Reinforcing Statistics Canada's Independence – Questions and Answers

Clarifying roles and responsibilities

1. How will this bill impact the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Statistician?

The bill directly assigns authorities for decisions on methods and operations to the Chief Statistician, including for the collection, compilation, analysis, abstraction and publication of statistical information. These authorities are currently assigned to the Minister and delegated to the Chief Statistician.

2. You say that Statistics Canada has been operating at arm's length from the government for years. Why are you tabling this bill? Isn't it more of the same?

As a matter of convention, Statistics Canada has operated as an arm's-length organization with no direct ministerial involvement in methodological or technical issues. This bill formalizes this long-standing convention of independence by codifying it in legislation.

3. How will formalizing Statistics Canada's independence be better for Canadians?

Formalizing Statistics Canada's independence is important to ensure statistics are neutral, objective, accurate and reliable. It will ensure that Canadians continue to have confidence in the integrity of their national statistical office and in the data it produces.

4. What is meant by independence?

National statistical organizations must have authority over statistical methods and operations, including all aspects related to the production of statistical information. Decisions on these matters must be based on professional considerations and be free from interference by government or outside interests.

5. Why does Statistics Canada need to be independent?

For the output of a national statistical office to be credible, its national statisticians must operate—and be seen to operate—with a high level of professional independence from external authorities.

The proposed amendments to the Statistics Act are aligned with the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the OECD Recommendation on Good Statistical Practice. Independence is important to ensure statistics are accurate and reliable and to maintain the confidence of users and the general public in these statistics.

6. How will Statistics Canada be held accountable?

Statistics Canada is viewed as one of the top national statistical offices in the world. Under a revised Statistics Act, the Minister will continue to have authority over what statistics are produced. The Chief Statistician will have authority over methods, processes, analysis and dissemination and, following the highest international standards, will produce data on topics that are identified as relevant by the government, key stakeholders and users more generally. This approach provides for relevance and professional independence and ensures Canadians continue to have confidence in the integrity of their national statistical office.

7. How do the proposed amendments to the Statistics Act better align with international best practices?

Over time, international bodies have developed an effective system of official statistics and have come to agree on what constitutes such a system and what role it should play in support of national governments. Two key examples—to which Canada is a signatory—are the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the OECD Recommendation on Good Statistical Practice.

These international best practices make it clear that authorities for decisions on methods and operations, including all aspects related to the production of statistical information, should be assigned to the Chief Statistician. The proposed amendments will align Canada with those principles and recommendations by codifying these authorities in law.

8. What is the benefit of aligning with international best practices?

International best practices provide guidance on what constitutes a good national statistical system, as well as a common reference against which it can be assessed. They are of significant value to countries seeking to assess their statistical system and formulate statistical policy. For example, the OECD Recommendation on Good Statistical Practice, endorsed by and binding on Canada, was founded on the understanding that quality statistics are an indispensable tool for good analysis, transparency and accountability and, ultimately, for the functioning of democracies.

9. What countries have formalized the independence of their national statistical agency through legislation?

The formalization of independence of national statistical agencies varies internationally. In some countries, there are explicit sections in their statistical legislation referencing independence; in others, the statistical organizations are more autonomous from government. Countries that have often been compared to Canada, and that have explicit sections on independence in their legislation, include New Zealand, Ireland and the Netherlands. The United Kingdom Statistics Authority is a "non-ministerial department" that reports directly to Parliament, and Statistics Netherlands is an "autonomous body."

10. How do their actions compare to what is proposed in this bill?

Because the role, country context and formalization of independence of national statistical agencies vary internationally, the best comparison that can be made is to the set of fundamental principles and good practices that have been agreed upon internationally. Canada is a signatory to two key instruments: the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the OECD Recommendation on Good Statistical Practice.

OECD member countries will soon be compared in terms of their alignment with the OECD Recommendation on Good Statistical Practice. This will allow for the assessment of each country's statistical legislation against the Recommendation, as well as for comparison against the statistical legislation of other member countries.

11. Will the Chief Statistician continue to report to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development?

Yes. Statistics Canada will continue to be subject to the overall direction and accountability of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and to the same Treasury Board–led financial and administrative regime, and collective ministerial control and accountability, as departments.

12. What authorities will remain under the Minister's purview?

The Minister will retain authority over what statistics are to be produced and is accountable to Parliament for Statistics Canada. Governments typically maintain overall accountability for their statistical system to ensure they ultimately meet, and are responsive to, the needs of their citizens.

