Mr. Speaker, as an economist by training, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill , which deals with amendments to the Statistics Act and of course pertains to the operations of Statistics Canada.
This House will recall that, when the Conservatives were in power, the decision to eliminate the long-form census provoked quite a public outcry, which came from nearly every sector of civil society. The scientific community was particularly vocal, including social scientists and economists in general.
Eliminating the long-form census created problems with respect to the analysis of demographic data. Even though the long-form census is being restored, the disruption means that, ultimately, vital information will not be available to study societal changes.
Just as we had done during the election campaign, the Liberals also promised to bring back the long-form census. We have to credit them for that. They have done so, and we must thank them for that, at least. The scientific community is also very grateful.
However, this bill is not about the long-form census as such. According to the Liberal government, this bill seeks to strengthen the independence of Statistics Canada, and make changes and modernize it. We will not oppose the measures that are included in the bill. They are good. Unfortunately, they do only half of what was promised during the election campaign. Hon. members will certainly remember that during the election campaign the Liberal Party promised to give Statistics Canada full independence.
When the then Conservative government cancelled the long-form census, the chief statistician resigned in protest of this interference. In September, many Canadians were surprised to see his successor, Wayne Smith, also resign, this time over the Liberal government's decision to force Statistics Canada to used Shared Services Canada's information technology services.
The government did not waver despite the fact that for three months there were intense discussions between the government, Shared Services, and Statistics Canada. During those discussions, Statistics Canada clearly demonstrated that being forced to use the agency's IT services would compromise not only its independence, but also the efficiency of data collection.
Although the bill makes public the cabinet decisions or ministerial orders that the statistician is opposed to and removes the possibility of imprisonment for those who refuse to fill out the mandatory survey, it still falls short. It does not make Statistics Canada independent, particularly when it comes to the process for selecting the chief statistician. In that regard, I would like to point out the work that has been done by my colleague from , who introduced a bill to address that issue.
The bill also does not make it mandatory to complete the long-form census; does not make it possible to modernize the Statistics Act so that information can be better disseminated to the public; and does not, as I mentioned, do anything to prevent the interference of Shared Services Canada, which compromises Statistics Canada's independence and is the reason why Wayne Smith resigned.
In September 2016, La Presse published an interview with the chief statistician, which clearly demonstrates the importance of this issue. The article states that:
|| In a June report [so three months before the chief statistician resigned] obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, the [National Statistics] Council wrote that the Liberals' intent to have Statistics Canada find new ways of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data was inconsistent with their insistence that the federal agency use the new centralized platform...
On one hand, the Liberal government is asking Statistics Canada to do a better job of collecting the data it needs to better inform the public, as well as the federal and provincial governments, on what measures ought to be taken. On the other hand, the Liberal government is trying to force Statistics Canada to use the Shared Services Canada computer system, which will prevent Statistics Canada from doing what the government asked it to do in the first place.
If there is one element that needs to be included in Bill , it is independence and the ability of Statistics Canada to make its own decisions, because it knows best what it actually needs, in terms of data collection, to report and to inform the population better, and not only the population, but all levels of government.
Did the government actually listen to the chief statistician? Of course not. That is why he resigned.
We have, at this point, a process to replace him. He was actually replaced by his assistant, but to fully replace him, we have a process that still involves the government, so it is still not independent and autonomous. This means, by extension, that the process remains politicized.
Given all the upheaval that Statistics Canada has gone through since 2011 or 2012, the government should have addressed directly the serious promise it made during the election campaign. It was to make Statistics Canada fully and not just partly independent, give it a few more powers, and provide direction for the rest.
The Liberals promised to make Statistics Canada fully independent. Bill does not do that and the government has not yet indicated that it is willing to do it after this bill is passed.
I would like the various Liberal members to tell us, in their speeches, what the government intends to do with Statistics Canada. This is a fundamental issue that affects the fabric of our society.
As I said before, I would like to commend the member for , who has presented a bill that would address the issue of the selection of the chief statistician at Statistics Canada. The reason he did so is that he felt there was reluctance by the government to abandon some of the powers it currently has over a service that is traditionally viewed as independent and whose services are critical for the elaboration and analysis of the policies government puts forth. It is also of use to provincial and municipal governments, because they need to have information on the composition of their societies and the evolution of their societies and communities.
The member for saw this very important element that was, once again, promised by the Liberals. He felt that the government was not going in that direction.
I have the feeling that other members on this side of the House will actually do the exact same thing on other commitments regarding Statistics Canada, and general commitments made by the government, on which it does not seem to be willing to deliver.
The issue of the long-form census received a lot more public attention, but the independence of Statistics Canada is also deemed important by scientific communities.
I believe that this type of half measure brought forward by the government not only fuels the cynicism of Canadians, but also the cynicism of the people whose work relies on these government organizations.
Statistics Canada has gone through all the decisions.
Considering all the turmoil that Statistics Canada has been through, we would have expected the government to address this issue immediately, but it refuses to do so.
We will be voting in favour of this bill at second reading. In committee, of course, we will try to ensure that the commitments dealing with Statistics Canada that the Liberals made during the election campaign are included in the bill. That would be an improvement and, in that sense, we could help the government meet the commitments it made during the election campaign.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Statistics Act.
First, I would like to thank my hon. colleague, the , for working so hard on drafting this very important bill. The main objective of this bill is to strengthen the independence of Statistics Canada. The bill strikes the right balance between strengthening the agency’s independence and ensuring that the statistical information it produces continues to be of the highest quality.
Statistics play an essential role in democratic societies. They serve governments, businesses, non-profit organizations, the research community, and the public. Statistics provide Canadians with information about our society, economy, and environment. They help various stakeholders identify the challenges and opportunities we face as a society, design and implement policies and actions, and hold our governments to account. There is widespread agreement internationally that national statistical offices must have a high degree of independence from political intervention.
Decisions on statistical matters must be based strictly on professional considerations. That is how statistical agencies can preserve the integrity, impartiality, and quality of their data. This independence is essential if Canadians are to have confidence in official statistics.
That said, the quality of statistical data must be balanced with other important considerations, including the fact that statistical information must be relevant.
As the , I have the important privilege of implementing measures that have a major impact on the lives of our families. That includes finding efficient and inclusive ways to support early learning and child care, supporting the development of affordable housing, and helping the most vulnerable citizens in our society exit poverty and live better. To meet these responsibilities, my department and I require data that is accurate, reliable, accessible, impartial, timely, and relevant. High-quality data is critical for making informed decisions about all the programs and services that affect the daily lives of our citizens. Therefore, our government made a commitment to decision-making that is informed by sound evidence. That is why our government moved quickly last year to reinstate the mandatory long-form census in time for the 2016 census of our population.
The decision made by the previous government to replace the 2011 mandatory long-form census with a voluntary survey compromised the quality of information that is essential to responsible public policy-making. In my earlier life, I had, unfortunately, the opportunity to see the bad impact of that in the lives and work of many of my colleagues. As a result, Statistics Canada was unable to release accurate and detailed census information about some communities, particularly in rural areas of our country.
The government's decision to replace the mandatory long-form census with a voluntary questionnaire also highlighted vulnerabilities in the Statistics Act, which we will now solve.
In particular, the legislation allowed the previous government to make decisions on a statistical matter in an arbitrary and non-transparent way. Bill will ensure that our government can continue to make decisions on behalf of all Canadians that are evidence-based. The bill will also ensure that Statistics Canada can continue to deliver high-quality, reliable and relevant information.
There are three ways in which Bill strikes the right balance between strengthening the independence of Statistics Canada and safeguarding the relevance of the information it produces.
First, the bill formally assigns to the chief statistician the authority to make decisions about the methods and operations of Statistics Canada. This will limit the potential for political intervention in the data-gathering methods and other technical matters directly related to the operations of Statistics Canada.
The bill also recognizes the overall responsibility of the minister and the Government for ensuring that the statistical system remains relevant and responsive to Canadians.
For example, if the minister decides it is in the national interest to issue directives related to the data-gathering methods and other statistical operations of Statistics Canada, he or she can make a recommendation through the Governor in Council.
Any directives issued by the Governor in Council would be tabled in both Houses of Parliament to ensure full transparency and accountability.
Second, Bill would strengthen the independence of the chief statistician. Under the current Statistics Act, the chief statistician holds office at the pleasure of the government without set terms. He or she can be removed at any time without explanation by the Governor in Council. Bill C-36 would amend the act so that the chief statistician would hold office on good behaviour. He or she would be appointed to the position for a renewable term of not more than five years. That means the Governor in Council could only dismiss a chief statistician for cause. In addition, the chief statistician would be appointed through an open, transparent, and merit-based selection process, as should be the case. This process would be in line with the government's new approach to Governor in Council appointments.
Third, the bill calls for the creation of a new Canadian statistics advisory council. This group would advise both the minister and the chief statistician on the overall quality of the statistical system. That includes providing recommendations to ensure the continued development, accuracy, accessibility, and timeliness of the information produced by Statistics Canada. In the interests of openness and transparency, the advisory council would publish an annual report on the state of the national statistical system.
Taken together, these three amendments to the Statistics Act will strengthen the independence of Statistics Canada. They will increase the transparency and accountability of this important agency. They will also ensure that statistical information produced on behalf of all Canadians continues to be reliable and relevant.
The bill contains three other amendments to the Statistics Act that I would like to note. First, there is general consensus that imprisonment is a disproportionate penalty for Canadians who refuse to provide information for mandatory surveys. The bill removes this penalty from the act. Fines will remain to ensure compliance with certain provisions of the act.
Second, the bill removes the requirement for consent to transfer census records to Library and Archives Canada after 92 years, beginning with the 2021 census of population. This change responds to the needs of historians and genealogists who require this important data for research purposes.
