Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Former Chief Statistician's Stand Raises Troubling Questions

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Former Chief Statistician's Stand Raises Troubling Questions

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Former chief statistician's stand raises troubling questions

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An editorial from the Toronto Star, published Sept. 26:

Earlier this month, Wayne Smith walked out of the Statistics Canada building in Ottawa, climbed onto a bench and explained to the gathered crowd why he had just quit his job as chief statistician. The issue, Smith said, was the centralization of Ottawa's computer services and the threat posed to the independence of Canada's world-renowned statistics agency. As he spoke, hundreds of bureaucrats applauded.

Smith's resignation, and the concerns he raised, may seem remote, but they have ignited the passions of policy-makers because they hint at the continuation of two disturbing trends that the Trudeau government was meant to curtail.

The first is the erosion of StatsCan's independence. Smith is the second chief statistician in a row to resign over concerns about interference with the agency's work. Munir Sheikh, Smith's predecessor, resigned in 2010 after the Harper government scrapped the long-form census. The Trudeau government rightly restored the census and scored some easy political points in the process, but Smith's account casts doubt on how deep the government's commitment to the agency's independence runs.

The second trend is the havoc wrought by the Harper government's centralization of Ottawa's information technology services begun in 2011. The creation of Shared Services Canada (SSC) was a cost-saving measure supposed to contribute to Ottawa's deficit reduction goals. The notion that economies of scale can be found through centralization makes some sense, but the move has proved much more disruptive and costly than predicted.

StatsCan is a case in point. Nearly everything the agency does is dependent on IT and thus, under the new arrangement, on the permission of Shared Services. …

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