ruling from the chair. Bill seeks to amend the Statistics Act by creating the Canadian statistics advisory council, composed of not more than 10 members. The amendment attempts to increase the number of members on the council. As House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, states on pages 767 and 768:
Since an amendment may not infringe upon the financial initiative of the Crown, it is inadmissible if it imposes a charge on the public treasury, or if it extends the objects or purposes or relaxes the conditions and qualifications specified in the royal recommendation.
In the opinion of the chair, since the amendment proposes to increase the number of members on the council, it imposes a charge on the public treasury; therefore, I rule the amendment inadmissible. That would apply to amendment NDP-4 as well.
For the record, Mr. Masse, did you want to move yours or not?
Mr. Chair, we have a theme on the question of the numbers of people on the advisory panel. To refresh your memories as to evidence from experts and from former chief statisticians, Wayne Smith recommended a 24-member council; Professor Thomas recommended 20; and, Munir Sheikh confirmed that he thought 10, as is currently in the act, was too few, and 40 was too many, and that somewhere in there we could have something else. The expert evidence before this committee was unanimous that 10 committee members were not enough.
My third amendment again attempts—in the same section as the Conservative and NDP amendments have attempted to do it—to replace the number of people. I'm suggesting, at line 19 on page 5, replacing that with “not more than 20” other members appointed. The same issue occurs in terms of the royal recommendation issue, then, but I'm happy, if anyone wanted to amend this from the government side to adopt the different number of members, to remove my subsection related to remuneration. That's the purpose of my amendment: to be reflecting the expert evidence that the committee has heard. I think it would be a shame to see the bill going through the committee without a single additional reflection of the evidence you heard, as it appears to be doing.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
The number of advisers available to the chief statistician is quite huge. We have seven federal-provincial committees and 13 advisory committees. We have about 200 members in these committees who are available to advise the chief statistician.
We have this council of 10 to provide strategic advice. None of the witnesses had any reason for why it has to be 15, say, why it has to be 20, or why it can be as low as 10. There is no hard and fast rule. In my experience at a board level, especially when strategic advice is the main factor, a smaller board is always good. I would have preferred six to eight, but 10 seems to be reasonable. That allows the chief statistician to have one-to-one conversations and keep that personal relationship with every member of the council. I feel that we should stick to 10.
Mr. Chair, the amendment reads:
That Bill C-36, in Clause 10, be amended by replacing line 7 on page 8 with the following:
taken, but only if the person to whom the information relates consents, at the time of the census, to the release of the information ninety-two years later.
This is an amendment that was put forward by Mr. Dreeshen, which I'm proposing on his behalf. I'd like to read some of his notes that he passed on to me.
“Bill C-36 proposes that starting with 2021, census records be automatically made available with no provision or consent if they want their information public or not. This amendment will change the original text of the bill to include a provision that will respect privacy by default. Canadians expect us to respect their right to have their information kept private should they choose to do so.”
“We can't compromise on privacy, and for an average Canadian to hear about this bill and this provision on census data will create questions about how secure the information really is in the hands of the government.”
The general message that Mr. Dreeshen is trying to get across, and certainly I share it as well, is that as we're going through this process, first of all, Canadians need to know what the changes are going to be. We need to ensure that it's properly communicated to them, but also that we get feedback from them through the process so that they understand their personal information could eventually end up out there. Certainly the general statement is to protect privacy at all costs.
I will leave that on the floor and certainly welcome any questions or debate.
I have an amendment here for the preamble. I want to do this because it's very important. It was testimony from Mr. Smith. It was testimony from Munir Sheikh. The testimony we received was that Canada's international reputation was damaged under the previous census, and it has the opportunity to restore that. One of the things is the United Nations preamble. This would set Canada as a leader.
It's interesting to note that in the many pieces of legislation that I've been a part of here in the House of Commons, often you come with amendments and motions, but mostly amendments. You compete with the government of the day to get those amendments accomplished. Very rarely is there a piece of legislation that passes here that did not require some type of change from its original provision, which was prior to hearing the testimony of witnesses in front of committee.
In a sense, that's the whole purpose and foundation of parliamentary committees' oversight and review—for committees to be the agents of making legislation better. Even if you disagreed with the legislation at the end of the day, you were the responsible bodies to make sure it would live up, through the court of law, and actually achieve the goals that the government talked about. In fact, I have many amendments that were passed under both the Liberals and Conservatives, some even under the NDP banner depending upon the committee, on legislation, which sometimes ended up with different voting in the House of Commons and sometimes didn't.
