Evidence of meeting #4 for Official Languages in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was question.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Anil Arora  Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada
Stéphane Dufour  Assistant Chief Statistician, Census, Regional Services and Operations Sector, Statistics Canada

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Emmanuel Dubourg

Good afternoon everyone.

First off, I'd like to point out that today's meeting is being broadcast online, which is why your names are arranged the way they are.

Next, I'd like to welcome the team from Statistics Canada. Joining us, we have Anil Arora, chief statistician of Canada, Lynn Barr-Telford, assistant chief statistician, social, health and labour statistics, and Stéphane Dufour, assistant chief statistician, census, regional services and operations.

Committee members, please keep in mind that we'll be taking 10 or 15 minutes at the end of the meeting to discuss subcommittee business.

Now, let's turn our attention to Statistics Canada.

As you know, the committee has been eagerly awaiting your appearance. You'll have 10 minutes or so for your presentation, and then, committee members will take some time to ask you questions.

Mr. Arora, you may go ahead.

3:30 p.m.

Anil Arora Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to begin by thanking the committee members for inviting Statistics Canada to appear before you today to provide an update on its efforts regarding the enumeration of rights holders under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As you mentioned, Mr. Chair, with me today are my colleagues Lynn Barr-Telford and Stéphane Dufour, who will assist me in answering your questions. The fact that I am here with assistant chief statisticians attests to how important we consider the issue to be and gives them an opportunity to hear from you directly. Ms. Barr-Telford and Mr. Dufour are responsible for census content and operations, respectively.

Statistics Canada is committed to providing high-quality up-to-date data and analysis to policy-makers. To that end, we have formed strong relationships with our partners, developed world-class expertise, established robust methodologies, pursued constant innovation and explored new ways to meet the data needs of Canadians.

We use sample surveys, administrative and new emerging data sources, and the census, conducted once every five years, to build, maintain and further strengthen our data infrastructure in Canada. This infrastructure reflects a support of our values, our laws and societal needs with good facts and evidence. This evidence and need for unbiased data—not influenced by factors other than statistical rigour and independence—was made explicit through changes to the Statistics Act in 2017, subsequent to the return of the mandatory long-form census in 2016.

Canadians, 88% in fact, say they trust Statistics Canada. The 2016 census achieved the highest-ever response rate, which lends further support for a strong and credible statistical system in Canada.

Meeting the data needs of our bilingual society, where English and French have had official language status for the past 50 years, is something we take very seriously at Statistics Canada. We are unaware of any other statistical agency in the world that has acquired expertise equivalent to ours or built such an extensive wealth of knowledge around a society with two official languages as dynamic as the one we have here in Canada.

We are also committed to meeting the specific needs of language rights holders, a commitment I care deeply about. I'd like to take a few moments to show you that by sharing some of the tangible measures we have taken at Statistics Canada in the past few years.

First, we secured stable funding for a language statistics program at the department, as provided for in the 2019 budget. Through a leading-edge centre of expertise for statistical production and analysis for Canada's official languages, we can support related government initiatives. Our efforts support the official languages action plan and give official language communities, as well as all Canadians, access to high-quality information.

In 2017, we assembled Canada's leading experts through a formal advisory committee on language statistics to help guide our commitment to further strengthen our capacity to serve Canadians with the best information possible, the measure of right holders being an important focus.

Given the specific requirements that define minority language rights holders both within and outside Quebec, we developed, through robust qualitative testing, a module of comprehensible questions in both languages to ensure that we could obtain a highly reliable count of right holders.

To ensure that the questions designed through qualitative testing would work to yield high quality and reliable results, we conducted a large-scale quantitative test with 135,000 households in 2019.

Over the past many years, Statistics Canada has also strengthened its ability to obtain and maintain administrative data on school enrollments from other jurisdictions, including enrollments in minority language schools across this country.

In addition, together with the Department of Canadian Heritage, we built the capacity to produce geographic databases that make it possible to overlay the location of rights holders' children and the exact location of every minority language education facility in Canada. This will enable Statistics Canada to determine the distance between where rights holders live and where the education facility is located geographically.

We are also working with the Department of Canadian Heritage, as well as other federal partners, to develop a new post-census survey on official language minorities in Canada. The survey should provide relevant contextual information on rights holders' intentions when it comes to sending their children to a minority language education facility. The survey should also highlight the challenges official language minority communities face, including access to education in their official language.

The census is a signature data collection vehicle that dates back to 1666 in Canada, and one that obviously has evolved since in content and methodology. It serves our nation's needs for high-quality data at low levels of geography for very small populations. It provides a statistical basis upon which numerous legal, statutory and policy programs are assessed, and subsequent decisions are made to increase their effectiveness, including the Employment Equity Act, the Official Languages Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, the Employment Insurance Act and Canada Pensions Plan, just to name a few.