Finally, the bill amends the Statistics Act to modernize some of the language in the act. These language changes reflect technological advances in data-gathering methods. That includes the use of electronic surveys in place of paper questionnaires.
Taken together, the amendments safeguard the independence of Statistics Canada and enable it to continue to produce high-quality information, while ensuring that the agency we are so proud of is better aligned with international standards.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to stand today to speak to these changes as proposed in Bill to the Statistics Canada Act.
There is no doubt that in our society we rely on information. All sectors of business rely on good data, good information to guide their decisions, and on this side of the aisle, we have always stressed the importance of that good work that Statistics Canada does.
However, the private lives of Canadians should never be put in jeopardy. It is a concern of ours that some of the changes as suggested, if not amended, to this piece of legislation could strike an improper balance between the privacy of Canadians and what Canadians feel is their private information being infringed upon and what the government uses that data for.
This is a redesign and a re-engineering of how statistics would be gathered in an effort to make them more independent, make the chief statistician more independent, but it also has to come back to what is balancing the rights of Canadians while good data is collected.
I will give examples of some of the intrusive questions that we have heard from Canadians that some have said just go beyond, perhaps, questions they are comfortable answering. That would be, “How many bathrooms do you have in your home? When do you leave for work, and when do you arrive at work?” and other questions that delve into their personal lives on the basis that somehow this data would be useful to the government for the purposes of disseminating that information for good policy-making and for good decision-making.
It is proposed in the changes to give the chief statistician total control over those questions with no ministerial control or accountability by the minister. What this means in the new set-up, in the new engineered or redesigned way of collecting data and the supervision and the management of collecting data, is that the chief statistician would, on his or her own, be able to make those decisions, not have to vet them through the minister or through the ministry or through Parliament, where we would decide perhaps on certain, larger issues, whether they are appropriate or not appropriate.
What happens when a Canadian down the road decides that, although it is mandatory to complete it, it is too intrusive into his or her personal life? How do they ask the questions? To whom do they ask the questions to find out more about why this question is being asked? It will not come back to the minister. It will not come through the regular channels of parliamentary procedure as currently exist. It will be the chief statistician having the lone decision-making and not having to be accountable to this place for the decisions on those questions.
The other issue that has been mentioned this morning already is the storage of data. The chief statistician could decide, having been given sole authority to create this independence as put forward, where this data could be stored. We talked about the importance of where it is being stored today and maintaining that integrity, but at any point in time, the chief statistician could decide to deliver that data to a third party for storage.
In fact, we saw the most recent resignation, I believe his name was Wayne Smith, over this very issue. Former chief statistician Wayne Smith resigned over the push to use Shared Services Canada to store the information. Unfortunately his concerns, which were made clear to the Liberal government, were not looked upon and it took his resignation before they would listen. We are talking again about security of Canadians, and this should be the top priority of any government.
Let us talk about the overriding governance portion of the changes that are being made and why we have concerns with that on this side. What is happening is that the governance body, the overseeing body, is changing to the Canadian statistics advisory council, a new name, from the National Statistics Council.
The key concern here is, this was put in place in 1985 by the Mulroney government as an oversight body with 13 members, representing all provinces and territories, while the new one, as proposed in this legislation, reduces that to 10 members. Why is that a concern? It is because we cannot understand why the government would want to change from representation of all provinces and territories, in terms of their input into the data that is collected. What is the reason for eliminating three spots? That means three areas of the country would not be represented.
Here is an example. If Atlantic Canada, by chance, does not have an appointee to that board, it could miss out on specific data being included and received by Statistics Canada that is specific to Atlantic Canada, because the oversight board would see all of the information being asked for as it is done. The 13-person national board that currently exists, the National Statistics Council, has representation from all parts of the country. It has worked well, frankly, since 1985. It strikes the right balance. It decides what is working and what is not working. This is a body that is working very effectively, representing all parts of the country, yet we see it would change to a smaller number.
The other concern is it perhaps could become another place for patronage appointments. It could be speculated that the 10 who would be appointed would be political appointments. They could well be people who perhaps have knowledge and background in the area of statistics, but perhaps not, because it may be someone who is looking for a board appointment, who is favourable to this government, who could be put on that board. Therefore, it brings up questions, as we have seen being asked in the House most recently, about access for fundraising. Could it be Liberal supporters who go to events and pay $1,500 and hang out with Chinese billionaires? Could it be other people who have worked through the years on the Liberal front who are put on the board? This is a big concern.
Of course, if it was left as it is, as we think it possibly should be, and some of our amendments may deal with this going forward, then it is working, it is working well, and representing the complete country.
It begs the question, why would the government want to redesign it so that all Canadians are not represented? It could be said on this front that this shows incredible disrespect for the provinces and territories. Instead of revising the mandate of the current statistics council and keeping it in full provincial and territorial representation, as it currently provides, the Liberals have chosen to construct a new council to eliminate the feedback from three provinces or territories.
The redesign of the board to create independence brings up other concerns of promises made by the government, which as we have seen lately have basically been altered, either thrown in the garbage bin or arbitrarily overrun, such as the overrun on the promise of $10-billion deficits, now currently sitting at $25 billion.
We question today, as we debate the bill, what really is the purpose of the bill? What is the purpose when we see some of these changes?
Again, it is all about balance. It is all about striking the right balance between collecting data and privacy of Canadians. I will underscore that because there is no doubt about the information that it receives and the importance of work done by Statistics Canada, however, the private lives of Canadians should never be put in jeopardy.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am pleased to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Statistics Act.
The legislation aims to provide more independence to Canada's chief statistician. It would update penalties for Canadians who failed to complete their short-form census. It would replace the National Statistics Council with the new Canada statistics advisory council. There would no longer be a requirement to obtain the consent of Canadians to transfer their personal information from Statistics Canada to Library and Archives Canada.
I would like to address each one of these changes. Some of them are supportable and some are not.
Let me first begin with the increased independence of the chief statistician.
Under the legislation, Canada's chief statistician would have sole responsibility to decide the methods, procedures, and operations of all statistical programs under Statistics Canada. It would also mean that he or she would have full authority over the collection, compilation, analysis, abstraction, and publication of all statistical information. The chief statistician would also have control of the content released and publicized, and how and when this information would be circulated.
While some aspects of the legislation make sense, and the chief statistician should be able to decide the best way to gather data and what the process should look like, we also need to ensure that he or she remains accountable to the minister and Canadians. Moreover, the new powers granted are such that he or she will have the final say on where information is stored, as well as the type of information being collected, as he or she will have powers to decide what questions are asked and which ones are not.
I will acknowledge that this will likely be good news to the former chief statistician, Wayne Smith, who resigned recently over the Liberal government's push to use Shared Services Canada to store statistical information. While there may be a need to use a different method to protect Canada's data, we need to ensure we have a system of checks and balances and ensure that this information does not fall to a third party to store and potentially undermine the security of Canadians.
We have seen many examples of the hacking of systems worldwide. We have seen the manipulation of information, the selling and trading of information, and our own systems have been subject to these same practices. The Liberal government is now reopening the process to allow a Chinese company to buy a Canadian IT firm against the recommendations and warnings from CSIS. We need to ensure the minister and all departments under Statistics Canada's purview are held accountable to Canadians. Giving the chief statistician the final say without any accountability really undermines that process.
The second change would remove the penalty of imprisonment for Canadians who failed to fill out census forms. I think we can all fully support this change. In fact, it was the previous Conservative government that removed this penalty from every survey, except the short-form census.
The third change is the bill would create the Canadian statistics advisory council. This council would replace the National Statistics Council, which has been in place since the 1980s. This new council would reduce the membership of the current council to just 10 members. In addition to advising the chief statistician, the new council would also advise the minister and would be required to produce an annual report.
Again, the issues with this section have to do with accountability. In particular, I am concerned with the new membership structure.
The current council has representation from every province and every territory in Canada. However, the new council will only include 10 members and will not include representation from every province and territory. In fact, three provinces and territories will not be represented. What is even more troubling is that we will not know the makeup or representation of the council until the and his cabinet appoint the members.
It is inappropriate for cabinet to decide which regions are important enough to have a voice at the table and which ones are not.
We collect data from Canadians in every province and every territory across the country. Not to have representation from three provinces and territories is unacceptable. This change needs to be rectified.
The fourth change is one that gives myself and my colleagues on this side of the House the most concern. The government will no longer require the explicit consent of Canadians to transfer their personal census information from Statistics Canada to Library and Archives Canada after a period of 92 years. Once the information has been transferred to Library and Archives Canada, it will be public and available for anyone to view and use at will.
The privacy and security of Canadians should be of the utmost priority for any government. The work that Statistics Canada does is so important, not only for policy-makers in crafting our legislation, but also for helping Canadian research and academia sectors, business sectors, environmental sectors, and for future historians who will be looking to understand the evolution of Canadian society.
However, regardless of all the great work Statistics Canada does, the right of Canadians to privacy over their own information cannot be compromised. Canadians should have the right to consent to the transfer of any personal information obtained through the census.
In today's digital age of easy and instant information sharing, we cannot forget how easy it is for information to be shared and used without our permission. We should not be giving anyone the power to transfer some of our most personal data to a public domain without our explicit permission.
Even though the legislation has a delay period of 92 years for transferring and publishing our personal information, the type of information collected by Statistics Canada will often include or impact not only those individuals, but also their spouses, their children, and other family members. The argument that 92 years is a sufficient length of time to cancel out any worry about invasion of privacy assumes that the data looks at the individual in a vacuum.