It's rather unfortunate in this committee, because we've become a know-it-all committee. We've had two pieces of legislation here. We've had countless witnesses. We've chosen to ignore them, time and time again, because we know better. It is ironic for a new government, with many new members, that prior to even stepping in here, they could not learn a single thing from either of the chief statisticians, who are internationally respected.
That in itself is remarkable, given the fact that we had a chief statistician who resigned his position to basically become a whistle-blower on personal privacy and scientific information gathering that was necessary for the disbursement of Canadian taxpayer funds in terms of economic and social policy—namely, the census.
We gave up basically any type of value that we chose to have from those individuals who decided to put their careers at risk, to their detriment, and who followed it up by coming back to this committee. They didn't even have to come back here, but as true Canadians they decided to come back before this committee and go on the record again, after extensive public scrutiny of themselves personally and professionally. They're people who put their scientific careers on hold to come and be public servants. They came back here and gave testimony, despite all the criticism, all the hacking on them, having to prove the value of the census to the Canadian public. But we couldn't find a single word of worth from Munir Sheikh or Mr. Smith. We couldn't find a single word, anything at all, that they could contribute as the former chief statisticians to this process. The value was zero, non-existent, because we know better. The , all his staff, his current chief statistician, and all the members of the Liberal Party, all of them, know entirely and utterly better about all things related to that than those individuals and the other witnesses who gave up time, energy, and their own personal lives to come and sit in front of us.
Who will want to come before this committee in the future, as they know it is now a completely empty vessel for ideas that will be passed on to the House of Commons? If we don't do it here, we have to rely on amendments in the Senate—the Senate that is constantly navel-gazing at its own internal problems, including personal and private scandals, that affect the work there. That doesn't take away from the mere fact that they're appointed, in one form or the other, be it by a prime minister or by a cabal of appointments, in a dark process. The Senate is now the stopgap for Canadian legislation, as opposed to a House of Commons committee.
That is the end result of what's taking place today here for this bill. We have to rely upon the Senate and all its distractions. It's extremely serious, to get anything changed in this bill. That's a congratulatory exclamation mark on the minister and the way he runs and operates, and the way this Prime Minister has inclusion for Canada. They know better—not the witnesses, not the expert testimony, and not any other member from their own side of Parliament. God knows why they even came here. They can't even offer a single suggestion on the bill.
One of the key elements about this bill is the fact that it is an international stamp on Canada's scientific community. It is measured in terms of a democracy and its relationship of data gathering, accountability of that data, and the use of that data for the determination of social and economic policy. That is what is measured with regard to your proper census coming out. It's one of the reasons I fought so hard, nearly a decade ago, to stop Lockheed Martin from having access to Canada's personal privacies, unabated by the Patriot Act, under the previous census outsourcing—something that Canadians had a lot to say about, got involved in, and were able to stop from taking place.
We're left today, after a series of mishaps in the House of Commons, where the Liberals pounded away at different times from the high ground, arguing incessantly over the census being basically a non-starter for Canadians to the Conservatives at that time, and here at committee we have not a single one who can provide any type of value-added input.
One of the key elements...and I am going to conclude, Mr. Chair. This is not going to last much longer in terms of what I have to add, other than an official submission that has been garnered from the efforts of others and suggestions in this House of Commons. At least it will be on the record that somebody gave a damn, somebody cared, and somebody believed that Canada needs to step up. This relates to our international reputation.
