#29 – Statscan’t: Three Decades of Failure

Canada is a low-information society, where data is scorned in favor of revisionist make-believe and fairy tales about the functionality of the country. I’ve provided a few examples of this trait, but I think it’s time to explore the failure of Statistics Canada, a substandard body whose glory days are long behind it and whose future appears to be one of fidgeting and failing under ever more onerous burdens.

We begin with StatsCan’s glory years, when it was at least a respectable institution. Respectable and Canadian are words that simply don’t go together, but let me explain. Statistics Canada was born in 1971 out of its precursor, the Dominion Bureau of Statistics. Back in those days it did its job with competence. They even published yearly information in a helpful, albeit massive tome called the The Canada Year Book. Here’s the Canada Year Book from 1967 if you’re interested. I was until I encountered that godawful pagination system. Fuck that shit. Whatever Canadian competence with paper infrastructure might have been this country is notoriously complete shit at digital management.

Anyways, Statscan was once a respected institution until it too was hit by that great caker succubus, laziness. Brian Mulroney takes the first dance at our failure ball by demanding that Statscan operate on a cost-recovery basis. You might recognize this as a pants-on-head retarded idea, but it wasn’t nearly as idiotic an idea as the plan to cancel the 1986 census. Yes, a supposedly developed country considered and nearly decided to ignore the collection of data. The response from cakers? A dim protestation that only worked when business groups got involved.

Laurentian shitlords, if they could read and deigned to consider Canada with a modicum of criticality would be nodding right until this point, where I make special note of the Liberals’ attempts to kneecap the census. The people who brought to Canada the concept of austerity are not exactly defenders of the realm when it comes to economic non-starters like statistics collection. To quote the piece from the Toronto Star that I cited earlier, during the Cretin and Martin years:

The agency stopped publishing interprovincial trade figures; cancelled its quarterly survey of business start-ups and shutdowns; reduced the sample size for its monthly labour force survey (which contains the official rate of unemployment) and increased the purchase price of many surveys.

Ah, that’s okay. Who needs statistics on business development or a proper unemployment rate, right? Numbers are for losers.

After all of that backstory we finally get to the part of the sadsack saga of Statistics Canada that most cakers know – the Harper years. To ask the average Canadian Statscan was a paragon of efficiency until those meanie Conservatives took all of the data away, presumably while dressed like Robbie Rotten from Lazy Town.

(S) Stephen Harper, circa 2009

At this point most of Canada is aware that Harper removed the mandatory long-form census in 2011 while also sending some of the work to Lockheed Martin, because nothing screams legitimacy and trustworthiness to Canadians quite like a company known for espionage and data mining. The elimination of the mandatory long-form census did incalculable damage, though the culmination of decades of cutting and slicing and trying to hide scary numbers that spoke to scary trends within this Soviet bog are conveniently forgotten when shouting from the rooftops about how bad ol’ Stephen Harper was. There are literally thousands of hand-wringing screeds about how bad the 2011 census was, so I won’t waste your time by linking a pile of them. What I will say however is that a good number of them assume that the problem was a Harper one.

Sadly, this assumption is untrue. Under Dear Leader and sentient hair-carrier Justin Trudeau Statscan has continued to fail and sputter, this time under the aegis of one of Canada’s most familiar bugbears – shitty digital infrastructure. Faced with the prospect of the shambolic disaster that is Shared Services Canada controlling Statscan’s IT systems, former Chief Statistician Wayne Smith tried to warn the public of the danger of leaving statistics collection and management under effective federal control by resigning. And, in classic caker style, what did Canada do when confronted with the prospect that the guy billed (falsely) as the savior of science in Canada is a fraud and a charlatan?

Absolutely nothing.

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