Friday, July 23, 2010

I can't believe we're still talking about the census

But here it is again.

According to the former head statistician for Stats Can:

“Now, it is clear that Statistics Canada did not make the recommendation to the government to have a shortened census, which would have been a real stain on the organization’s reputation,” Mr. Fellegi said. “It would have indicated we didn’t know our own business.”

That business, says the former Statistics boss, operates best when the politicians maintain their distance.

Of course apparently this is also

evidence of a decades-long erosion in the relationship between public servants with a job for life, and politicians whose lifespan is unknowable from one election to the next.

Now here's the thing, and there's no getting around this. The purpose of government isn't to provide a job for life, nor is it necessarily to provide job satisfaction for those same civil servants. No, the purpose of a government agency is to get something done according to the instructions of the government of the day - regardless of the political stripe of that government.

Now, one can not necessarily assume that Stats Canada DIDN'T suggest to the government that the same information could be collected via a voluntary survey, but I have two questions:

  1. How exactly do pollsters collect reliable data via voluntary surveys?
  2. What use, exactly, IS the information collected in a survey either every 5 or 10 years? Why is this relevant information when Statistics Canada takes several years to properly compile the data?
One last question:

Each census is intended to count everybody in the country — which is impossible to do. So Statistics Canada includes “population estimates.” And the population of each province is a driving factor in determining equalization payments and federal and provincial transfers.
if it is impossible to count everybody in the country, and Statistics Canada does "population estimates", how reliable is the data in the first place?

When it comes down to it, forcing Statistics Canada to change it's methods in order to get the same reliable "data" without forcing anyone to cooperate may be an ideological choice, but that doesn't mean that it's the wrong one.

And these people are all absolutely right - Statistics Canada should be free of government intervention... just like Nanos, Ipsos Reid, Angus Reid, Environics... and while we're at it, let's strip their ability to force us to do anything under penalty of fines or jail time.

It's only fair to give all of the employees at Statistics Canada what they want... they should be careful what they wish for however.

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