I'm proposing that:
The Statistics Act is amended by adding the following before the enacting clause:
Whereas resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly and Economic and Social Council have highlighted the fundamental importance of official statistics for the national and global development agenda;
Whereas the Government of Canada is mindful of the critical role of high-qualified official statistical information in analysis and informed policy decision-making in support of sustainable development, peace and security, created from reliable data regarding the range of social and economic factors that citizens require to understand Canadian society in an increasingly connected world that demands openness and transparency;
Whereas the Government of Canada understands that the essential trust of the public in the integrity of official statistical systems and the public's confidence in statistics depend to a large extent on respect for the fundamental values and principles that are the basis of any society seeking to understand itself and to respect the rights of its members and, in this context, that the professional independence and accountability of statistical agencies are crucial;
Whereas the Government of Canada seeks to emphasize that, in order to be effective, the fundamental values and principles that govern statistical work have to be guaranteed by legal and institutional frameworks and respected at all political levels and by all stakeholders in Canada's national statistical systems;
Whereas the Government of Canada endorses the fundamental principles of the official statistics set out below, which are largely consistent with the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics adopted by the United Nations Statistical Commission in 1994 and reaffirmed in 2013, and endorsed by resolution of the General Assembly in 2014;
Whereas the first of the endorsed fundamental principles is that official statistics provide an indispensable element in the information system of a democratic society, serving the government, the economy and the public with data about the economic, demographic, social and environmental situation, and that, to this end, official statistics that meet the test of practical utility are to be compiled and made available of an impartial basis by official statistical agencies to honour Canadians' entitlement to public information;
Whereas the second of the endorsed fundamental principles is that, in order to retain trust in official statistics, Statistics Canada needs to decide according to strictly professional considerations, including scientific principles and professional ethics, on the methods and procedures for the collection, processing, storage and presentation of statistical data;
Whereas the third of the endorsed fundamental principles is that, in order to facilitate a correct interpretation of the data, Statistics Canada must present information according to scientific standards on the sources, methods and procedures of the statistics;
Whereas the fourth of the endorsed fundamental principles is that Statistics Canada is entitled to comment on erroneous interpretation and misuse of statistics;
Whereas the fifth of the endorsed fundamental principles is that data for all statistical purposes may be drawn from all types of sources, including statistical surveys or administrative records, and that Statistics Canada must choose the source with regard to quality, timeliness, costs and the burden on respondents;
Whereas the sixth of the endorsed fundamental principles is that individual data collected by Statistics Canada for statistical compilation, whether they refer to natural or legal persons, must be strictly confidential and used exclusively for statistical purposes;
Whereas the seventh of the endorsed fundamental principles is that the laws, regulations and measures under which the statistical system operates must be made public;
Whereas the eighth of the endorsed fundamental principles is that Statistics Canada should coordinate with statistical agencies from other countries, recognizing that this coordination is essential to achieve consistency and efficiency among statistical systems;
Whereas the ninth of the endorsed fundamental principles is that the use by Statistics Canada of international concepts, classifications and methods promotes the consistency and efficiency of statistical systems at all official levels;
And whereas the tenth of the endorsed fundamental principles is that bilateral and multilateral cooperation in statistics contributes to the improvement of systems of official statistics in all countries;
1.1 Section 2 of the Act is amended by
And that's it.
As per House of Commons Procedure and Practice, on page 770, “If the bill is without a preamble, the committee may not introduce one.” Therefore, the ruling of the chair is that it is inadmissible.
Shall the title carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the bill carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
An hon. member: On division.
The Chair: Shall the chair report the bill to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Bill is carried.
I would just like to correct the record. We've heard a couple of comments that two legislative amendments were not heard. For the record—and I checked—in the last bill there were eight amendments. I just want to keep the record clean. There were in fact eight amendments in the last bill.
We're going to take a look at the upcoming schedule. Originally, today was clause-by-clause. The next meeting, May 9, we left open to continue Bill . We don't have to do that anymore. We also scheduled an informal meeting for 10:00 to 10:45 with the European Free Trade Association.
On May 11 we have the main estimates for the first hour, and in the second hour we have the manufacturing sector, going back to our manufacturing report.
Seeing as how we have time for that on May 9, can I suggest we move that to May 9?
Are we okay as a committee to revert back to the manufacturing for the first hour and 15 minutes or so?
That also leaves us with an extra hour on the 11th. Mr. Dreeshen will be back by then.
We learned a lot from our trip to Washington. Perhaps in that second hour we can have a conversation about our two motions on broadband and IP and see how that reflects on what we learned. Do we modify them? Are we okay? I think we should involve everybody who wasn't on that trip so they understand what we learned and how it can apply to our two studies. Let's make it productive.
The first hour would be the main estimates. We have coming in for the first hour, and the second hour we're clear. I'm going to jump ahead so you understand where we're going. On the 16th we have main estimates for the hour with , and on the 18th, main estimates with . We move the manufacturing to the next meeting, so that gives us an hour. We were going to have briefings on intellectual property and broadband to balance out the hours.
The analysts are scheduled to do a briefing on IP and broadband for the 16th and the 18th. We'll have experts coming in for that.