Upheaval at Statistics Canada after chief’s protest resignation

By on 19/09/2016
Wayne Smith, former chief statistician, Canada

Canada has a new chief statistician after the previous incumbent, Wayne Smith, resigned suddenly in protest at an alleged loss of independence at the country’s central statistics agency.

Anil Arora, previously the assistant chief statistician, will now head up Statistics Canada following Smith’s abrupt and high-profile departure at the end of last week.

In a widely-publicised resignation letter, Smith wrote of his frustrations at what he claimed was the progressive erosion of Statistics Canada’s independence following its absorption into Shared Services Canada. This technology ‘super agency’ was created in 2011 to improve efficiency and save money by centralising government IT services, but Smith said the new structure had significantly curtailed Statistics Canada’s operational freedoms.

“All of you are aware that the government has committed to reinforce the independence of Statistics Canada,” he wrote.

“All of you are also aware of my strongly held view that the action of the past government that most significantly compromised the independence of Statistics Canada was the decision to force Statistics Canada into the Shared Services Canada initiative with respect to the supply of its physical informatics infrastructure.

“Shared Services Canada and persons who can influence Shared Services Canada now hold an effective veto over many of Statistics Canada’s decisions concerning the collection, processing, storage, analysis and dissemination of official statistics through denial or constructive denial of essential services.”

Smith said the effect of Shared Services Canada’s management on his former agency was not merely an “apprehension”, but “an effective reality today”. “Statistics Canada is increasingly hobbled in the delivery of its programmes through disruptive, ineffective, slow and unaffordable supply of physical informatics services by Shared Services Canada,” he wrote.

Smith said he had done all he could to have this situation addressed, “but to no effect”. “I cannot lend my support to government initiatives that will purport to protect the independence of Statistics Canada when in fact that independence has never been more compromised,” he wrote. “I do not wish to preside over the decline of what is still, but cannot remain, in these circumstances, a world-leading statistical office. So I am resigning in order to call public attention to this situation.”

In a statement on the appointment of Arora to replace Smith, Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and economic development, said: “We are working closely with Statistics Canada towards the reinforcement of the independence of this eminent institution which plays an essential role in providing Canadians with accurate and reliable statistical data. We highly value their experience, knowledge and guidance as we move forward in this process. I believe that the integrity and security of Canadians’ data is paramount and that modern information technology must ensure accurate and reliable statistical data.

“I am enormously proud of Statistics Canada as a world-leading and widely respected statistical organisation.”

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About Ben Willis

Ben Willis is a journalist and editor with a varied background reporting on topics including public policy, the environment, renewable energy and international development. His work has appeared in a variety of national newspapers including the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Times, as well as numerous specialist business, policy and consumer publications.

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