We need to be aware that sharing and transferring this information to Library and Archives Canada will impact not only the individual, but also those who are, or were, connected to that individual. This is the most problematic piece of the legislation. An amendment that requires the explicit consent of the individual should be included.
The bill has potential. The work that Statistics Canada does is extremely important, but the collection and storage of data cannot come at the expense of the privacy of individuals or their families.
We also need to ensure that Canadians from all regions are represented equally and fairly, and that Canadians can be confident that the personal data they provide to the government is stored securely and is not shared without their consent.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Statistics Act, an act with the stated purpose of strengthening the independence of Statistics Canada.
I would like to begin by thanking my hon. colleague the member for for her leadership on this file, and I would like to start by stating my support and the support of my colleagues for Stats Canada and its staff for the great work they do. Whether Canadians realize it or not, we use that information provided by Stats Canada quite frequently, and it has done and continues to do some very good work.
To be completely honest, I did not know much about the Statistics Act prior to reading Bill , but the changes proposed in Bill C-36 would have a direct and significant impact not only on Stats Canada but also on the way data is recorded, stored, and used here in Canada.
The Liberals have touted themselves as the party of transparency and accountability, and they would also argue that the bill is a continuation of this pledge. Yet, when reading the bill, I find it becomes clear that instead of increasing accountability and transparency, the bill does the exact opposite.
I should say that the bill is not all bad. In fact, at this moment there are many sections with which I do agree, but I plan to break the bill down into four major components and discuss each one separately.
First, the bill would appoint the chief statistician during good behaviour for a fixed, renewable term of five years, removable only for cause by the Governor in Council. It would also assign the chief statistician, or CS, the powers related to methods, procedures, and operations of Stats Canada.
Section 4 of the act would be replaced by subclause 4(1), which I will read:
|| The Governor in Council shall appoint the Chief Statistician of Canada to be the deputy head of Statistics Canada.
What my colleagues opposite would argue is that they would be giving the CS more independence and making him or her more accountable. Yet, as this above subclause states, the CS is appointed by the minister. This could easily be used as a partisan appointment, and we would be essentially assigning this person power related to methods, procedures, and operations of Stats Canada.
My point here is that the Liberals' pledge openness and transparency, yet there are other instances including just a year ago when parliamentary oversight of federal spy agencies was brought before this place. The unilaterally appointed my friend from as the committee chair, not to mention the PM's power to direct the committee to revise its annual and special reports to him if he believes the disclosure would injure international security, defence, or international relations.
Further, while it may not have been intended by the bill we are debating today, as it is currently written, the CS would be authorized to decide where Stats Canada data is stored. It is my understanding that there is an agreement to house the data with Shared Services Canada, but under the bill, the CS would be authorized to move it, or could be authorized, which might result in some security concerns.
This data is about Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and it is our job to ensure that any information they provide is kept private. After the most recent census, many concerned citizens reached out to me regarding the invasive questions they were forced to answer for fear of prosecution.
Under Bill , the CS would have the authority to develop questioning within those surveys. We could potentially have a partisan appointee developing the questions within those surveys. It seems to me that this could potentially skew the important data collected by Stats Canada.
The second issue is that Bill would establish the Canadian statistics advisory council, which would be composed of 10 members and would replace the National Statistics Council, the NSC. The council would advise the CS and minister and focus on the quality of the national statistical system, including the relevance, accuracy, accessibility, and timelines of that information produced. The council would be required to make a public annual report on the state of the system.
Much like with my previous concerns, let us take a look directly at Bill , regarding membership:
|| The Council is composed of, in addition to the Chief Statistician, not more than 10 other members appointed by the Governor in Council to hold office during pleasure, including one Chairperson.
The chief statistician would be an ex-officio member of that council. Therefore, we now have a CS appointed by the minister and an advisory council appointed by the minister. This is just another opportunity for members to give their Liberal friends appointments.
Why does the government require a new council when there is already one in place, which has been working very well since the 1980s? It seems like a waste of taxpayer dollars just to replace one council with a new one. Perhaps the government should consider the taxpayer in this instance.
Another problem with the new Canadian statistics advisory council is the lack of proper representation. The current council has representation from all provinces and territories, but under the new council, there would be only 10 representatives. Therefore, my question is this. Which provinces or territories is the government planning to leave without representation on this council?
The third issue I have is that the bill would no longer require the consent of respondents to transfer their census information to Library and Archives Canada, and would repeal imprisonment as a penalty for any offence committed by a respondent. This suggested change in Bill is full of potential issues. I understand that the transfer of Canadians' data after 92 years might seem insignificant, but at the end of the day, this information is about Canadians and what belongs to them.
The government should not be deciding what can and cannot be transferred without the consent of respondents. This is the exact opposite of the transparency that the government is hiding behind. It is our previous government that was responsible for repealing the penalty of imprisonment for every survey except the mandatory short-form census.
Finally, the bill would amend certain provisions by modernizing the language of the act to better reflect current methods of collecting statistical information. Ensuring that our acts use language that is appropriate to reflect new and upcoming methods of collecting statistical information is important to keep Statistics Canada up to date. In this quickly changing global environment, I would note that the bill would do nothing to change the fact that the long-form census and census of agriculture are both mandatory, which leads me to my next issue: the mandatory long-form census.
It was our previous government that introduced the voluntary national household survey, which replaced the mandatory long-form census. When the Liberal government reinstituted the long-form census, I was surprised by the number of constituents who expressed their concerns about the invasive questions that they were forced to answer. This is something on which I strongly disagree with members opposite. I do not believe that we should be forcing Canadians to give out this personal information under threat of prosecution.
As an MP, I have always given top priority to the privacy and security of Canadian citizens, as does everyone in the House, I am sure. I would like to quote my colleague the member for , who said:
|| In closing, there is no doubt our society relies on information that it receives from the work done by Statistics Canada. It is important work, but the private lives of Canadians should never be put in jeopardy. Canadians, in their personal and business affairs, need to be able to trust the data that they give and get from Statistics Canada, and betraying that trust does not promote a stable environment where quality data can be obtained.
As I said at the beginning, I find myself supportive of a number of clauses of the bill, but I am also concerned about others. I seriously hope that the government will take into account some of the issues I have raised as we move forward to enhance Statistics Canada and the Statistics Act.
I would like to reiterate my robust support for the employees of Statistics Canada for the job they do each and every day on our behalf.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate having the opportunity to speak this morning. I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Like the members who have already spoken today, I want to talk about Bill , which is meant to strengthen Statistics Canada's independence. Together, we will look at whether this bill can achieve that official objective because it might also have unofficial objectives.
I think it would be useful to explain to our constituents, including the wonderful people of Beauport—Limoilou, that Statistics Canada was created in 1971 because the federal government has a duty to collect and compile statistics on Canada and its people. Its duty is right there in the law that sets out the federal government's responsibilities. Statistics are therefore under federal jurisdiction. Even provincial statistics are within the agency's purview.
Statistics Canada has been serving Canadians for 40 years. It has produced many studies that I am sure have formed the basis for many of Canada's public policies. Those studies have led to positive outcomes for all Canadians.
In our Liberal democracy, data are extremely important. I used data when I was studying political science, and I use them now in my day-to-day work.
Statistics Canada seeks to produce statistics on the country's populations, resources, economy, society, and culture. Statistics Canada is currently conducting over 300 studies, which will provide us with objective information that will help us make informed decisions while ensuring that the source of that information, the everyday lives of our fellow Canadians, is kept confidential.
I use these data in my capacity as an MP and so do my employees. The data are also used by businesses, universities, and scientists. They are used by the parties to determine their political platforms so that, when a party wins the election and takes office, it can develop informed public policies.
What does Bill do exactly? After reading the bill, my understanding is that it makes changes to four key areas.
First, the chief statistician would be appointed for a fixed term of five years, renewable for good behaviour and removable only for cause by the Governor in Council. That seems commendable. Although it is not the bill's intention, the chief statistician would nonetheless be authorized to choose where the statistical data would be stored. We think that could be problematic since the government gave the new Canadian statistics advisory council its name and so it obviously expects that council to advise the chief statistician.
Second, the bill provides for the creation of a new Canadian statistics advisory council made up of 10 members. It would replace the National Statistics Council, which currently has 13 members. I will come back to this later since it seems that this change will negatively impact provincial and territorial representation.
Third, under the bill, the consent of Canadians will no longer be required to transfer their census information to Library and Archives Canada.
Fourth, the bill will remove the penalty of imprisonment for Canadians who fail to fill out the census forms, a change that we strongly support.
I would like to say that one of our Conservative colleagues in the previous Parliament, Mr. Preston, had brought forward a bill to repeal the penalty of imprisonment for all surveys. Unfortunately, the bill did not receive royal assent before the writ was dropped.
Obviously, we support this aspect of the bill given that we wanted to make this change.
I will now speak to our position on this bill. We want to debate it in the House and vote to send it to committee for more in-depth study in order to make some amendments. In particular, we find that it is very important to amend the provisions of the bill that would change the National Statistics Council to the Canadians Statistics Advisory Council, a body with 10 members instead of 13.
We believe that this new advisory council would give the Liberals another opportunity to appoint their cronies. We have another concern. Since the council will provide advice about relevance, the surveys could be biased towards the Liberals and even friends of the council.
We find it hard to understand why the government must establish a new council rather than just revising the mandate of the current National Statistics Council, which currently has 13 members representing the 10 provinces and three territories.
Much like we did during the debate on the selection of the next Supreme Court of Canada justice, we voiced our grave concerns regarding the importance of ensuring strong representation from all regions of Canada on the Supreme Court.
