Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Statistics Canada Head Quits, Cites Loss of Independence

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Statistics Canada Head Quits, Cites Loss of Independence

Article excerpt

Head of StatCan quits over independence


OTTAWA - The Liberal government's bid to rebuild bridges with Statistics Canada came crashing down Friday with the resignation of the chief statistician over concerns that federal information-technology arrangements are hobbling the agency.

Wayne Smith's resignation marked the second time in the last six years that the chief statistician has quit over a point of principle.

Although former chief statistician Munir Sheikh quit in 2010 over the government's decision to make the long-form census questionnaire voluntary, a member of the National Statistics Council described the two departures as parallels, because they dealt with the independence of the agency.

Smith had raised concerns about Shared Services Canada, the government's central IT department, having an effective veto over many of the statistical agency's operations. He also raised concerns about privacy, with workers outside Statistics Canada being able to access data the agency collects on Canadians.

In a letter to the council, Smith said he can't support federal initiatives to centralize IT services that effectively undermine the independence of Statistics Canada, which the government has committed to protect.

"All of you are aware of my view that this loss of independence and control is not only an apprehension, but an effective reality today, as Statistics Canada is increasingly hobbled in the delivery of its programs through disruptive, ineffective, slow and unaffordable supply of physical informatics services by Shared Services Canada," said an email copy of the letter which Smith sent to the media.

"I have made the best effort I can to have this situation remediated, but to no effect. I cannot lend my support to government initiatives that will purport to protect the independence of Statistics Canada when, in fact, that independence has never been more compromised."

Smith said he does not wish to preside over what he describes as the decline of a world-leading statistical office. "So I am resigning, in order to call public attention to this situation."

Smith declined to comment further when reached by phone Friday.

The chairman of the statistics council said Smith's resignation was a surprise and a "real shame" for the agency in the wake of a successful census. Ian McKinnon said it simply came down to a question of the agency's independence.

"This was not out of any desire for empire-building or because he wanted to have the authority over something like that," McKinnon said.

"The (statistics) agencies in advanced industrial economies that do well view control of their informatics infrastructure as an essential element in being an efficient, effective and independent organization and Wayne fully shared that view and believed deeply in it."

The Liberals promised in the last election campaign to give Statistics Canada more independence from government intervention and were expected to table legislation this fall to follow through on the pledge. …

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