Quality, as usual

January 21, 2015

Ever wonder how to run a top national statistical agency? 

On the occasion of the second anniversary of the launch of the StatCan Blog, Chief Statistician Wayne R. Smith shares four elements needed to excel in the world of statistics:

  • Relevance “The single most important thing is that you need to be producing data that is relevant to the most important current needs of the country we serve. It is not of great use to our stakeholders if we are still measuring typewriters or floppy discs. No matter how good we are, the best possible typewriter statistics are not relevant in today's world.”
  • Credibility “We must constantly be vigilant about our credibility. Our credibility is tied to our neutrality and our independence. People have to be persuaded that Statistics Canada has no axe to grind. Our objective is simply to have the best possible measures.”
  • Competence “We have to produce high quality information based on the best methods and technologies that are available.”
  • Efficiency “There is no lack of things to do. The problem is more that the thirst for information is unlimited. With our limited resources, we must provide the data that is most useful—the critical information needed for policy formulation and administration.”

StatCan is pretty much at the top of its game.

In 2014, the Auditor General assessed four key programs—National Household Survey, Labour Force Survey, Consumer Price Index and Survey of Employment, Payroll and Hours—with respect to quality. “The report was generally quite positive about Statistics Canada and the quality of its programs,” Mr. Smith said. “We were really happy about that as an endorsement of our work.”

Mr Smith added that the strength of Canada's national statistical agency is acknowledged around the world: “We are world leaders in what we do and we are internationally respected.”

Today, StatCan's expertise is increasingly being shared around the world. Statistics Canada's experience is particularly acknowledged and sought out internationally in the area of Internet collection of census data, the System of National Accounts, the environment, education, business registers, methodology and data quality, and the modernization of national statistical offices.


Staying true to form, Statistics Canada delivered once again in 2014 on an aggressive transformation agenda. Key accomplishments include the completion of the final steps of an enhanced Consumer Price Index, the release of a new iteration of the Survey of Financial Security to measure the wealth of Canadian households, and the production of updated, government financial statistics. For the first time, the agency also produced Gross Domestic Product by census metropolitan area, and will assess the feasibility of making these data a permanent part of the agency's program.

The dialogue between the agency and data users also continued with extensive national consultations to refine the StatCan website. When complete, visitors will find a more dynamic spot to satisfy their statistical needs.

In 2015, StatCan will be working to meet new information needs in several other key areas: energy statistics, environmental statistics, financial indicators, wealth, child health and the labour market. The labour market work includes an expansion of information on job vacancies by economic regions and a wage survey. These fill data gaps and will help support the effective operation of the Canadian labour market.

Census planning

As a build-up to the 2016 Census, the upcoming year also holds special challenges. The census is the largest peacetime operation undertaken by the Canadian government. At its peak, 35,000 people work for Statistics Canada to conduct the census across the country.

“It is a fascinating thing to watch the census unfold,” Mr. Smith said. “Starting from a small core group of experts, we have to build an infrastructure of systems, logistics, people, training and processing facilities. And everything has to occur at the right moment.”

During 2015, content for the Census of Population Program and the Census of Agriculture, will be finalized. Under the Statistics Act, the Census questions must be prescribed by the Governor-in-Council and published in the Canada Gazette. Typically, this occurs in the year preceding the census. The agency is also a master at managing the design and construction of computer systems for this project. For the 2016 Census, we are working with a new player, Shared Services Canada, to build and test the IT infrastructure required to support the collection and processing of the massive amount of data that will collected.

The agency is always looking for more efficient ways to carry out its mandate and leverage technologies. For instance, a social domain record linkage environment—a database whereby data from various sources can be temporarily linked to answer policy-relevant questions—is under development. As well, work with the provinces and territories is underway to create a database of post-secondary students, which will add to the knowledge of educational outcomes and the labour market.

Remaining relevant, credible, competent and efficient means working every day with the stakeholders who use StatCan data. It also means maintaining the confidence of the people and businesses that provide their information to the agency. “Serving Canada with high-quality statistical information that matters” is both our mission and our pledge.

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