Because the council is going to have only 10 members instead of 13, we find ourselves debating the issue through the lens of defending the federation. Obviously, the representation of three jurisdictions in Canada will have to be cut from the council. Does this mean that three of the 10 provinces will no longer be represented on the new council, or have the Liberals decided that the three Canadian territories, that is, Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories, will no longer be represented? In either case, whether representation on the council is taken away from three provinces or the three territories, we think it is appalling.
As I said earlier, the mission of Canada's statistics agency is to provide information to Canadians, particularly for the development of sound public policies with objectives based on reliable hard facts. At present, the council that is supposed to support the work of the chief statistician so that he can effectively run the agency will not have the support of people who understand the realities of the provinces and territories.
Furthermore, the bill does nothing to address the concerns raised by Mr. Smith, the former chief statistician. He resigned last summer after voicing his concerns, which are being ignored. When he appeared before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates on November 16, 2016, Mr. Smith shared his three main concerns with us. This first was this:
||...Shared Services Canada represented a major and unacceptable intrusion on the independence of Statistics Canada.
His second concern was as follows:
|| ...the arrangement with Shared Services Canada imposed on Statistics Canada was inconsistent with the confidentiality guarantees given by the Statistics Act to persons and organizations providing information to Statistics Canada for statistical purposes.
His third concern was:
||...dependence on Shared Services Canada was hobbling Statistics Canada in its day-to-day operations, reducing effectiveness, increasing costs, and creating unacceptable levels of risk to the delivery of Statistics Canada's programs.
The former chief statistician says he was not satisfied with the government's response to his concerns. I get the impression that this new bill does not fare much better.
For all these reasons, we hope that during review in committee, the government will accept our key amendments.
Mr. Speaker, today I wish to join my colleagues in the discussion regarding Bill and the proposed changes to the Statistics Act. Although many changes are proposed in the bill, ranging from minor language updates to creating a new Canadian statistics advisory council, the broader intent of the bill is to provide greater independence to Statistics Canada, or StatsCan, as I will be referring to it in my speech.
As many of my colleagues have already mentioned, the work done by StatsCan is very important in ensuring the appropriate protection of Canadians' personal information. Moreover, I recognize that the information stored and produced by StatsCan is crucial for wise and evidence-based decision-making by governments and that it provides important information for research and academic institutions.
As a former researcher myself, I think we can all agree that this information must be accurate and trustworthy to be relevant. However, what is even more important is that the privacy of Canadians is protected and that the collected information is kept secure.
I have three primary concerns regarding the proposed changes in Bill . I will begin by speaking about the intended independence of Statistics Canada and the individual serving as the chief statistician, the CS. I will also comment on the proposed Canadian statistics advisory council, and I will finish my debate with the concern about information-sharing and the importance of privacy for Canadians.
I wish to state that the independence of StatsCan and the chief statistician is not inherently a poor decision. However, it is of great importance that should independence be given, there would be sufficient guidelines on what the chief statistician's role would be in how information would be handled. Guidelines regarding where information is stored, how it is regulated, and what information is gathered from Canadians must be considered.
As Bill proposes, the minister would no longer have direct control or influence over the methods, procedures, and operations of StatsCan. Instead, all of those decisions and processes would be determined by the chief statistician.
We must remember that it is elected officials who are accountable to Canadians, and when we give too much independence to departments, such as StatsCan, we are limiting the accountability of that organization to Canadians.
We answer to the people, and when the people are those involved, as they are in the circumstance of personal information and data, there must be a source of accountability. This notion of accountability extends further to those who oversee the programs and activities of the organization. This leads to my next concern.
Currently, the National Statistics Council serves as an overarching advisory committee. It was established in 1985, with members from all territories and provinces. The council provides insight and advice to the chief statistician regarding StatsCan's activities and programs, as described on StatsCan's website. The proposed Canadian statistics advisory council would not include representation from across the country. Instead, the new council would have only 10 members. They would report to both the chief statistician and the minister and would be tasked with producing an annual public report on the current statistical system.
It is simple math. Three territories or provinces would not be represented on the new council. Their feedback would be eliminated. This shows incredible disrespect for the provinces and territories.
I understand that the government enjoys creating new boards as a means to appoint its friends to new positions. I cannot understand why it could not have simply altered the current council to incorporate new responsibilities. This would help maintain equal representation from across the country.
When we are dealing with Canadians' personal information, we must ensure that those interacting with the data at StatsCan, as a whole, are not seeking to further the government's agenda. This would not only fly in the face of independence but would also undermine the government's accountability to Canadians.
As I previously mentioned, the protection of Canadians' security is of utmost importance. Furthermore, the information collected must be appropriate and not viewed as invasive and too personal. With the independence of the chief statistician, he or she would be required to generate the questions included in the census or survey. It is important that there be accountability and that the questions generated are not deemed to be invasive, as that could skew results should individuals feel the need to inaccurately represent themselves. I understand that this is not the intent of the bill, but it is one of the concerns I have.
One last point on privacy is that Bill would remove the requirement for consent to transfer and store information records after 92 years. When information has been stored at StatsCan for 92 years, the data would be moved to Library and Archives Canada, where it would be accessible by all Canadians. I think many of my colleagues would agree that in the case of StatsCan data, it is not the place of the government to determine what personal information is kept private or made public without the consent of Canadians. When we are discussing private information, it is always the right of citizens to give their consent. It is not for the government to determine at what point consent for information-sharing should be waived.
As a former professor and self-proclaimed lifelong learner, I value the academic and research communities and the importance of having relevant, quality data. For this reason, I understand the importance of Statistics Canada and all the work it does. However, I too have participated in research and believe in the respect for and protection of citizen information. The government must strike the appropriate balance between protecting the privacy rights of Canadians and collecting good-quality data.
I look forward to continued debate on the bill, and I hope the concerns I have highlighted throughout my speech will be considered.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today in the debate on Bill an act to amend the Statistics Act.
My understanding is that this bill was introduced by the on December 7 of last year. It proposes amendments to the Statistics Act with the purpose of strengthening the independence of Statistics Canada. That truly is the rub in this bill. Will this bill actually achieve that?
What this bill purports to do is it would appoint the chief statistician during good behaviour for a fixed renewable term of five years, removable only for cause by the Governor in Council. It would also assign the chief statistician powers related to methods, procedures, and operations of Statistics Canada. What does this change in the bill practically do and where do some of my concerns lie?
First of all, while the minister would still have the ability to issue directives on statistical programs, which means being able to have some ministerial or government oversight on various statistical programs, he would no longer be able to issue directives on methods, procedures, and operations.
It is incumbent on the government to provide more information to Parliament on why it feels that change needs to be made. To me, I think there is actually a functionality of Parliament that could be lost in that particular change. Certainly the minister and his department would, from time to time, require some directive on those particular issues, and making this change might impede their progress on certain efforts there. I would be interested in hearing from the government specific examples or cases which it felt led to the necessary precipitation of this particular change.
The chief statistician may require any directive given to be made public and in writing before acting on the directive. I am not a statistician. My background is in economics. However, for anybody who is doing any sort of research methodology, there might be a survey bias or sample bias or failings in statistical methods if that publicity happens in the wrong format. Certainly the minister might have some interest in that particular component of it as well. Again, I would like to hear from the government about why it is making this particular change, and if there were cases presented to the minister that precipitated this change proposed by the bill.
It is also my understanding that even though this might not be the specific intent of this change in the bill, the chief statistician could now have authorization to choose where data is housed. That is a big concern. I know that privacy and data management are concerns for many Canadians. We have been talking about cybersecurity in various forms and shapes in parliamentary committees and through different pieces of legislation here in the House of Commons.
The government needs to clarify whether or not through this bill the chief statistician would have the authorization to change the data storage locations. My understanding right now is that there is an agreement that much of our data will be stored at Shared Services Canada. There is a broader policy discussion around Shared Services Canada and data management.
I think there would be agreement on all sides of this House that any decision to be made on the warehousing of very sensitive data that Statistics Canada might decide to collect should be informed by ministerial oversight. Prior to this bill passing, the government needs to clarify whether or not it would amend the portion of the bill that might allow that to happen. I certainly would not want to see the chief statistician, who is essentially not accountable to anyone, make an overarching decision on where that level of sensitive data would be housed, especially when there has been parliamentary direction to the housing of data made to date. I might add, just to contextualize this, let us say that the chief statistician chose to use a third party to house some or part of the data. There could be security concerns.
While the whole privacy component sounds sort of dry, it is quite valid. Again, it is incumbent upon the government to ensure that component is clarified and perhaps removed from this bill. I do not think that is an appropriate power for the chief statistician to have.
The chief statistician, under this change, would also have authority to develop questioning within surveys. There is a whole debate around that. We could spend hours talking about how sensitive or how invasive a survey from Statistics Canada should be and what the requirements are to that effect.
I was talking to a colleague at one point about how certain data collection around agricultural activities on farms could be used by businesses to form monopolies and price gouge and all these sorts of things. Many Canadians are very sensitive about the types of information that they share.
Again, I almost feel like the bill is a solution in search of a problem. The government has not really explained why it would give this power to the chief statistician. If there have been particular instances that the Liberals feel that removal of ministerial oversight on this particular issue is beneficial, I think they need to explain that to Canadians. Again, this is within a bill that might seem benign in so many different ways, but this is very impactful on the lives of Canadians. My question on that point is why? I do not understand.
Many of my colleagues have talked about the fact that the bill would create the Canadian statistics advisory council. It would be comprised of 10 members and would replace the National Statistics Council. The council would advise the chief statistician and the minister and would focus on the “quality of the national statistical system, including the relevance, accuracy, accessibility and timeliness” of the statistical information produced. Under this bill, the council would be required to “make public an annual report on the state of the national statistical system”.
