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House of Commons Hansard #135 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ukraine.

Topics

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, going back to the discussion we were having about the 92 years and the requirement for that data to become accessible to the public, the fact that the member is suggesting we need to consent to that in advance underscores the disregard for how important it is for the data to be a requirement. Requiring people to fill out the long form census is what makes the data relevant. If we do it in a fashion that lets people make the decision as to whether or not they want to do it, the data will be skewed. Likewise, if the only people whose data we are giving out 92 years from now are those who consent to it, the data would be skewed because it would only be representative of the people who are interested in giving it out. Therefore, it underscores the fact that I believe the former Conservative government did not understand the benefit in having the data be a requirement.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Mr. Speaker, all data could be used. People would be giving their consent to have their information put out there and their name used. If they do not give consent, and I go back to the anonymization of the data, they do not have their name attached to it. We still have the exact information and exactly what is there, but one's name is not attached to it. People should have the choice to do that. I think it is disrespectful to just put the data out there without consulting Canadians.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-36, an act to amend the Statistics Act, an act with the stated purpose of strengthening the independence of Statistics Canada.

I would like to begin by thanking my hon. colleague the member for Haldimand—Norfolk for her leadership on this file, and I would like to start by stating my support and the support of my colleagues for Stats Canada and its staff for the great work they do. Whether Canadians realize it or not, we use that information provided by Stats Canada quite frequently, and it has done and continues to do some very good work.

To be completely honest, I did not know much about the Statistics Act prior to reading Bill C-36, but the changes proposed in Bill C-36 would have a direct and significant impact not only on Stats Canada but also on the way data is recorded, stored, and used here in Canada.

The Liberals have touted themselves as the party of transparency and accountability, and they would also argue that the bill is a continuation of this pledge. Yet, when reading the bill, I find it becomes clear that instead of increasing accountability and transparency, the bill does the exact opposite.

I should say that the bill is not all bad. In fact, at this moment there are many sections with which I do agree, but I plan to break the bill down into four major components and discuss each one separately.

First, the bill would appoint the chief statistician during good behaviour for a fixed, renewable term of five years, removable only for cause by the Governor in Council. It would also assign the chief statistician, or CS, the powers related to methods, procedures, and operations of Stats Canada.

Section 4 of the act would be replaced by subclause 4(1), which I will read:

The Governor in Council shall appoint the Chief Statistician of Canada to be the deputy head of Statistics Canada.

What my colleagues opposite would argue is that they would be giving the CS more independence and making him or her more accountable. Yet, as this above subclause states, the CS is appointed by the minister. This could easily be used as a partisan appointment, and we would be essentially assigning this person power related to methods, procedures, and operations of Stats Canada.

My point here is that the Liberals' pledge openness and transparency, yet there are other instances including just a year ago when parliamentary oversight of federal spy agencies was brought before this place. The Prime Minister unilaterally appointed my friend from Ottawa South as the committee chair, not to mention the PM's power to direct the committee to revise its annual and special reports to him if he believes the disclosure would injure international security, defence, or international relations.

Further, while it may not have been intended by the bill we are debating today, as it is currently written, the CS would be authorized to decide where Stats Canada data is stored. It is my understanding that there is an agreement to house the data with Shared Services Canada, but under the bill, the CS would be authorized to move it, or could be authorized, which might result in some security concerns.

This data is about Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and it is our job to ensure that any information they provide is kept private. After the most recent census, many concerned citizens reached out to me regarding the invasive questions they were forced to answer for fear of prosecution.

Under Bill C-36, the CS would have the authority to develop questioning within those surveys. We could potentially have a partisan appointee developing the questions within those surveys. It seems to me that this could potentially skew the important data collected by Stats Canada.

The second issue is that Bill C-36 would establish the Canadian statistics advisory council, which would be composed of 10 members and would replace the National Statistics Council, the NSC. The council would advise the CS and minister and focus on the quality of the national statistical system, including the relevance, accuracy, accessibility, and timelines of that information produced. The council would be required to make a public annual report on the state of the system.

