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October 5, 2016

Canada has a new chief statistician.

In September, Anil Arora was appointed as the agency's 12th chief statistician.

The new position is actually a homecoming for Mr. Arora, who began his StatCan career in 1988, managing data processing in a regional office in his hometown of Edmonton. Over the next 20 years, he moved to headquarters in Ottawa and progressed through a wide range of jobs, eventually redesigning and subsequently managing a successful 2006 Census. In 2008, he became Assistant Chief Statistician of Social, Institutions and Labour Statistics.

In 2010, Mr. Arora switched to the role of StatCan data user when he took up the position of Assistant Deputy Minister at Natural Resources Canada, followed by a period as the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Health Products and Food Branch at Health Canada. Data are an important component of policy making in both departments.

So, when the call came, he was well prepared for the job.

What's next for the agency?

Mr. Arora says that he is fortunate to have inherited an organization that is among the elite statistical agencies of the world, an institution that “always aspires to be the best.”

His objective is to maintain the same sense of purpose and push for excellence that he encountered while working with his predecessors Wayne R. Smith, Munir Sheikh and Ivan Fellegi.

“What I bring to the table is a really good understanding of what different people do at Statistics Canada, the importance of high quality information to Canadians, and how we function in close collaboration with our various partners,” he said in a recent interview.

His prime goals? “That we remain relevant. That we remain credible. That we remain a trustworthy source of statistics through our independence.”

There are many realities facing the country: global and domestic fiscal uncertainty, shifting relationships with provinces and territories, changing demographics, the globalization of supply chains, the importance of respecting the interests of Indigenous peoples, the environment and climate change, and the volatility of the natural resources sector in Western Canada.

“In every one of these areas, we have a richness of data and analysis that is second to none,” Mr. Arora says. At the same time, the agency must constantly adapt to new demands for data as needs and priorities shift.

Mitigating risks

Statistics Canada also faces a technological challenge. Reliable, secure and sufficient technology is central to everything that the agency produces, from the collection to the processing to the dissemination of data.

Mr. Arora's view is that—despite the bumps and, at times, setbacks—the benefits of a centralized system outweigh the risks. “We live in a connected world. Organizations can no longer afford to have duplicative subsystems, because they are not optimal,” he says. “Enterprise systems are more cost-effective and offer levels of confidentiality and security that a hundred different systems cannot offer.”

He cites his own experience with the 2006 Census, when he led a team in a redesign that included taking the census questionnaire online for the first time. Their work laid the foundation for the highly successful 2016 Census. As the census increasingly moved online, the agency addressed and mitigated risks as they came up. The agency relied on strong service providers without compromising on independence or the security/confidentiality of responses.

“This organization has just had a very successful run at implementing some very important transformations. Today, Shared Services Canada is doing essentially the same thing that Statistics Canada has done internally in the past, but at a macro level,” he explains. “We need to take advantage of opportunities to move to the latest technologies and standards, and to really focus our efforts on our own areas of expertise.”

“If there are capacity issues related to the delivery of programs or projects, the agency will continue to work with Shared Services Canada to address them as part of good, prudent business practices,” adds Mr. Arora. “The agency has been, and will continue to be, constantly vigilant in ensuring that essential programs are delivered to Canadians. We will do our part and hold our service providers to do theirs.”

Confidentiality will always be paramount. “At Statistics Canada, we are born and bred to think a certain way about confidentiality. We live it, eat it, breathe it,” he says. “The confidentiality and security of the information that we collect and house is not even a question. That is not a trade-off that we will ever make.”

Independence

One of Mr. Arora's immediate efforts is to work with the government to fulfill an election promise to reinforce the agency's independence. In practice, the agency already works independently. However, most countries with developed national statistical offices have now codified these practices in law.

With legal independence, Statistics Canada can get on with the business of doing what it does best, asserts Mr. Arora. “We know the statistics, we know the methodologies, we know how to collect and disseminate good-quality information that suits the needs of our country—of a modern country. We are considered the world over to be ‘the gold-standard.’”

One of the many rewards of returning to Statistics Canada for Mr. Arora is finding a place where employees come to work energized every day knowing that their work matters to all Canadians. Indeed, when news broke that he would be taking the job of chief statistician, he received a barrage of emails from StatCan colleagues and friends welcoming him back home. He remains grateful for the opportunity to lead this organization and is eager to serve in this capacity.

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