However, the census is a specific snapshot in time and, on its own, cannot provide all the information rights holders are seeking. It is therefore important to build an ecosystem of data that will shed light on this important issue. To that end, Statistics Canada is exploring various data sources that will help paint an accurate picture of rights holders. This includes provincial and territorial data on annual school enrolment and a follow-up survey of rights holders to produce estimates of the number of parents who intend to send their children to a minority language education facility.

Indeed, existing questions on mother tongue and language spoken at home on the census, along with annual administrative data on school enrolments and the possible addition of a module of five questions on rights holders and a post-censal survey, would immensely strengthen the information on this vital aspect of our bilingual society.

We are eager to continue working with our partners to enrich this important ecosystem of data.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Emmanuel Dubourg

Thank you, Mr. Arora. You did that in record time, so we can now move into questions and answers.

I will turn the floor over to Mr. Généreux for six minutes.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to our witnesses today. To say that we were eager to meet with them is putting it mildly.

My first question is this. Is Statistics Canada an arm's length agency, in other words, independent from the government and equipped with its own board of directors? If so, can the political powers that be ask you to include certain questions in the census?

3:40 p.m.

Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada

Anil Arora

We are referred to as a department; we are under the authority of a minister. We are independent to the extent that we have control over our methodology, meaning, the decisions we make are by default our own. Since 2017, however, Statistics Canada has had a process in place to ensure greater transparency around its decision-making.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

I'll rephrase my question. Can the political class order you to include questions in the census?

3:40 p.m.

Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada

Anil Arora

Section 21 of the Statistics Act gives cabinet the responsibility of approving the content of the census, which is then published in the Canada Gazette to inform Canadians.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Given what you've just said or read in your statement, my inclination would be to end the meeting right there and declare the matter resolved.

Will both the short-form and long-form questionnaires include questions pertaining to rights holders the next time a census of population of Canada is taken, yes or no?

3:40 p.m.

Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada

Anil Arora

That hasn't been determined yet. As I just said, the content of the census is determined by cabinet, pursuant to the act. In 2019, we conducted qualitative testing, followed by quantitative testing.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Can you share the results of those qualitative and quantitative tests with the committee?

3:40 p.m.

Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada

Anil Arora

Absolutely. We are in the process of finalizing the results, and we'll be releasing them in a few months.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Very well. Will the next census be taken in 2020?

3:40 p.m.

Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada

Anil Arora

It will be taken in May 2021.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

That leaves 14 or 15 months until the next census.

You told us that this is an issue you care about deeply. Those are your words, not mine. That makes this a serious concern in your mind.

3:45 p.m.

Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada

Anil Arora

Indeed.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

If the person at the helm of Statistics Canada considers this a serious concern, is there reason to think that the 2021 census will address rights holders using the questions you tested?

It's a straightforward question. Can you give us a yes or no answer?

3:45 p.m.

Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada

Anil Arora

As I said, that responsibility falls to cabinet under the current act.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

What you're telling us today is that the ball is in the Liberal government's court. We will find out from the government whether it truly cares about rights holders in Canada.

I would remind you that, back in 2017, the Standing Committee on Official Languages recommended in its report that the 2021 census include these questions. I can't recall whether it was you, personally, who appeared before the committee and told us that the agency would be doing testing and would see what results it yielded.

Since the decision is up to cabinet—and now I look to the committee members from the Liberal Party of Canada—will the census finally include the two questions on rights holders, once and for all? Are you going to recommend that cabinet include them?

3:45 p.m.

Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada

Anil Arora

Bear in mind that this process is decades old; it isn't just starting in 2021.

Our role is to carry out testing, consultations and analysis. We are statisticians, not politicians. That means we do our best to really test the census content in line with the priorities that have been established.

We make recommendations to cabinet or to our minister—

March 12th, 2020 / 3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Arora, I'm going to repeat my question. You said earlier that this issue mattered to you. If that's true, are you going to recommend to cabinet that the next census include questions on rights holders?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Emmanuel Dubourg

You have only two seconds left. You'll have an opportunity to follow up, Mr. Généreux.

It is Mr. Arseneault's turn for the next six minutes.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Chair, I don't really like doing this, but I'm going to pick up where my fellow member Mr. Généreux left off. Mr. Arora, my understanding is that you will be recommending to the Government of Canada that rights holders under section 23 be enumerated using the short-form questionnaire for the 2021 census. Is that correct?

3:45 p.m.

Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada

Anil Arora

As I said, the content—

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Is that what you're saying, yes or no?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Emmanuel Dubourg

Mr. Arseneault, let's let Mr. Arora answer the question.