Much like with my previous concerns, let us take a look directly at Bill C-36, regarding membership:

The Council is composed of, in addition to the Chief Statistician, not more than 10 other members appointed by the Governor in Council to hold office during pleasure, including one Chairperson.

The chief statistician would be an ex-officio member of that council. Therefore, we now have a CS appointed by the minister and an advisory council appointed by the minister. This is just another opportunity for members to give their Liberal friends appointments.

Why does the government require a new council when there is already one in place, which has been working very well since the 1980s? It seems like a waste of taxpayer dollars just to replace one council with a new one. Perhaps the government should consider the taxpayer in this instance.

Another problem with the new Canadian statistics advisory council is the lack of proper representation. The current council has representation from all provinces and territories, but under the new council, there would be only 10 representatives. Therefore, my question is this. Which provinces or territories is the government planning to leave without representation on this council?

The third issue I have is that the bill would no longer require the consent of respondents to transfer their census information to Library and Archives Canada, and would repeal imprisonment as a penalty for any offence committed by a respondent. This suggested change in Bill C-36 is full of potential issues. I understand that the transfer of Canadians' data after 92 years might seem insignificant, but at the end of the day, this information is about Canadians and what belongs to them.

The government should not be deciding what can and cannot be transferred without the consent of respondents. This is the exact opposite of the transparency that the government is hiding behind. It is our previous government that was responsible for repealing the penalty of imprisonment for every survey except the mandatory short form census.

Finally, the bill would amend certain provisions by modernizing the language of the act to better reflect current methods of collecting statistical information. Ensuring that our acts use language that is appropriate to reflect new and upcoming methods of collecting statistical information is important to keep Statistics Canada up to date. In this quickly changing global environment, I would note that the bill would do nothing to change the fact that the long form census and census of agriculture are both mandatory, which leads me to my next issue: the mandatory long form census.

It was our previous government that introduced the voluntary national household survey, which replaced the mandatory long form census. When the Liberal government reinstituted the long form census, I was surprised by the number of constituents who expressed their concerns about the invasive questions that they were forced to answer. This is something on which I strongly disagree with members opposite. I do not believe that we should be forcing Canadians to give out this personal information under threat of prosecution.

As an MP, I have always given top priority to the privacy and security of Canadian citizens, as does everyone in the House, I am sure. I would like to quote my colleague the member for Haldimand—Norfolk, who said:

In closing, there is no doubt our society relies on information that it receives from the work done by Statistics Canada. It is important work, but the private lives of Canadians should never be put in jeopardy. Canadians, in their personal and business affairs, need to be able to trust the data that they give and get from Statistics Canada, and betraying that trust does not promote a stable environment where quality data can be obtained.

As I said at the beginning, I find myself supportive of a number of clauses of the bill, but I am also concerned about others. I seriously hope that the government will take into account some of the issues I have raised as we move forward to enhance Statistics Canada and the Statistics Act.

I would like to reiterate my robust support for the employees of Statistics Canada for the job they do each and every day on our behalf.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a number of questions, but I think the most pertinent to the member is in regard to the resignation of the former chief statistician of Statistics Canada, Mr. Wayne Smith. We know that he was a dedicated public servant who very clearly had every intention to make sure Statistics Canada was doing its job.

My question is on the reason for his resignation. What does my colleague believe in regard to this, and should the Liberal government be embarrassed by the fact that Mr. Smith felt so compelled to leave his post?

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, based on my speech, that is what my point was. We need to ensure that changes are made to the bill to strengthen it. The governing party is putting forward the bill, and hopefully it is listening to what we have been saying today.

However, there are two most important things that stick out, to me. One is the release of information and taking away Canadians' ability to make a choice. I have said many times in the House that the more options we give Canadians, the more choices they will give based on their personal situation. Therefore, taking away that choice is a very concerning part to me.