The government has produced no evidence as to why it would make this change. This seems crazy. We are replacing a board. I want to refer to a quote on this. The National Statistics Council, which this bill is trying to dissolve, has been in place to advise the chief statistician since the 1980s. It is made up of 40 experts and has been described by the UN as, “a bulwark in defence of the objectivity, integrity, and long-term soundness of Canada's national statistical system”.
With this bill, the Liberals are trying to replace a body that has been described by the United Nations, which the government is quite fond of, as something that is fantastic and working great with a council that is appointed by the government. Given the powers that this council is going to have and the fact that the government is changing it from something that is quite objective and working well, it begs the question, why are the Liberals doing this? Why would they replace this council with political appointees?
Again, there is no evidence in the bill and there has not been any evidence with concrete examples presented in speeches by my colleagues opposite as to why something that is functioning well needs to be replaced. I feel like this is almost something that somebody who wants to be appointed to this new board cooked up and gave to the minister and it was put in this bill. It just makes no sense.
Even so, if the government wants to come forward and say that the NSC is not functional in five or six different areas, then why not just give it a revised mandate? Look at the terms of reference under which the NSC operates and revise them.
I want to park that point for a moment, because in the latter half of my speech, I want to talk about why we are even spending parliamentary time with this bill as a priority. However, to continue on, my colleague who spoke earlier talked about how the NSC has representation from all corners of Canada. My understanding is that with the reduction in numbers, there will definitely be regions of this country that will lose their representation on this board.
That is important, because when looking at the priorities of Statistics Canada and the scope that is currently there, representation from each corner of the country is important. This is why we have Statistics Canada. It looks at regional differences in different types of datasets, which inform us on the best public policy options to take. I am concerned that the reduction in membership will remove the breadth of representation on the board right now.
The bill would no longer require “the consent of respondents to transfer their Census information to Library and Archives Canada and repeals imprisonment as a penalty for any offence committed by a respondent.”
We often talk about consent rights in this place in a wide variety of contexts but consent on information sharing is a topic that Parliament should be seized with. I would suggest that the bill perhaps violates the consent rights of Canadians in this regard. That is certainly not transparency. That would be the opposite of transparency. It is incumbent upon the government to talk about something that is not in the bill right now and that is how it plans to safeguard the consent rights of Canadians as to their information being shared before the bill is passed.
The bill would amend “certain provisions by modernizing the language of the Act to better reflect current methods of collecting statistical information”. That seems reasonable to me. Our legislation in this regard should not be static. We should make sure that our legislation reflects technological advancements and new methodology. That does seem reasonable to me.
The bill will head to industry committee should it pass the House. Industry committee will be seized with hearing witnesses on some of the points that I just raised.
Why is this legislation a priority? This is going to be the third bill that comes through the House of Commons and goes to industry committee and yet none of the bills have had any sort of reference to a jobs plan, innovation strategies, or anything that could particularly help Canada. My question is just simply: why? Why is this a legislative priority of the government? Why is this a priority of the House of Commons, which could be debating issues of much greater importance?
We are talking about statistics and the importance of statistics and I would like to give the House some statistics. Right now, my province has seen a change in unemployment rates in roughly an 18-month period from essentially the natural rate of unemployment in my home city of Calgary to over 10%. This is a sobering statistic.
When I think about what industry committee and the House should be seized with as opposed to changing the structure of the National Statistics Council and spending hours of debate on this, I have to wonder why are we not talking about how Canada's trade policy could be bolstered in light of some of the decisions that are being made in the United States right now. I would love to spend hours debating some strategy in terms of how we can take advantage of the opportunities created by the Canada-European free trade agreement. These are the things that industry committee should be seized with. The fact that the government wants to send this legislation to industry committee seems like it is filibustering that committee. It is very strange.
There are some other things I would like to see come out of industry committee as opposed to this legislation.
We talk about economic diversification in Alberta, which is something I have been interested in during the course of my parliamentary career. Why is industry committee not talking about a jobs plan that could create broader economic conditions for growth? I am speaking of things like a lower tax climate, especially when we look at the changes being made in the United States.
I hear colleagues in the United States saying that the new administration is going to be lowering taxes in several key areas that are going to render investment opportunities in Canada unattractive. Why is industry committee not studying the Canadian tax system, especially the proposed tax increases by the government, and how that will affect the competitiveness of our industries and our investment climate? That would be a great study for industry committee to look at. It could refer some recommendations back to the House. Instead, we have before us a bill that would change the National Statistics Council from 13 members to 10 who are now appointed. It makes no sense.
Something else I would like the industry committee to study that would use statistical data provided by Statistics Canada is how to spur innovation in a country where we have traditionally seen very high publication rates and we have focused on academic research. I fully support academic research and a strong academic research system, but that is where a lot of our investments over successive governments have gone. Why do we not see more industry-sponsored R and D, and why are some of our key strategies for the commercialization of research and development simply licensing technology out of the country? In some of our new and up-and-coming industrial sectors like the competitiveness and the opportunities we have with clean tech, why do we see such low adoption rates of technology that is grown in Canada into Canadian industry? Why is that happening? Is there a policy that the government could undertake that could incent adoption of Canadian clean tech?
I have great respect for the current president of Sustainable Development Technology Canada. I just spent an hour talking to her about these sorts of things. Yet, I am coming into the House of Commons to debate the National Statistics Council when the government has shown no evidence that this needs to be changed.
If I were sitting on the industry committee, I would love to see the government study whether the impact of the carbon price affects mid-size energy sector companies at perhaps disproportionate ways to larger-sector companies; and whether this is the best public policy option to ensure the growth and development of the energy sector. That would be something that I know people in my riding would be very interested in because perhaps that could lead to a revocation of what I think is a very bad piece of public policy. It would not be tangential for the industry committee to even look at topics around price elasticity assumptions related to the carbon tax and potential impacts on the energy sector and various other industrial sectors as they relate to either job growth or job decline. I think that would be in the committee's scope. These are the things that parliamentarians on the industry committee could be studying.
What the government has prioritized in this bill is essentially reducing accountability from Statistics Canada to Parliament. I do not understand it. It seems bizarre to me.
Something I have heard over and over again from people in my community is that they are wondering why the government has not talked about how to retain skilled labour in Alberta during this downturn. I would love to see the industry committee spend some time in Alberta and go and talk to some of the key trade associations and professional groups like geologists and geophysicists and accountants and lawyers, and our whole services industry that we have taken decades to build up in Alberta. I would love the committee members to talk to those groups of people and ask what changes they are facing in terms of their decision to stay in Alberta or not; and then what public policy options the government can look at in terms of keeping them there, so that if there is an opportunity for further investment down the road, labour is not a deterrent to growth.
In fact, the industry committee could even look at the impacts of skilled labour availability in western Canada in terms of how that impacts jobs and growth in the energy sector. That would be such a relevant, interesting study. I have a hope that it would even get national media attention because that is something that parliamentarians could use their time on that would certainly help jobs and growth in Canada, which I would hope would be the mandate of the industry committee. Indeed, I hope it would be the mandate of Parliament.
I have significant concerns with this bill. To re-emphasize, I do not understand why the government has put this forward. More important, the government really owes an explanation to Canadians as to why it has chosen to spend the industry committee's time looking at this when there are so many other pressing concerns that the committee members could be using, and then reporting back to the House with concrete recommendations that could produce a jobs plan for Canada.
In conclusion, outside of explaining some of the key components that I had at the front end of the speech as to why these changes are being made, I hope that the government will also use the time of this House in a more effective way when it comes to creating jobs and economic growth for Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, before the House rose in December, the introduced Bill , an act to amend the Statistics Act. This proposes a number of amendments to the Statistics Act that are intended to provide more independence to Statistics Canada and the chief statistician. However, in order for members of the House to properly debate these changes, it is important to first list all of the sections of the act that will be amended or added.
First, these changes will give sole responsibility to the chief statistician to decide, based on his or her professional opinion, how to carry out the methods and procedures of all statistical programs. This includes the collection, compilation, analysis, abstraction, and publication of all statistical information.
This last sentence is extremely important, because it touches on the issue of sampling theory. There is an old saying in computer science, and we all know it, “garbage in, garbage out”. I am happy to say that my understanding of Statistics Canada, and I am old enough to remember when it was called the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, is that it has developed a worldwide reputation for competence. The phrase by Mark Twain certainly does not apply to it and Twain, quite wisely, said there are “lies, damned lies and statistics”. I think Statistics Canada has proved Mark Twain wrong.
My sampling theory is very important. This is how we get the information we need to largely run society. What we are trying to do is determine the characteristics of a population. The population, one could say, are all of the voters in Canada. That is the population. We would never be able to sample all of the voters in Canada. The essence of statistics is to draw a sample of, in this case, the voters of Canada.
We are all familiar with political polls. The first thing I look at in polls is what the sample size is, what the distribution is across the country, what the distribution is by gender and age, and what the distribution is by education level. Each of those is a parameter. When the parameters change, the results change. In terms of what Statistics Canada does, it is critically important that it gets the sample size and the distribution of the sample correctly. In order to be a good sample, it must be random and independent from all other samples of this population. That is how we get accurate information.
Under this bill, the chief statistician would have full authority over the content within statistical releases and publications issued by Statistics Canada, and how and when this information would be circulated. Furthermore, the chief statistician would be responsible for all operations and staff at Statistics Canada, and would be appointed for a fixed renewable term of five years.
In addition, the bill would establish the Canadian statistics advisory council, which would be comprised of 10 members and would replace the National Statistics Council that has been functioning since the mid-1980s. Why the Liberal government wants to replace the National Statistics Council, a model that has worked for almost 40 years, with a new 10-member Liberal-appointed council is beyond me, but this is in the bill. The new council would advise the chief statistician and minister, whereas the National Statistics Council solely advises the chief statistician. This is obviously a distinction without a difference.
