The SSC and Canada's Statistics Act

Friday, October 27, 2017
House of Commons

Below is the opening statement from Brian Allen. You may find the full conversation at the following link:

Dr. Brian Allen Past President, Statistical Society of Canada

Good morning, everyone.

It is indeed a pleasure to be invited to appear before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. Although the invitation to appear before this committee didn't specify, I view my invitation as representing the Statistical Society of Canada. I'm currently past president. The president, who might normally be invited to appear in my place, is employed by Statistics Canada, and so was recused.

The Statistical Society of Canada is Canada's only national scientific organization representing statisticians in academia, government, and industry. Its mission is to encourage the development and use of statistics and probability through research, education, and the development of public awareness of the value of statistical thinking. One of the bullets of our mission statement is directly relevant to today's hearings, namely, to ensure that decisions affecting Canadian society are based on appropriate data and valid statistical interpretation.

The Statistical Society of Canada has always had a close relationship with Statistics Canada. Indeed, its current president, Jack Gambino, is employed by Statistics Canada. Five additional past presidents have come from Statistics Canada: David Binder, 2005-06; Jane Gentleman, 1997-98; Geoffrey Hole, 1989-90; Martin Wilk, 1986-87; and Ivan Fellegi, 1981. Two of these, namely Wilk and Fellegi, also served as chief statisticians of Canada.

In addition, the society has benefited greatly from the involvement of many members from Statistics Canada. The society has six sections. Each focuses on an area of special interest to members. The survey methods section was one of the first two established, and it has always had dedicated support of members from Statistics Canada. This includes organizing invited paper sessions at the annual meetings and the organization and delivery of workshops on topics of interest to survey methodologists and graduate students.

The society believes that policy decisions should be based on evidence, and this usually involves data. Good data, whether from a survey, census, or other source, rely on both statistical design used to generate the data and on the choice of appropriate statistical methods to summarize the data. Administrative data—for example, tax data and health records—play an increasingly important role in official statistics. The use of appropriate statistical methods is important there as well. For example, the use of such data often involves record linkage, requiring both probability and statistics, and hence the importance of appropriate data and valid statistical interpretations.

The society participated in this committee's hearings, and lobbied extensively, regarding the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census in 2011-12. It also provided a letter of support of a private member's bill, to reinstate the mandatory long form, in early 2015. The society welcomes the opportunity to continue to provide its expert guidance on matters of statistical methods and procedures for the collection and summary of data.

In the brief time I've had to consult with colleagues, the views expressed on Bill C-36 have been unanimously positive. It's a step in the right direction, and it's making important changes to the Statistics Act.

I have a few recommendations, mostly related to how the Statistical Society of Canada can continue to make a positive impact on the collection and summary of official statistics in Canada.

The first recommendation is to have a formal search committee for chief statistician that would search widely, worldwide, for the best candidates. This short list of candidates would then be submitted for cabinet's consideration.

Second, consider consulting with the Statistical Society of Canada when seeking members to serve on such a search committee for the purposes of putting forward this short list of candidates.

Third, the Statistical Society of Canada is supportive of the establishment of the Canadian statistics advisory committee. It is recommended that it include members of the Statistical Society of Canada. This could be the president, but it might also be his or her designate.

I thank you and would be happy to answer questions.

Brian Allen
Past President of the SSC