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Statistics Canada’s chief quits over agency’s ageing IT systems

David Bicknell Published 20 September 2016

Chief statistician Wayne Smith was concerned that just when Statistics Canada needed to be agile in a big data world, it was being hampered by government IT


What is it about Commonwealth government statistics organisations? Just a few weeks after the Australian Bureau for Statistics (ABS) suffered technical problems with its 2016 Census , now it is Statistics Canada that is making the IT headlines.

It follows the resignation of Statistics Canada head Wayne Smith, who had claimed the independence of his agency was compromised by new IT arrangements.

Smith quit last Friday, with his resignation letters apparently accusing the Canadian federal government of, in the words of one report, “hobbling his agency’s independence by forcing Statistics Canada to use the government’s central information technology system.”

Reports in Canada suggest that in an email to the National Statistical Council, Smith said Shared Services Canada now “holds an effective veto” over some of the statistics agency's everyday operations.

According to one report , Statistics Canada needed to be more agile because it was facing significant  challenges in a world of big data, notably demands for up-to-the-minute information that businesses and planners rely on, declining response rates on traditional surveys, and meeting the government’s need for statistics in new policy fields.

The council had argued that Statistics Canada “couldn’t be nimble” if it relied on Shared Services Canada for IT services.

Meanwhile, the Wall St Journal reported that the Bank of Canada’s governor Stephen Poloz said earlier this year the Canadian central bank required a “contingency plan for economic data” because the quality of information gathered by Statistics Canada could be at risk due to ageing technology.

The Wall St Journal reported that Poloz’s concerns emerged in a February letter he sent to Smith. Poloz told Mr. Smith in his letter that a deputy governor at the central bank would lead the bank’s efforts to deal with the risks posed by the aging technology at Statistics Canada. Poloz said in the letter that “Statistics Canada data is fundamental to the work of the Bank of Canada, and as such we share your serious concerns about the situation” regarding ageing technology.

The Canadian government appointed Anil Arora as the new chief statistician with Navdeep Bains, the government's minister of innovation, science and economic development,  saying, "Mr. Arora brings substantial management experience and knowledge related to the modernisation of statistical infrastructure and has previously served as assistant chief statistician.

"We are working closely with Statistics Canada towards the reinforcement of the independence of this eminent institution which plays an essential role in providing Canadians with accurate and reliable statistical data. This is an important aspect of my mandate letter and we are working closely with Statistics Canada to achieve this goal. We highly value their experience, knowledge and guidance as we move forward in this process.

"I believe that the integrity and security of Canadians' data is paramount and that modern information technology must ensure accurate and reliable statistical data."

Related articles:

ONS: 2021 Census will be strongly online-based

Aussies suffer Census headache as online system fails

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