Statistics Canada is using new data sources to give Canadians sound measures of the new economy

October 28, 2018

Update December 3, 2019 - Collection for financial data from banking institutions was stopped in November 2018.

In today's digital society, 75% of household purchases are made using debit cards, credit cards, or pre-authorized payments. Wages are deposited directly and over a quarter of Canadians used online bulletin boards to sell products. All of this information flows between businesses and citizens digitally. Billions of transactions occur each year seamlessly, and in fact many institutions use the information available to routinely market products and services to Canadians.

High quality and timely data are critical in order to track important changes in the economy, changes in consumption patterns, and to ensure government programs remain relevant and effective for Canadians. Traditional surveying of Canadians and businesses to provide detailed information on a regular basis to inform government decisions, struggle to provide the type of information needed in a timely manner, not to mention their increasing costs and burden. These data will enable Statistics Canada to improve estimates of gross domestic product, international trade, retail sales, household spending, and the consumer price index. Those are key economic indicators that Canadians rely on to inform them about the economy and establish transfer payments between governments and between governments and citizens.

Statistics Canada cannot meet the data needs of Canadians with outdated tools and processes, while rich sources of information continue to grow and reflect today's sophisticated economy and society. Responsibly using administrative and other data sources is not new to Statistics Canada. We have developed robust processes with privacy and confidentiality protection as a foundation for a hundred years. We are further increasing transparency by providing Canadians information on the surveys and administrative data sources we use to collect, compile, abstract and disseminate our statistics, as well as our partnerships with data providers.

After nearly a year of working closely with stakeholders and keeping the Office of the Privacy Commissioner fully apprised of our efforts, a pilot project to assess the potential of accessing financial data from banking institutions to enhance and potentially substitute survey data was developed and is now in the final stages of implementation. Our actions are in line with the authorities of the Statistics Act and the Privacy Act. This work included developing new methods that limit to a minimum the amount of personal information sought by Statistics Canada.

We understand the sensitivity of these data and respect the concerns of Canadians to protect their privacy. At no point will any personal information ever leave Statistics Canada in our publicly released products and analysis. Also, no one else in government will ever get this information. The Statistics Act has built in fines and penalties to provide further assurance that these data are used strictly for statistical purposes.

We have updated our Privacy Impact Assessment, and continue to further strengthen our internal procedures, tools and processes to provide Canadians with the assurances of privacy and confidentiality they expect and deserve from Statistics Canada.

Moreover, these new data sources will give us the information required to be in a position to provide accurate measures of the new economy, ensuring Canada has sound evidence to guide economic policy decisions.

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