Good Statistical Data: We fund it in Africa, but not in Canada

It turns out that the Canadian government is a supporter of collecting good statistical data – especially data that can be used to alleviate poverty and address disease. There’s only one catch. It can’t help Canadians.

As the fall out from the canceling of the mandatory long form census continues to grow – today the head of Alberta Health Services spoke out, saying the the census decision will hamper the province’s ability to deliver health care efficiently – we  now learn that the very arguments the government dismisses here in Canada, it supports on the international stage.

As it happens, the Canadian International Development Agency contributes to the Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB) an international fund designed to support the Marrakech Action Plan for Statistics. And what, you should legitimately ask, is the Marrakech plan? It is a general agreement by international actors to support building developing countries statistical capacity. It has, specifically, as a primary objective, the goal of developing countries capacity to perform censuses. More interestingly, it has a secondary goal, to: “Set up an international Household Survey Network.” the very same part of the census the government just gutted here in Canada.

Both the Trust Fund and the Marrakech Action plan websites explain this in detail. But so to does the CIDA website, where the government acknowledges that this work is essential as:

“The projects supported aim to improve in the collection, processing, analysis, storage, dissemination, and use of quality statistics to support poverty reduction and economic and social development. Developing countries can submit funding proposals to the Trust Fund. The proposals are ideally based on a national strategy for the development of statistics. By implementing such a strategy, countries can improve their statistical capacities to measure development progress and results, notably with regard to the Millennium Development Goals, and to better plan and utilize scarce resources.”

In short, our government accepts that the Household Survey is essential to helping marginalized people. It recognizes that such a survey will help other governments tackle poverty, health care and other social development issues. Indeed, it believes it so strongly, we will spend millions of dollars a year funding the development of statistical capacity abroad to ensure that other governments don’t do what we just did to the long form census.

I’m grateful that our government believes that good statistics and the types of questions found on the long form are essential to developing good policy – I’m just sad they don’t believe it to be true for Canada citizens.

15 thoughts on “Good Statistical Data: We fund it in Africa, but not in Canada

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  2. Aaron McGowan

    This is kind of ridiculous in my opinion. We spend millions contributing to a fund which supports other countries, yet, we are doing the opposite? …

    (Just sitting here pondering on the future of Canada)

  3. billg

    Couple of things. Canada is not a developing country, and, we are handing out more long form census then ever, and, by the reaction of approx 50% of Canadians who insist on it being filled out we should have greater response then ever. I dont get what your trying to say?

  4. David Eaves


    The number of forms you hand out is irrelevant – if you are interested
    in this check out Stephen Gordon – stats professor at Laval – explain
    why here
    I wish that sending out more forms would help. Sadly it doesn’t. This
    post sadly also tackles the 50% problem.

    Mostly, I’m pointing out that our government happens to think that a
    robust, effective and statistically sound census matters to making
    effective public policy. They just happen to think that you should only
    have an effective census and the ability to make sound, evidence based
    decisions if… you live Africa. Canadians, apparently, should expect less.

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  6. Bork

    With the recognition that the government is fundamentally misguided on the census, let me play devil’s advocate with this Africa-Canada comparison:

    The type of household survey described in these documents is a voluntary household survey with sampling frame and weightings based on the equivalent of our short-form survey. In other words, what the Tories are currently proposing.

  7. billg

    If its the first time we have tried handing out more voluntary long form census then how can you know it doesnt or wont work? I’m not trying to be a smart ass, but, I filled out a long form once in about 5 minutes…the questions almost seemed like it was pulled from a Mad magazine so I just threw numbers and check marks around, I skipped the religious questions and the ones about where I spent my money, not because I thought it was intrusive but because I was out of time and late. So…I’m not sure how something cannot work or be unreliable when it hasnt even been tried yet.

  8. David Eaves

    Interesting. That’s not the reading I had at all Bork. Can you point
    me to what you saw specifically?

    Indeed, the documents I saw referred to strengthening the census – which
    is mandatory.

  9. David Eaves

    Bill – this is why I think the National Statistics Council compromise
    solution was so reasonable (and why I’m concerned the government is
    rejecting it). They say do the mandatory as done in the past, but do the
    voluntary as well, that way we can compare the two. If the voluntary
    works we will find out and be able to switch to it. But if doesn’t then
    we haven’t compromised the census (Which even if we only do it once will
    compromise data forever – there is a great blog post about this here

    So, maybe it will work, but testing it has a real and expensive long
    term cost if it fails. So let’s do both and then evaluate. Sadly, the
    government is against this responsible solution.

  10. Anonymous

    I think the problem, Bill, is that if it doesn’t work (and most statisticians seem to agree that it won’t) we’re screwed, statistically speaking anyway. I’m not a statistician, so I’m not up on the hows and the whys, but it would put a big hole in any data sets we have, in any trending we are trying to track, etc.

  11. Nina Ilnyckyj

    I don’t think it’s a choice between us helping other countries gain the capacity for statistical collection/analysis, versus doing it in our own country. We can do both. The contradiction that David points out is an indication that the values and priorities within government are often different.

    In this case, we can be reminded that Canadians actually do value data, by our actions elsewhere. Let’s model here what we preach elsewhere.

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  13. bork


    “Surveys of households and individuals are the most effective way of obtaining this information. Combined with census data, current population estimates, and data on public and private services obtained through administrative records, surveys support the planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation work that are essential for good management.”

    — Marrakech Action Plan for Statistics Action 4, point 34

    That seems to imply to me that the household surveys being promoted through this effort are exactly that: household surveys, not long-form censuses.

    Don’t get me wrong. A long form census is a much better tool than these household surveys for key policy data. It’s a nice developed-world tool that developing countries probably drool over having. But it looks like this CIDA project is about (1) strengthening the census (i.e., basic household enumeration similar to what our short-form census includes), and (2) promoting the development of household surveys (similar to the Tories’ new plan).

  14. Kelly

    I completely agree Nina. Well said. My concern is that the present Minister’s seem to be unaware of the intricacies of the ministries they are responsible for and are making rash decisions without understanding the consequences. I suspect that they did not (likely still don’t) know that CIDA supports the census collection in other countries and now that they do, they may just scrap that action.


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