How Political is Statscan?
The recent controversy over the long-form census has caused me to be a bit more suspicious of Statscan lately.Â TwoÂ recent eventsÂ in particularÂ have left me scratching my head.
First, as part of my doctoral dissertation research, I was trying to get ahold of (time series) social assistance statistics for all 10 Canadian provinces, namely social assistance rates and caseloads, going back to the mid-1980s (not exactly ancient history!).Â A social policy wonk I happen to know put me in touch with a former HRSDC employee who literally had to dig up hard copies of documents in a basement to help me out.Â After dusting them off,Â I asked: “Doesn’tÂ Statscan have all of this data?” The answer was no.Â In fact, they wouldn’t even be able to provide it to me for a fee!
More recently, I’ve come across a 2010 Statscan publication that provides a very detailed look at salaries and salary scales of full-time teaching staff at Canadian universities.Â Thanks to this data, any member of the general public can very easily see, for example, that the median annual salary of a full professor at the University of Toronto is just over $156,000.
Call me a cynic, but this makes me suspicious.Â If more members of the general public knewÂ how little social assistance recipients make, this would certainly cause some awkwardness for members of senior levels of government. (For what it’s worth, and not counting child benefits, a single adult without dependentsÂ on social assistance in Ontario now receives approximately half what they would have received in the mid-1990s, in real terms.)Â Such knowledgeÂ in the hands of the general public would likely put some added pressure on senior levels of government to spend more on anti-poverty efforts.
Yet, one can sensibly conclude that senior levels of government would be quite happy to have members of the general public know what tenured university professors make as salaries. (In fact, Mike Harris was so eager to have members of the general public know what senior public servants make that he brought in the Public Salary Disclosure Act in 1996.)Â Â Such knowledge in the public domainÂ certainly has the potentialÂ to take some pressure off of senior levels of government to increase funding to universities.
All of this raises a fundamental question for me: just how political is Statscan?