13. Will this bill impact the relationship between Statistics Canada and other federal departments and agencies? Will Statistics Canada continue to be responsive to the information priorities of Canadians?

This bill will not impact the relationship between Statistics Canada and other federal departments and agencies. Statistics Canada will continue to have a clear mandate and remain responsive to the emerging and evolving information needs of all Canadians, including those of other federal departments and agencies. The relevance and responsiveness of the statistical program rely on continued engagement between Statistics Canada and its federal partners.

14. Why is the bill not addressing the IT issues between Statistics Canada and Shared Services Canada that were considered to be a threat to Statistics Canada's independence?

There are no amendments required to address such issues, as IT infrastructure is not related to the independence of Statistics Canada. The agency's reliance on external service providers, such as Shared Services Canada, does not interfere with the independence of how its programs are undertaken, with the security or confidentiality of data, or with the content of its statistical programs. Statistics Canada has always had and will continue to have control over its data. Maintaining the confidentiality and security associated with respondent information has always been and will continue to be of paramount importance to Statistics Canada.

15. How do you respond to people who say that this bill does not go far enough and will not make Statistics Canada more independent than it was before?

A statistical agency must remain responsive to the emerging needs of the country as it evolves, including addressing the specific needs of governments, businesses and the public. It is therefore imperative that the agency remain strongly connected to stakeholders and data users to ensure the information it produces remains relevant. The changes in the bill reinforce the independence of Statistics Canada by giving the Chief Statistician legislative authority regarding decisions on statistical methods and practices. Together, these changes ensure continued public trust and confidence in Statistics Canada and in the quality and impartiality of the statistical information it gathers, produces and publishes.

16. How does this bill address concerns raised by the last two Chief Statisticians who said Statistics Canada's independence had been compromised?

The bill assigns authorities on statistical matters to the Chief Statistician and introduces greater transparency by requiring that ministerial directions regarding statistical matters with which the Chief Statistician does not agree or that are within the Chief Statistician's purview be made public. Under the proposed legislation, an order in council tabled in Parliament would be required to direct Statistics Canada to collect the long-form content on a voluntary basis, such as what transpired with the 2011 Census Program, as this is a methodological decision that would fall under the authority of the Chief Statistician.

The agency's reliance on external service providers does not interfere with the independence of how its programs are undertaken. It also does not interfere with the security or confidentiality of data, nor does it impact the content of its statistical programs. Statistics Canada will continue to control its data holdings. The confidentiality and protection of data are of paramount importance to Statistics Canada.

17. Once the bill is passed, will the interim Chief Statistician be reappointed under the new Statistics Act?

The current incumbent was appointed by the Governor in Council and serves at pleasure (i.e. may be replaced or removed at the discretion of the Governor in Council). He will continue to serve until a Chief Statistician has been identified and appointed through an open, transparent and merit-based selection process.

18. How will the amendments to the Chief Statistician's appointment process help reinforce Statistics Canada's independence?

Under the current Statistics Act, the Governor in Council appoints the Chief Statistician to hold office during pleasure.

Under the amended Act, the Chief Statistician will be appointed to a renewable term of no more than five years. The Chief Statistician will serve during good behaviour and may only be removed by the Governor in Council for cause.

An appointment to the position of Chief Statistician will be made following an open, transparent and merit-based selection process in accordance with the government's new approach to Governor in Council appointments.

Canadian Statistics Advisory Council

19. What will be the role of the new Canadian Statistics Advisory Council?

The new Canadian Statistics Advisory Council's mandate will be to provide advice to the Minister and the Chief Statistician on the overall quality of the national statistical system and to produce a publicly available annual report on the state of this system.

20. How is this role different from the former National Statistics Council?

The National Statistics Council has been an important contributor to the work of Statistics Canada for more than 30 years. Its mandate has been to advise the Chief Statistician in setting priorities and rationalizing Statistics Canada programs. The new council will advise both the Chief Statistician and the Minister. It will focus on the overall quality of the national statistical system and will publish an annual report.

21. To whom will the Canadian Statistics Advisory Council report?

The new council will report to the Minister. The council will advise both the Minister and the Chief Statistician.

22. Who will sit on the council and how will members be chosen?

The council will consist of a chairperson, the Chief Statistician and up to nine additional members who will be appointed by the Governor in Council to hold office during pleasure.