The other is taking away regional representation. I do not think it is right to take the current council down from 40 to 10 members, leaving some provinces or territories without representation. I hope the government does take a look at that and hopefully makes some changes if it feels they are necessary.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, members may agree to disagree on certain points, but all in all, there is some agreement and I appreciate the words that have been expressed so far this morning. I believe there is a consensus in the House that the information Statistics Canada provides is of great value. This legislation is moving more toward an independent Statistics Canada, which I would argue would be a healthier situation.

There is something that has not been referred to much in this discussion and that is the dropping of the penalty of imprisonment, which was often used when individuals said negative things toward Stats Canada. It really was not justified. I do not think anyone was ever put into prison. There might have been one individual who was, but it was more out of a protest and a willingness to want to go to prison.

I wonder if the member could provide some comments in regard to getting rid of that particular requirement, which we think is a positive thing, and anything else he might see fit to comment on.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not disagree with everything in the bill. There are some parts I agree with.

I cannot speak for my friend and his riding, but a number of my constituents approached me who were frustrated with that threat of imprisonment. That was their main concern. Everyone was going to fill out their census form anyway, but it was the wording and the threat that it could happen that concerned them. They felt that the government was being heavy-handed and would throw them in jail if they did not fill out the form. I do not know if that issue was raised in the member's riding, but it was raised with me many times, and rightfully so. The government should not be threatening people with jail time if they do not fill out the census form. As I said, my constituents were going to do it anyway, but the threat just seemed a little heavy-handed.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate having the opportunity to speak this morning. I will be sharing my time with the member for Richmond Centre.

Like the members who have already spoken today, I want to talk about Bill C-36, which is meant to strengthen Statistics Canada's independence. Together, we will look at whether this bill can achieve that official objective because it might also have unofficial objectives.

I think it would be useful to explain to our constituents, including the wonderful people of Beauport—Limoilou, that Statistics Canada was created in 1971 because the federal government has a duty to collect and compile statistics on Canada and its people. Its duty is right there in the law that sets out the federal government's responsibilities. Statistics are therefore under federal jurisdiction. Even provincial statistics are within the agency's purview.

Statistics Canada has been serving Canadians for 40 years. It has produced many studies that I am sure have formed the basis for many of Canada's public policies. Those studies have led to positive outcomes for all Canadians.

In our Liberal democracy, data are extremely important. I used data when I was studying political science, and I use them now in my day-to-day work.

Statistics Canada seeks to produce statistics on the country's populations, resources, economy, society, and culture. Statistics Canada is currently conducting over 300 studies, which will provide us with objective information that will help us make informed decisions while ensuring that the source of that information, the everyday lives of our fellow Canadians, is kept confidential.

I use these data in my capacity as an MP and so do my employees. The data are also used by businesses, universities, and scientists. They are used by the parties to determine their political platforms so that, when a party wins the election and takes office, it can develop informed public policies.

What does Bill C-36 do exactly? After reading the bill, my understanding is that it makes changes to four key areas.

First, the chief statistician would be appointed for a fixed term of five years, renewable for good behaviour and removable only for cause by the Governor in Council. That seems commendable. Although it is not the bill's intention, the chief statistician would nonetheless be authorized to choose where the statistical data would be stored. We think that could be problematic since the government gave the new Canadian statistics advisory council its name and so it obviously expects that council to advise the chief statistician.

Second, the bill provides for the creation of a new Canadian statistics advisory council made up of 10 members. It would replace the National Statistics Council, which currently has 13 members. I will come back to this later since it seems that this change will negatively impact provincial and territorial representation.

Third, under the bill, the consent of Canadians will no longer be required to transfer their census information to Library and Archives Canada.

Fourth, the bill will remove the penalty of imprisonment for Canadians who fail to fill out the census forms, a change that we strongly support.

I would like to say that one of our Conservative colleagues in the previous Parliament, Mr. Preston, had brought forward a bill to repeal the penalty of imprisonment for all surveys. Unfortunately, the bill did not receive royal assent before the writ was dropped.

