Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Profile in census cowardice

The document dump of backroom communications between Tony Clement's Industry Canada staff and Statistics Canada is certainly worth a read today. Some interesting stuff going on there. Haven't had time to weigh it all but here is one of the most interesting parts.

First, Munir Sheikh, the now resigned former Chief Statistician of Statistics Canada, proposed a series of communications to go out to various stakeholders who would be interested in and need to be informed of changes being made to the census process. Here's one example that would have been sent to MPs and Senators. Note the introductory phrase in paragraph four of this communication, "As per government decision" (click to enlarge):

Then note what Industry Canada seeks to excise as it responds to these draft communications (click to enlarge):

The phrase appeared in each of Sheikh's proposed draft communications. The clear upshot of Industry Canada's request? To downplay its responsibility for the decision and insinuate that Statistics Canada was driving these changes.

Now some, such as the government, might argue that the inclusion of that phrase, "as per government decision," was a needless pointer at the government, perhaps too overt a statement from the Chief Statistician. But when you consider the fundamental breach that the new voluntary long form survey represented to Statistics Canada's credibility, in that it was being directed to pursue a course of action that strangely deviated from past practice and was not statistically supportable, it's an understandable inclusion if one wants to protect Statistics Canada's integrity.

That seems to have been Sheikh's concern and in one of the ensuing emails, a Stats Can official actually points out to the Industry Canada ministerial staff that the Privy Council Office had approved of the inclusion of the phrase. So that's an interesting little dust-up described there, between Industry Canada and the PCO. Wayne Wouters, the Privy Council Clerk may have been backing Sheikh, at least as far as this proposed communication of the census changes went. Nevertheless, the Industry Canada staff took in that information, disregarded it, instructing Stats Can to use "Beginning this year" versus Sheikh's "as per government decision." The intent was maintained, to dump responsibility for a decision antithetical to Statistics Canada's mandate on Statistics Canada. If the Privy Council Office in fact agreed that Sheikh could deploy his chosen phrase, and attribute responsibility for the census changes to the government, it was undermined by Industry Canada.

To read this whole exchange, here's the full document, thanks to CBC who have embedded the lot:

"'Beginning this year ...' as opposed to the current, "As per government decision..." Email between Statist...