In terms of the sample of the statistical experts in Canada, one would think that a council with more members on it, more representation from across the country, and more representative of disciplines, scientific, technical, and industrial disciplines, would be better in advising the chief statistician. I, for one, will be looking very closely at the qualifications of the new statistics council.
Within its mandate, the Canadian statistics advisory council would focus on the quality of the national statistical system, including the relevance, accuracy, accessibility, and timeliness of the statistical information produced by Statistic Canada. This obviously means that these individuals had better be experts in statistics. Statistics is a very complex field. It is very difficult to generate accurate information without doing exhaustive analyses. This council would also be required to make a public annual report on the state of the statistical system.
I am going to segue into the area of education. I think this is a positive suggestion for the new council and indeed Stats Canada as a whole.
Not every Canadian is fortunate to have been trained or partially trained in statistics and few are actually exposed to the discipline itself, how it creates the information we all need. However, every Canadian is affected by statistical analysis. Whether we vote, or purchase industrial products, or we farm, statistical analysis is extremely important. We often hear poll results that are accurate to 19 times out of 20. Again, there is a very complex theory behind that. Therefore, I would make a recommendation for the new statistics advisory council that it graft on a public education program in statistics, given how vital statistics are to any industrialized country.
I am a very strong supporter of data that is gathered accurately. It is this data and the subsequent analysis that guide much of industrial policy, economic development, and also guide decision-makers as to ways they can make proper decisions for their companies, their constituents, or indeed their country.
As well, Bill would allow for the transfers of census information from Statistics Canada to Library and Archives Canada after 92 years, without the consent of Canadians. We said that Canadians had to consent to do this. This is a change. Once transferred to Library and Archives Canada, this information would be made available to all Canadians.
Finally, it would repeal imprisonment as a penalty for any offence committed by a respondent. Additionally, it would amend certain sections to make the language more modern and eliminate discrepancies between the English and French versions of the act.
After reading the bill at length, it has become evident that many aspects could be of concern to Canada and will need further discussion. It is our duty as opposition to critique and highlight any issues that we find evident in all legislation put forth by the government. As such, I will shed light on some of the concerns I have regarding Bill .
Our Conservative Party strongly supports the work that Statistics Canada does and the key statistical data it provides. The Conservative Party of Canada is clearly the party of working people and economic development. Much of the economic development in our country is guided by good statistical work, much of that provided by Stats Canada. Indeed, Statistics Canada, as evolved from the former Dominion Bureau of Statistics, has developed a global reputation for competence.
We know how important this information is for governments, public policy-makers, the research and academic communities, the agricultural communities, the fishing community, the industrial community, the energy community, and it is vital to anyone who uses Stats Canada data for any purpose. In other words, they need to know they can trust its accuracy and quality.
However, the privacy of Canadians is most important, and fostering an environment that builds trust between Canadians and Statistics Canada is crucial. The Liberal government must ensure that the right balance is struck between protecting the privacy rights of Canadians while collecting good quality data.
As we saw in the last U.S. election, the issue of the security of electronic information was front and centre. Canadians have to trust, implicitly and explicitly, that the data they provide to Statistics Canada will be kept secure. This is absolutely crucial.
If Canadians do not trust Statistics Canada, they may be tempted to provide the wrong information or segue out of the program as best they can to avoid any hint of their information getting into the wrong hands. The privacy of Canadians has to be a primary objective of Statistics Canada.
In the past, Canadians have expressed concern about the questions asked of them in the census and in surveys conducted by Statistics Canada. They found questions, such as the number of bedrooms in their home, what time of day they leave for work and return, and how long it takes them to get there, to be an intrusion on their privacy.
With the changes the Liberal government has proposed in this bill, the minister would no longer be able to issue directives to the chief statistician on methods, procedures, and operations. This means that the chief statistician would have sole authority to ask any questions he or she deemed fit on a census or survey, including those Canadians found intrusive.
The independence of scientists and technical people is very important, because without that independence, they are not able to conduct the objective research that determines the correct approach on many issues. Having said that, as this is a public agency, I have as a principle, and I think it is a principle for all Conservatives, that at the very end of the chain, there needs to be an elected official at some point. There can be all the safeguards so that the elected official does not interfere with professional and technical projects that are clearly apolitical, although it is very difficult in this day and age to find anything that is apolitical.
To have an unelected staff person, no matter how conscientious, completely out of any chain of command with an elected official would mean that citizens would have no redress if they found a census form to be offensive. They would have no way to talk to an accountable elected official and express their concerns. Obviously, not every citizen gets his or her way when talking to an elected official. However, someone who is elected listens in a different way than someone who is appointed.
Again, if this occurs, this could potentially result in the creation of distrust and cynicism towards Statistics Canada by the public and hinder the quality of data it oversees. Moreover, with the abdication of responsibility by the minister to the chief statistician, who would be responsible for answering to Canadians when they raised concerns regarding the methods used? This is an important question that, quite frankly, seems to me to be the opposite of an open and transparent government.
As well, I would like to touch a bit more on the section of this bill that amends the responsibilities of the chief statistician. The current changes state that he or she will “decide, based strictly on professional statistical standards that he or she considers appropriate, the methods and procedures for carrying out statistical programs regarding the collection, compilation, analysis, abstraction and publication of statistical information that is produced or is to be produced by Statistics Canada”.
One would hope, as well, that there will be an ongoing evolution within Statistics Canada, because statistical methods do change from time to time as new research develops new methods of statistical analysis. A research and development component would be important.
It is our job, as the opposition party, to highlight any implications a bill may have, regardless of intent. Even though it may not be the intent, this bill authorizes Statistics Canada to house all of its data wherever it chooses. If the chief statistician would like to move the private information of Canadians to a third party, he or she would have the ability to do so if this bill becomes law.
Again, this is quite concerning. The security and safety of Canadians and their private information should be the top priority of any government. Any use of a third party to house this data could create security concerns, and again, damage the view Canadians have of Statistics Canada. If they do not have faith in Statistics Canada, as I said earlier, they will be reluctant to provide the information the country needs.
The has also suggested that a Canadian statistics advisory council be created to replace the National Statistics Council. The new council would comprise 10 members. For those who do not know much about the National Statistics Council, it is already in place. According to Statistics Canada, the National Statistics Council advises the chief statistician of Canada on the full range of StatsCan's activities, particularly on overall program priorities. The council was created in 1985 under the Mulroney government and currently has representatives from all 13 provinces and territories. This is very important.
While the new council would provide insight to the chief statistician and the minister, as opposed to only the former, and would produce annual reports on the state of our statistical system, it would not have full representation from across Canada. This could result in one area of the country being favoured over the other, which is not fair to Canadians in those parts of the country.
I am going to talk a little about agriculture. I represent Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, a primarily agricultural constituency. In my time studying statistics, most of our textbooks actually came from agricultural colleges. Agriculture, and agricultural researchers, developed much of statistical theory. In fact, my third year statistical textbook was from Iowa State University and was written by two agricultural professors. They developed techniques like the Latin square and other methods for doing crop research. The research developed by agriculture has been used in all other disciplines that use statistical analysis. If I had my druthers about this particular new body the Liberals are proposing, I would strongly recommend that agriculture have a significant presence on the council, given the history agriculture has had with the development of statistical theory.
There is also fisheries. As a fisheries biologist myself, back in the days when I was doing fisheries research, everything we did was based on statistical analysis. For example, we would do things like age-length regression, where we would look at the size of a fish and determine its age and determine the growth rate. Those statistics were extremely important in developing fisheries management policy.
The natural resources industries, which include agriculture, fisheries, and energy, need to be represented on the council. Actually, I would say they need to be overrepresented. We need academics who are professors of statistics, for sure. Again, large organizations and agricultural institutions all employ statisticians. Having practical, on-the-ground people who have experience in the real world doing real-world analyses the public needs, would be very important.
In closing, we are extremely fortunate to live in our democratic society, where the rights of citizens and the protection of those rights are treated with the utmost importance, so we need to maintain the right of privacy under the new Statistics Act, Bill .
One cannot overestimate the importance of statistical analysis in our everyday lives, much of which we do not see in our day-to-day lives. The decisions that governments, institutions, industries, and universities make, by and large, are based on statistical theory. Under Bill C-36, it had better be good statistical theory.
Mr. Speaker, I was so looking forward to giving a 20-minute speech on this bill. It really pains me to be limited to 10 minutes, but again I appreciate the opportunity to speak.
The government prides itself on evidence-based policy. Statistics Canada is a critically important institution because it provides the evidence for that evidence-based policy. The independence of Statistics Canada is crucial because, without it, we might end up with policy-based evidence; we might end up with Statistics Canada producing information or failing to produce information in response to political directives. Therefore, if we are concerned about having good governance and evidence-based policy, it is really important that we have an independent professional statistics agency such as Statistics Canada. That is why this is an important piece of legislation.
Why is it a timely topic? It is a timely topic because, just in the past few years, we have had two chief statisticians resign in protest of a lack of independence for Statistics Canada.
The first one of these resignations was Munir Sheikh, who resigned in protest of the previous government's very strange decision to eliminate the mandatory long-form census. This was a decision that was objected to by almost every sector of society. It was a very odd decision. I do not know if it was an attempt to pander to certain libertarian elements, but there was never a big groundswell of Canadians who objected to having to fill out the census. It was once every decade in terms of the full census; or once every five years, if we include the partial census. Therefore, it was a very odd decision, and the chief statistician resigned to protest it.