Obviously, we support this aspect of the bill given that we wanted to make this change.

I will now speak to our position on this bill. We want to debate it in the House and vote to send it to committee for more in-depth study in order to make some amendments. In particular, we find that it is very important to amend the provisions of the bill that would change the National Statistics Council to the Canadians Statistics Advisory Council, a body with 10 members instead of 13.

We believe that this new advisory council would give the Liberals another opportunity to appoint their cronies. We have another concern. Since the council will provide advice about relevance, the surveys could be biased towards the Liberals and even friends of the council.

We find it hard to understand why the government must establish a new council rather than just revising the mandate of the current National Statistics Council, which currently has 13 members representing the 10 provinces and three territories.

Much like we did during the debate on the selection of the next Supreme Court of Canada justice, we voiced our grave concerns regarding the importance of ensuring strong representation from all regions of Canada on the Supreme Court.

Because the council is going to have only 10 members instead of 13, we find ourselves debating the issue through the lens of defending the federation. Obviously, the representation of three jurisdictions in Canada will have to be cut from the council. Does this mean that three of the 10 provinces will no longer be represented on the new council, or have the Liberals decided that the three Canadian territories, that is, Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories, will no longer be represented? In either case, whether representation on the council is taken away from three provinces or the three territories, we think it is appalling.

As I said earlier, the mission of Canada's statistics agency is to provide information to Canadians, particularly for the development of sound public policies with objectives based on reliable hard facts. At present, the council that is supposed to support the work of the chief statistician so that he can effectively run the agency will not have the support of people who understand the realities of the provinces and territories.

Furthermore, the bill does nothing to address the concerns raised by Mr. Smith, the former chief statistician. He resigned last summer after voicing his concerns, which are being ignored. When he appeared before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates on November 16, 2016, Mr. Smith shared his three main concerns with us. This first was this:

...Shared Services Canada represented a major and unacceptable intrusion on the independence of Statistics Canada.

His second concern was as follows:

...the arrangement with Shared Services Canada imposed on Statistics Canada was inconsistent with the confidentiality guarantees given by the Statistics Act to persons and organizations providing information to Statistics Canada for statistical purposes.

His third concern was:

...dependence on Shared Services Canada was hobbling Statistics Canada in its day-to-day operations, reducing effectiveness, increasing costs, and creating unacceptable levels of risk to the delivery of Statistics Canada's programs.

The former chief statistician says he was not satisfied with the government's response to his concerns. I get the impression that this new bill does not fare much better.

For all these reasons, we hope that during review in committee, the government will accept our key amendments.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague on his speech. He is clearly fascinated with how important these statistics are. I also want to thank him for the documentation he provided this morning.

However, given that the last part of his speech was pre-empted a bit for lack of time, I would ask him to say a bit more on what he believes to be the government's motivation for insisting on using Shared Services Canada, which will create independence issues, according to chief statistician Wayne Smith.

Is it possible that, after throwing so much money out the window in so little time, the government is now looking to make cuts even in areas that would require investment?

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I saw my colleague here today, I knew he would be the first to ask a question.

The bill states right there in black and white that its purpose is to strengthen the independence of Statistics Canada and give the chief statistician more tools with which to exercise that independence. We should, however, look at the Liberal Party's record on this issue so far. Its chief statistician resigned last summer, and its bill does not address Mr. Smith's concerns.

Mr. Smith would appear to be in a better position than the government to ascertain what Statistics Canada needs. The government's response to the needs he expressed is inadequate. I would like the government to explain how its bill will address the chief statistician's concerns.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the member can appreciate that there are many Canadians who were somewhat disappointed about the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census. As a party, we made a commitment to reinstate the mandatory usage of the long-form census.

I wonder if the member could provide some insight on the current thinking regarding this form today by the Conservative Party. Do the Conservatives recognize the long-form census as a positive thing and that it would be good to keep it mandatory?