23. What will happen to the current members of the National Statistics Council? Will they be considered for appointment to the new Canadian Statistics Advisory Council?

Members of the National Statistics Council have been important contributors to the work of Statistics Canada. Should current members wish to serve on the new council, they will be included for consideration during the selection process. Statistics Canada hopes to continue to benefit from their significant expertise—whether through the new council or through other consultative mechanisms.

24. What will be the cost to Canadians taxpayers for discontinuing the National Statistics Council and creating the new Canadian Statistics Advisory Council?

This change will not result in any additional cost to Canadian taxpayers.

Transfer of census records to Library and Archives Canada

25. Why are you removing from legislation the requirement to request consent from Canadians before transferring census records to Library and Archives Canada?

This is consistent with our commitment to open and accessible data. Researchers, historians and genealogists require this information to conduct research and help us better understand our past and therefore better build our future.

26. How do you respond to Canadians who have concerns with regard to the protection of their personal information?

There has been little opposition to the release of census records, and historians and genealogists have indicated a need for this information for research purposes. The 92-year delay that has been applied for past censuses and would be entrenched into law for the future will provide the right balance between the need for information and the protection of Canadians' personal information.

27. Why is a 92-year time frame used for the transfer of records to Library and Archives Canada?

Throughout Canadian history, census records have been released after varying lengths of time ranging from 70 years (prior to Confederation) to 98 years (for the 1881 Census).

In 1983, the Privacy Act was adopted. At the time, data from the 1891 Census had yet to be released. To facilitate the release of these data, the Privacy Act regulations included a provision for the release of census records after 92 years—the difference between 1983 and 1891. 

That precedent (92 years) was applied to the Statistics Act in 2005, when a section about releasing census records was added to the Act.

28. Are you not concerned that the response rates for future censuses will be lower following the amendments? How will you mitigate that risk?

Experience shows that the automatic transfer of census records after a sufficiently long period of time does not adversely affect cooperation with the census. Response rates to the census have remained very high over time. In 2016, the response from Canadians resulted in the best census collection in history.

29. Have there been concerns expressed by historians and genealogists who advocate for this change to legislation?

Yes. Concerns have been expressed by historians and genealogists who require these data for research purposes. Both groups will greet favourably the proposed legislative changes that will ensure all census records are provided to Library and Archives Canada after 92 years, beginning with the 2021 Census.

Offences and punishments

30. Why are you changing the penalties for not completing mandatory surveys?

There is general consensus within Canada that imprisonment for not completing mandatory surveys, including the census, is inappropriate and disproportionate to the offense. The provision regarding the penalty of imprisonment for refusing to provide information or impeding access to information will be removed from the Statistics Act. The current fines (up to $500) will remain as they fully support compliance with the provisions of the Act.

31. Has anyone ever gone to jail for refusing to fill out the census?

Yes, one individual for refusing to complete the 2011 Census of Population.

32. What were the circumstances around the person who was jailed?

The individual declined alternative forms of sentencing. The case was heard in New Westminster, British Columbia, in December 2013.

The judge offered a sentence of community service, then a fine, but the individual declined to comply with either of those. As a result, the judge sentenced the individual to imprisonment for one week. The individual served a few days and was released.

33. What is the status of cases arising from the 2016 Census? Are there any remaining cases from 2011? Will the penalty of imprisonment be applicable to these cases?

Statistics Canada has sent out 347 letters to those who did not respond to the 2016 Census. The agency is in the process of determining which cases will be referred to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada for prosecution. This is expected to take place beginning in late winter 2017.

Upon completion of the 2011 Census, Statistics Canada referred 54 cases to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. Of these, two warrants were outstanding as of January 2015.

Any prosecution will proceed based on the law in force at the time of the offence. However, if the Statistics Act is amended before a sentence is given, the lesser sanction would apply.

34. Are you worried that more Canadians will refuse to complete mandatory surveys—including the census—if they are no longer threatened with jail time?

No. Canadians understand the importance of the data produced by Statistics Canada. Statistics Canada has a robust communication strategy to convey to Canadians the importance and value of participating in surveys as well as in the census. The response rate for the long-form census in 2016 was 97.8 percent.

35. Statistics Canada has already acknowledged that response rates to surveys are decreasing. How will you mitigate that risk in the future?

This is a challenge that the experts at Statistics Canada are best positioned to address. By giving the Chief Statistician the required authority over statistical methodology and processes, we are ensuring that any steps taken to address this challenge will be based on sound statistical principles.

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