We actually just had an interesting discussion in this House about the necessity for a mandatory long-form census. My colleague from said we do not actually need to make it mandatory because we can just rely on sampling and proper sampling techniques. However, in order to design the sample, they need to know what the whole population is. In order to know that the sample is representative, they have to at some point have done a census of the entire population. Therefore a mandatory complete census is really the necessary foundation for all of the good sampling work that my colleague was mentioning. He used the analogy of this Parliament, and he stated that if we asked all 338 MPs to respond to something, that would not be a sample; that would be the entire population. That is true enough.
However, let us try to imagine constructing a representative sample of the House of Commons. In order to do that, we would need to know something about the whole population. For example, we would need to know how many MPs are in each party caucus if we wanted our sample to have the right number of people from each party. We would need to know how many seats there are from each province in order to make sure our sample was regionally representative. Just using that rudimentary analogy, it is easy to see that people can do a lot of good research and statistical work based on sampling, but in order to construct those samples, they do periodically need to have some census of the entire population. That is why almost all advanced industrialized countries have these mandatory census practices periodically. It is a common-sense thing, and we are glad to have it back in Canada, although certainly, as some of my colleagues have pointed out, this legislation falls somewhat short in terms of making it truly mandatory.
The second chief statistician who resigned was Wayne Smith. He resigned quite recently, just in the past few months, to protest the way in which Statistics Canada's arrangement with Shared Services Canada had impaired the agency's independence. This is the real motivation for this bill being brought before the House.
The government, in response to this controversy of Wayne Smith's resignation, wants to be able to say that it is doing something to protect the independence of Statistics Canada, that it is taking action and dealing with the problem.
The odd thing is that this bill does not say anything about Statistics Canada's relationship with Shared Services Canada. It does not propose any sort of alternative model for Statistics Canada to get the IT services on which its important work depends.
While in terms of chronology and perhaps in terms of political positioning, the bill is a response to Mr. Smith's resignation, the content of the bill actually would not do anything to address the problems that motivated Mr. Smith's resignation.
We in the NDP are going to support this bill in order to get it before committee so we can try to make some improvements to it and so we can perhaps address some of these problems. However, it is important to note that in its current form this legislation would fall far short of dealing with what precipitated this crisis in Statistics Canada.
It is worth talking a bit about Shared Services Canada. This was really an attempt by the previous Conservative government to cut corners and to cut costs a bit and to say that, because it had IT services in many different departments and agencies, it would be more efficient to centralize them into one IT agency. There is some logic to that. One can imagine how it might have worked, but as with so many of these efforts in the federal government to centralize functions between departments and agencies, there were huge problems in the implementation and in the execution.
One issue with Shared Services Canada is that all departments and agencies were ordered to transfer their IT staff to the new Shared Services Canada, which made sense. However, Shared Services Canada needs more than IT professionals. It needs administrative assistants. It needs financial people. It needs other types of managers. The way those people were put in place was that all the other departments and agencies were told that they needed to send x number of administrative assistants, x number of accountants, etc., to Shared Services Canada.
What did the managers in these other departments and agencies do? Did they send their best and most reliable employees away? No, they used it as an opportunity to perhaps send people whom they were trying to remove from their organizations anyway. In that sense, Shared Services Canada was really set up to fail through bad implementation and bad execution.
However, even if we are able to fix Shared Services Canada and get it functioning properly, there is still a huge problem with making Statistics Canada totally reliant on this other entity. By definition, that impinges upon the independence of Statistics Canada. In setting up Shared Services Canada, the government did recognize that there were some agencies in government that were so sensitive they had to have control of their own IT. This Parliament that we are in right now is an example of that. Other countries such as Britain, Australia, and New Zealand also manage to exempt their statistical agencies from their centralized government-wide IT structures.
Mr. Smith has a valid point in suggesting that Statistics Canada could be exempt from Shared Services Canada, and I am really hoping that is something we can look at in committee after passing the bill in the current reading.
There is definitely room to consider other arrangements. Statistics Canada maybe could have its own IT capacity. Failing that, if we do want Statistics Canada to work with Shared Services Canada, maybe Statistics Canada could at least have the option of sometimes going to other suppliers if Shared Services Canada cannot provide the required support. However, one way or another, we need to find a way to give Statistics Canada the kind of technical support and the kind of IT infrastructure it needs to do this critically important research and to provide this critically important information and evidence. I am disappointed that the bill we are considering today really fails to address that problem at all.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak today on Bill . As someone who was in a classroom for 34 years teaching statistics, I really do wish that I had 20 minutes to be able to speak on this particular topic. My former students would recognize that it would have been a very short lesson.
The definition of statistics is “The branch of mathematics that deals with the collection, organization, analysis, and interpretation of numerical data. Statistics is especially useful in drawing general conclusions about a set of data from a sample of the data.” Therefore, when we consider this as the main focus for the Statistics Act, I think it becomes important that we look at how all of that data is collected and the rationale behind it.
The member for spoke earlier of many of the different procedures that are there, such as the sampling theory, and the 95% confidence intervals that we hear so often when people talk about a particular survey being accurate within plus or minus 3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Well, that is where the 95% comes in. People have to understand how the standard deviation and variance are developed from all of that, the Gaussian curves or the bell curves that people are put on, and then how we start to analyze it. This is not simply for questions of politics, but business uses this as well. It is very important, which is one of the reasons why the statistics and numbers we look at are so important for everyone in all walks of life.
Some of the commentary we heard earlier was such that as long as we make sure it is mandatory, then obviously we are going to get the best answers and everything is going to work out just fine. However, having sat on committees where we have had opportunities to speak with people from Statistics Canada, yes, they would have preferred that nothing changed so that the process would have been there, but as they mentioned, there are many ways to look at statistical analysis and sample theory to get the same type of results that we had from before. Therefore, it was a political decision to change it, and it is also a political decision to go back. It does not necessarily mean that the data we are going to have in order to do the analysis is going to be any more accurate.
One of the questions I posed earlier to a member had to do with some of the results that we get from the mandatory form, such as the fact that there is a great growth in the Jedi religion, as the question of religion was on the form and people had to write down what their religion was. Some people suggested that result might not have been accurate. Again, it is a position that has been presented.
People will look at some of these questions and wonder what kind of mob approach they can use for them. As we have social media and everything that is going on now, people can pick a question and completely throw it out by putting extra pressure on it. Therefore, these are the kinds of things that have to be weeded out. The point is, Statistics Canada knows how to do that. It has different sampling processes that can manage some of those situations.
Of course, the other thing that has been mentioned is the concept of a 92-year span. If we look at that at this point in time, it would be 2109 before anybody here who has done a census when they were 18 would even have to worry about it. However, over the last 100 years, we have had life expectancies that have gone from the 60s up to the mid-80s. We saw statistical data just today that indicates it was a mistake for the government to take the OAS from 67 back down to 65. Many countries throughout the world are recognizing the fact that people are living longer and they are going to be supported by taxpayers for a longer length of time.
These are the kinds of things that statistics and mathematics certainly talk about, but we sometimes have political influence or a political expediency such that, “Well, that's what they said, and so if we say something different, then obviously we are going to be on the side of angels.” However, it does not necessarily work that way.
When we look at somebody who lives to be 110 years old, then 92 years after they did a survey at 18, they would be subject to the exposure of their data to the public. All we are saying is that there should be an opportunity for people to be able to opt out of that. We can say that 92 years sounds good, but maybe 120 years would be the number we would need.
However, we should be aware of the realities that exist and take a look at the consequences of some of the decisions that are included there.
The other question is, who should be making up these questions as we go and poll the public to find out what their thoughts are. I think back to MyDemocracy.ca and its questions. Of course, there was no political influence there because this was given to an outside group that would be able to come up with answers that Canadians would want to present to the government to make decisions on. That was fortunate. There is a possibility that maybe some of those were moving in the wrong direction. I still have people who have taken the Vote Compass surveys. I do not know if they are still in therapy, but they were told that they were Liberals and this has hurt them immensely. We recognize how some of these things happen and we realize that it is not always going to be a 100% accurate result.
My point goes back to the fact that the people at Statistics Canada know how to do this. I am extremely honoured that one of my former students had worked at Statistics Canada. I understand the process and everything that is tied into it, recognizing how important it is that it has different procedures to be able to take bias out of its information. It is really an amazing science and I have been proud to work with that for many years.
While the Conservative Party supports and respects the work that Stats Canada does, we do not agree with some of the provisions in Bill . It is our position that any changes to the Statistics Act should reflect our commitment to accountability and the privacy and security of Canadian citizens.
To further illustrate the issues of the bill, let us look at the proposed amendments that would modify the Statistics Act. With the amendments proposed, the bill would enable the minister responsible for Statistics Canada the ability to appoint a chief statistician for a fixed renewable term of five years, removable only “for cause by the Governor in Council”. The chief statistician would have full authority over the content within statistical releases and publications issued by Statistics Canada and how and when this information is circulated, and furthermore, the CS would be responsible for all operations and staff at Statistics Canada.
The bill would also assign the CS with “powers related to methods, procedures, and operations of Statistics Canada”. This means that while the minister would still be able to issue directives on statistical programs, the minister would no longer be able to issue directives on methods, procedures, and operations. The power would now be delegated solely to the chief statistician.
Here is the first red flag. These new powers would enable the CS to issue directives without it being made public. Bill provisions state that the chief statistician may publicize directives before acting on them, but does not make that mandatory. This speaks to another provision of the bill. It would no longer require “consent of respondents to transfer their Census information to Library and Archives Canada”. This is also very troubling because this amendment to the Statistics Act could actually violate the consent rights of Canadians and is opposite to transparency. Additionally, with the chief statistician's ability to issue directives on methods, procedures, and operations, the CS would also be authorized to choose where it is housed. This is the second red flag.