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, all surveys are very important to our democratic society. They provide basic information, real objective data that enable members of society, such as academics, political parties, and departments, to design public policy that meets Canadians' needs.

I myself have always been proud to respond to Statistics Canada surveys. I think they are essential to our democracy.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my colleague could answer this question. Do you believe that Statistics Canada should be independent from any government meddling? How would the Conservatives work to ensure that independence, and would they be committed to that independence in the case of, perhaps, a distant Conservative government following through to maintain that independence?

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Just to clarify for the member, I am sure when she said “Do you believe”, she meant the hon. member, not the Speaker.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, Statistics Canada must absolutely be independent.

In passing, when we were in government, Canadian agencies and all crown corporations had the privilege of having a government that absolutely respected their independence. We see quite the opposite with this government.

For example, I participated in the study on the future of Canada Post. Government members issued an extremely intrusive report in which they brazenly told the crown corporation what it was to do instead of telling it to carry out its mandate and provide proper service to all Canadians.

The independence of our crown corporations and government agencies is very important. I will repeat that, ultimately, the former chief statistician was not pleased with the government. That may be a sign that the current government does not respect Statistic Canada's independence.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2017 / 11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Alice Wong Conservative Richmond Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, today I wish to join my colleagues in the discussion regarding Bill C-36 and the proposed changes to the Statistics Act. Although many changes are proposed in the bill, ranging from minor language updates to creating a new Canadian statistics advisory council, the broader intent of the bill is to provide greater independence to Statistics Canada, or StatsCan, as I will be referring to it in my speech.

As many of my colleagues have already mentioned, the work done by StatsCan is very important in ensuring the appropriate protection of Canadians' personal information. Moreover, I recognize that the information stored and produced by StatsCan is crucial for wise and evidence-based decision-making by governments and that it provides important information for research and academic institutions.

As a former researcher myself, I think we can all agree that this information must be accurate and trustworthy to be relevant. However, what is even more important is that the privacy of Canadians is protected and that the collected information is kept secure.

I have three primary concerns regarding the proposed changes in Bill C-36. I will begin by speaking about the intended independence of Statistics Canada and the individual serving as the chief statistician, the CS. I will also comment on the proposed Canadian statistics advisory council, and I will finish my debate with the concern about information-sharing and the importance of privacy for Canadians.

I wish to state that the independence of StatsCan and the chief statistician is not inherently a poor decision. However, it is of great importance that should independence be given, there would be sufficient guidelines on what the chief statistician's role would be in how information would be handled. Guidelines regarding where information is stored, how it is regulated, and what information is gathered from Canadians must be considered.

As Bill C-36 proposes, the minister would no longer have direct control or influence over the methods, procedures, and operations of StatsCan. Instead, all of those decisions and processes would be determined by the chief statistician.

We must remember that it is elected officials who are accountable to Canadians, and when we give too much independence to departments, such as StatsCan, we are limiting the accountability of that organization to Canadians.

We answer to the people, and when the people are those involved, as they are in the circumstance of personal information and data, there must be a source of accountability. This notion of accountability extends further to those who oversee the programs and activities of the organization. This leads to my next concern.

Currently, the National Statistics Council serves as an overarching advisory committee. It was established in 1985, with members from all territories and provinces. The council provides insight and advice to the chief statistician regarding StatsCan's activities and programs, as described on StatsCan's website. The proposed Canadian statistics advisory council would not include representation from across the country. Instead, the new council would have only 10 members. They would report to both the chief statistician and the minister and would be tasked with producing an annual public report on the current statistical system.

It is simple math. Three territories or provinces would not be represented on the new council. Their feedback would be eliminated. This shows incredible disrespect for the provinces and territories.

I understand that the government enjoys creating new boards as a means to appoint its friends to new positions. I cannot understand why it could not have simply altered the current council to incorporate new responsibilities. This would help maintain equal representation from across the country.

