The Crisis at Statistics Canada
I am a member of the National Statistics Council, an expert advisory group to Statistics Canada. We meet twice a year as a group with the Chief Statistician and senior Statscan staff. The members are a varied group of expert users of data.
The Chair of the Council, Ian McKinnon,Â released this statement to the media last night.
STATEMENT ON THE RESIGNATION OF DR. MUNIR SHEIKH
In my role as its Chair, and on behalf of the members of the National Statistics Council, I express our deep regret at the resignation of Munir Sheik as Chief Statistician, and the circumstances which gave rise to it. I would like to express our respect for the dedication and professionalism of Dr. Sheikh and acknowledge the integrity with which he has faced an impossible situation over the past few weeks.
During this period, his scrupulous observance of the limits imposed on him by his obligation to respect the confidentiality of advice he and his agency gave to Cabinet left him unable to defend his professional competence or respond to statements that tended to cast doubts on the professional competence of Statistics Canada. With Dr. Sheikhâ€™s resignation, Statistics Canada and indeed the nationâ€™s statistical system, has lost the committed services of a man of integrity and honour.
In his relatively short period in that role, Mr. Sheikh had sought at every turn to maintain the highest quality and relevance of Canadaâ€™s statistical system, while guiding its adaptation to current economic realities.
Chair, The National Statistics Council
Dr Sheikh’s statement does not actually say but makes it very clear that Statistics Canada strongly advised the government against the change,Â a key point that was obfuscated by Minister Clement (to put it charitably) until last night when he said in e mail that “as I have noted previously, Statistics Canada’s preferred approach would have been to maintain the mandatory long form census.”
Dr. Sheikh’s statement follows:
OTTAWA â€” There has been considerable discussion in the media regarding the 2011 Census of Population.
There has also been commentary on the advice that Statistics Canada and I gave the government on this subject.
I cannot reveal and comment on this advice because this information is protected under the law. However, the government can make this information public if it so wishes.
I have always honoured my oath and responsibilities as a public servant as well as those specific to the Statistics Act.
I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census.
It can not.
Under the circumstances, I have tendered my resignation to the Prime Minister.
I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity of serving him as the Chief Statistician of Canada, heading an agency that is a symbol of pride for our country.
To you, the men and women of Statistics Canada â€“ thank you for giving me your full support and your dedication in serving Canadians. Without your contribution, day in and day out, in producing data of the highest quality, Canada would not have this institution that is our pride.
I also want to thank Canadians. We do remember, every single day, that it is because of you providing us with your information, we can function as a statistical agency. I am attaching an earlier message that I sent to Canadians in this regard.
In closing, I wish the best to my successor. I promise not to comment on how he/she should do the job. I do sincerely hope that my successorâ€™s professionalism will help run this great organization while defending its reputation.
Munir A. Sheikh
Where do we go from here? The mandatory long form census should be re-instated, perhaps accompanied by a consultation process on possible changes. Most importantly, measures need to be taken to secure greater independence of Statscan from the government of the day. This has no formal basis but was strongly upheld by Ivan Fellegi during his long tenure as Chief Statistician, and was upheld by Munir Sheikh yesterday.