I had the opportunity a few months ago to go to Belgium for the Blue Sky Free Forum on Science and Innovation Indicators through the OECD. There was discussion on metadata, research, and analysis and we saw how important it is to be able to take information, the massive number of data points that are there and to be able to funnel them. We have to recognize the issues that are surrounding that, the cybersecurity side of that as well, and these become critical points that should be looked at as we talk about statistics and how the world is going to deal with them. There is an interaction between our country and other countries as we have universities that do research back and forth, so the whole concept of statistics and the analysis of statistics is extremely important.
I would like Bill to go to committee so that parliamentarians can propose some much-needed amendments to the bill. Based on that, I am sure that we can work to make sure that accountability to Canadians is not lost by making the chief statistician more independent. It is our duty to make sure the changes to the Statistics Act encourage Canadians to provide full, complete, and accurate data so that when the time comes, they in turn would have access to quality data that is relevant, reliable, and accurate.
Mr. Speaker, it is certainly an honour to rise today to speak to Bill , regarding some changes to Statistics Canada and some of the reporting mechanisms, as well as the council that provides advice to the minister and to Statistics Canada as a whole.
As I have looked across the aisle throughout the last 16 months, I have seen a government that has been slow to action on bills. In fact, the has tabled three bills in this House. The first was regarding copyrighted works for persons with disabilities. I know that was something that was worked on prior to the government taking office. The second one was the disclosure of corporate boards, which is actually at the industry committee right now. The third one is Bill , which is on the floor of the House right now.
What we have not seen to date is legislation from the government that is going to tackle the issues that Canadians are dealing with. It actually does not matter what part of the country they are in. For Canadians who are out west, in Alberta, there are obviously many issues with natural resources, with the oil sector, etc. For those in Ontario, manufacturing had a very tough time last year and, quite frankly, it has had a tough time for the last decade. What we would like to see from the government is some action on what it outlined there would be action on in its own throne speech on December 4, 2015.
Turning to this bill, which is obviously hiring a new Statistics Canada director, as well as the 10-person committee that is going to be reporting to Statistics Canada and to the minister, it is interesting that we see a change from 13 persons down to 10. That means there is inevitably going to be territories or provinces that will not be included in this reporting structure. We also see a disbanding of this council without a change in focus, if that is what was being asked for, which essentially gives the opportunity for the government to put its own appointees on this board.
It is interesting. When I was looking through the throne speech, I found an entire paragraph regarding open and transparent government. In it, it says:
|| Also notable are the things the Government will not do: it will not use government ads for partisan purposes; it will not interfere with the work of parliamentary officers; and it will not resort to devices like prorogation and omnibus bills to avoid scrutiny.
I found interesting that what was not in there was the appointing of cronies, the appointing of friends. What this bill is doing is it is eliminating 13 people who have been appointed in the past and it is appointing what I can only guess will be 10 Liberal friends. The minister appointed 10 other friends previously to the innovation council, which has travelled across the country. They have tabled a report, yet nothing has actually come to Parliament from that report.
What I would really like to see going forward from the government is a change in focus. There are certainly these bills and things we need to be working on, but it is not just what is being proposed by the government, it is also what is not being proposed by the government. The Liberals said in their own throne speech, in the opening paragraph, that Canadians:
||....want to be able to trust their government.
|| And they want leadership that is focused on the things that matter most to them.
|| Things like growing the economy; creating jobs; strengthening the middle class, and helping those working hard to join it.
|| Through careful consideration and respectful conduct, the Government can meet these challenges, and all others brought before it.
I will admit that in the last year there have been some movements the government has tried. I disagree with its philosophy and the ways in which it is proposing changes for our country in terms of tax structures, but it has tried to meet a couple of these in terms of strengthening the middle class.
However, what the Liberals have not done is they have not focused on jobs. They have not focused on opportunity for Canadians. They have not focused on those who are working hard to join the middle class, because what those people need more than anything else is a job. What they need is an opportunity to be prosperous. That just is not being talked about.
We have had the minister in this place at question period. We have had him at committee, speaking about a plan and a strategy that is to come. We have waited and waited. It is now 16 months after the last election and we still do not have a plan to create jobs in our country. Nothing has been put forward by the minister, no bill, no strategy, no plan that delineates what the Government of Canada would do to create an environment where jobs could be created.
It does not matter whether we are talking about the natural resources sector, which lost over 29,000 jobs last year, or the manufacturing sector, which lost 53,000 jobs last year, or entrepreneurs, over 70,000 of whom closed their doors last year, or even agriculture, which lost over 19,000 last year. The government has failed to put a plan or strategy before Canadians.
The three bills brought forward by the minister are things that need to be worked on, but two out of the three of them were on the shelf from the previous government. Two out of three of them were started under the previous Conservative government. What has the minister been doing for the last 16 months? Why has a strategy not been tabled before the House? Why do we not, as an assembly of the people, know what the targets are for the government? What is it trying to achieve? How many jobs is it trying to create? What sectors is it seeking to grow? What businesses, what associations is it working with?
Right now we have zero information on this front, and the longer I sit on the industry, science and technology committee, depending on who we talk to, the more I realize nothing is coming forward. There is no plan. There is no opportunity being created for Canadians. There is no strategy to get those who are out of work, whose jobs have left the country, back to work.
We need to focus on this going forward. It will not be enough to deal with bills, like appointing a new chief statistician. It will not be enough to put a bill that was on the shelf from the previous government regarding copyrighted works before the House. It is not enough to talk about the disclosure of boards. What the people of Canada were expecting from the government was leadership, and what they were expecting from the minister in particular was a strategy to put Canadians back to work, a strategy to ensure that our natural resource sector would rebound, a strategy to ensure that our manufacturing and agricultural sectors would be able to move forward.
What we have is the opposite. We have a minister for jobs, the , who has not put a plan forward at all to create jobs in our country. We have a who is raising taxes all over the place. It does not matter whether it carbon taxes, or payroll taxes, or eliminating tax credits, what we have seen is not a jobs minister looking at a strategy to create jobs, but a finance minister looking at a strategy to take money away from businesses that would otherwise be invested in jobs.
The industry committee has had many opportunities to talk about things like carbon tax. Unfortunately it is not something my friends on the other side of the aisle want to speak about. We have had many opportunities to talk about a plethora of items that we could use to at least determine the future of how the Canadian job market would look like. We have not gone down that road. Instead we are dealing with these three bills that are really operational matters.
I would ask today that the minister do his job, that the minister bring forward a strategy, that he follow through on his words that he spoke in this great chamber and put forward a plan for job growth in Canada, a plan to create an environment where Canadians will be prosperous and successful, earn their livings and provide for their families.
Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege for me to stand in the House to speak. Today, I would like to address the House as the member of Parliament for the riding of and to speak to Bill .
Back in a previous lifetime, I remember taking a statistics class and the professor saying that statistics were very interesting. The professor told us that if we wanted to tell the professor what we wanted to prove with our statistics, it would be proven both ways. We were thinking this was a political science class, not statistics class. However, statistics can be very interesting. I have heard many comments made here today, which are enlightening and very interesting.
This legislation would do a number things, as all legislation brought before us would. There are positives, but not being perfect, there is always room for differing opinions on parts of the proposed legislation. I will share some of those opinions on the pieces I feel should be redressed.
The legislation would appoint the chief statistician for a fixed term of five years, which can be renewable on good behaviour, and the chief statistician would only be able to be removed by the Governor in Council, if absolutely necessary. That is positive.
The minister would be able to issue directives on statistical programs. What the minister would no longer be able to do would be to issue directives on methods, procedures, and operations. That could be limited to the elected MP and minister, and that is just a thought.
The bill would allow the chief statistician to make decisions on where all the data would be housed. This brings up major potential security concerns. Should the chief statistician choose to use a third party to store data, this could mean that Canadian statistical data could be at more risk of being breached. This is clearly not an ideal situation. We need to address this loophole. We live in a world that is fraught with cybersecurity risks. In fact, in the recent U.S. electoral campaign, one of the biggest issues discussed during the foreign policy debates was whether international hacking played a part in influencing some of their presidential and congressional elections.
There are a number of threats. We live in a time where big data is being used for many purposes. It is important that we, as federal legislators, take seriously our role in protecting the private information and data of our constituents. This will be an ever-evolving matter that will require close attention. I hope the chief statistician will be diligent in deciding where the data is stored.
Now, I understand it is with Shared Services Canada, which is an agency of the Government of Canada. Shared Services itself has a number of challenges and issues with which to deal. The question of security is an ongoing concern and one that must not be ignored when dealing with such crucial data.
Another facet of the bill is that it would allow the chief statistician to have the final say on survey questions. This, to me, would be a cause of potential problems that the government may not have considered in drafting the legislation.
Many people across Canada already feel as though survey questions are too invasive as it is. Due to this fact, a number of people will be untruthful on their surveys, and I may have been one of those. This leads to badly skewed data, which is every statistician's worst nightmare, no doubt.
One survey that is very pertinent in my riding is the census of agriculture. There are often complaints from those in the agricultural sector that these censuses are far too encroaching and prying.
The last one I will mention is where the talks about the change in membership. Subsection 8.1(2) states:
|| The Council is composed of, in addition to the Chief Statistician, not more than 10 other members appointed by the Governor in Council to hold office during pleasure, 20 including one Chairperson.
As the council exists now, up to 40 members representing all provinces and territories in the country have a view of the survey. They work with it. Now it will be changed to 10 members. Those 10 may not be regional in representation. They may be from just one province or one city area, or they may all be urban, with no rural. We should look into that.
I do have concerns about potential issues with the legislation mentioned above. That being said, I have enjoyed hearing what colleagues have had to add to this debate.