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The Progressive Economics Forum

Steelworker Census Letter

My union’s contribution to the debate follows:

July 21, 2010

Hon. Tony Clement
Minister of Industry
235 Queen Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0H5

Dear Minister Clement:

I write to ask you to reverse two recent decisions that threaten to undermine the quality and quantity of data produced by Statistics Canada.

First, making the long-form questionnaire optional in the upcoming census would reduce the reliability of census figures. When response rates differ according to income, education, employment status or other characteristics, the results are biased. While past censuses may not have achieved perfect response rates, an optional long form would make this problem vastly worse.

Privacy is the ostensible rationale for an optional form. However, among the millions of Canadians who have had to complete the long form during every previous census, almost no one has actually raised privacy concerns.

In fact, as you know, Statistics Canada keeps individual responses secret. Researchers are only allowed to access aggregate data.

Reliable, unbiased census figures are needed to effectively design and deliver essential public services and are also widely used outside of government. There is no reason to compromise the quality of this information.

Second, my understanding is that Statistics Canada has stopped fully funding Catalogue 41-019-XWE, “Steel, Tubular Products and Steel Wire.” Members of the Canadian Steel Producers Association have started paying for Statistics Canada to continue producing this report.

While I appreciate the temptation to make industry pay for its own data, a serious risk is that companies may choose to collect this data through contractors other than Statistics Canada. If so, the information would no longer be available to unions who represent workers in the industry, academics who research the industry, or the general public.

Cutbacks appear to be generally reducing the number of surveys that Statistics Canada funds. For example, Budget 2008 proposed to extract “savings” of $21.5 million from the agency this fiscal year (Table A3.7 on page 259).

According to the 2009 Public Accounts, Statistics Canada’s entire budget was just 0.2% of all ministerial expenditures. That is a small price to pay for data which informs public policy and allows the other 99.8% of the federal budget to be spent more effectively. This data also improves decision-making by provincial and local governments, businesses, unions and other organizations.

Cutting Statistics Canada may be penny wise, but it is certainly pound foolish. If in doubt, you should err on the side of producing more and better publicly-available information for Canadians. In particular, please reinstate the mandatory long-form census questionnaire and restore Statistics Canada funding for data on Canada’s steel industry.

Yours truly,

Ken Neumann
National Director for Canada
United Steelworkers

UPDATE (August 4): Listed in today’s Globe and Mail editorial

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