Backgrounder Article from  Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada

Reinforcing Statistics Canada's Independence

Statistics play an essential role in democratic societies, providing governments, businesses, non-profit organizations, the research community and the public with information about economic, demographic, social and environmental matters. Data help stakeholders understand problems, identify priorities and design solutions as well as evaluate and monitor implementation.

Trusted information is essential for making informed decisions. Independence, trust and the utility of information are intrinsically interconnected and there is widespread agreement among democratic governments and international organizations that statistical agencies must operate with a high level of professional independence.

To reinforce the independence of Statistics Canada, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development has tabled legislation entitled An Act to amend the Statistics Act.

To ensure the statistics produced are credible, successive Canadian governments have recognized and respected the need for the independence of Statistics Canada. The proposed amendments will formalize the agency's independence and ensure the ongoing impartiality and objectivity of the national statistical system. The following changes to the Statistics Act will also help align Canada's legislation with international standards promoted by the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development.

The Minister, under the current Act, has all authorities over methodological and operational decisions. However, by convention, these authorities are delegated to the Chief Statistician. The Act will be amended in order to formally make the Chief Statistician responsible for operations and for decisions on the methodology and communication of statistical products such as the long-form census.

The Minister will retain authority to provide direction on material changes to the scope of the statistical program. However, the bill proposes to amend the Act to ensure greater transparency around decisions by enabling the Chief Statistician to request public written direction before acting on ministerial directions relating to the statistical program. In addition, should the Minister deem it to be in the national interest to make a decision that directly involves methodological or operational matters, that decision will be authorized by the Governor in Council and tabled in Parliament.

The bill also proposes to create a new Canadian Statistics Advisory Council. This council will focus on the overall quality of the national statistical system, including the relevance, accuracy, accessibility and timeliness of the statistical information produced. The Council will play an advisory role to the Minister and the Chief Statistician and will publish an annual report on the state of the national statistical system.

The proposed legislation will ensure that the appointment of the Chief Statistician by the Governor in Council will be for a renewable term of not more than five years. He or she will serve during good behaviour and may be removed by the Governor in Council for cause. This change will strengthen the independence of the Chief Statistician in his or her decision making. The appointment will be made following an open, transparent, merit-based selection process in accordance with the government's new approach to Governor in Council appointments.

The bill will remove from the Act provisions related to the imprisonment of people who refuse to provide information related to mandatory surveys or who impede access to such information. There is general consensus among Canadians that imprisonment for such behaviour is inappropriate and disproportionate to the offence. The provisions related to fines for the same offences will remain.

Finally, the amended Act offers a technical fix to modernize language that does not align with current operational practices, often due to technological changes such as the introduction of electronic rather than paper questionnaires.

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Hon. Navdeep Singh Bains Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada Economics and Industry

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