When we are dealing with Canadians' personal information, we must ensure that those interacting with the data at StatsCan, as a whole, are not seeking to further the government's agenda. This would not only fly in the face of independence but would also undermine the government's accountability to Canadians.

As I previously mentioned, the protection of Canadians' security is of utmost importance. Furthermore, the information collected must be appropriate and not viewed as invasive and too personal. With the independence of the chief statistician, he or she would be required to generate the questions included in the census or survey. It is important that there be accountability and that the questions generated are not deemed to be invasive, as that could skew results should individuals feel the need to inaccurately represent themselves. I understand that this is not the intent of the bill, but it is one of the concerns I have.

One last point on privacy is that Bill C-36 would remove the requirement for consent to transfer and store information records after 92 years. When information has been stored at StatsCan for 92 years, the data would be moved to Library and Archives Canada, where it would be accessible by all Canadians. I think many of my colleagues would agree that in the case of StatsCan data, it is not the place of the government to determine what personal information is kept private or made public without the consent of Canadians. When we are discussing private information, it is always the right of citizens to give their consent. It is not for the government to determine at what point consent for information-sharing should be waived.

As a former professor and self-proclaimed lifelong learner, I value the academic and research communities and the importance of having relevant, quality data. For this reason, I understand the importance of Statistics Canada and all the work it does. However, I too have participated in research and believe in the respect for and protection of citizen information. The government must strike the appropriate balance between protecting the privacy rights of Canadians and collecting good-quality data.

I look forward to continued debate on the bill, and I hope the concerns I have highlighted throughout my speech will be considered.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Gatineau Québec

Liberal

Steven MacKinnon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her speech and for her constructive suggestions. I am sure some of them will be examined.

One thing we do not hear a lot coming from our friends across the way is praise for the independent work of Statistics Canada. We do not have to go very far to have a Conservative admit privately that the decision to go to the national household survey and upend our previous long-from census was perhaps something they paid too high a price for, given the outcome of that debate.

I wonder if the hon. member could reflect on the expertise of Statistics Canada and on the decision made to go to the national household survey and not make it mandatory.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Alice Wong Conservative Richmond Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, in my speech I mentioned more than three or four times the importance of the work of Stats Canada and recognized the usefulness of collecting quality data. The most important thing to remember when collecting any data is the protection of privacy and the assurance that the data is reliable. I also mentioned in my speech that it is important to have accurate and relevant data in decision-making. That is why, although I have some concerns with the bill, I believe there are good measures in it that will help keep our research data relevant.

What is most important is that the people who are asked to answer the questions do not feel that the questions are too invasive or too personal. Otherwise they would probably give us wrong data, and that data would not be useful.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, there have been debates and arguments that the independence of Statistics Canada cannot be achieved when the government is trying to impose on it an information technology system through Shared Services Canada. On the one hand, Statistics Canada is asked to collect important data and to do it in a way that would be the most efficient, according to its own standards, but on the other hand, we are telling Stats Canada to do it while imposing on it methodology and technology that would impede this ability.

I would like to hear the comments and views of my colleague on this seemingly difference of opinion, and difference in perception on the independence of Statistics Canada.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Alice Wong Conservative Richmond Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is important that the independence of Stats Canada be maintained so that a government would not be able to meddle with the data.

However, there should be guidelines as well regarding how the data is stored, the reach of the chief statistician, how the information is collected, and also how the questions are designed. All these are concerns that I have regarding the independence of StatsCan. Of course, I believe that it should be independent, but also there should be guidelines.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague has already mentioned, she is a doctor and a professor and understands research and data. I just want her to comment on the National Statistics Council, its diversity and experience, and what her thoughts are on reducing the size of the council.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Alice Wong Conservative Richmond Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is one of the concerns I mentioned in my speech. That portion of the bill is my major concern, because we have 13 provinces and territories, but in the new council the Liberals are proposing, there are only 10 members. This means that three provinces and territories will not be represented. If we want to have feedback from all the provinces and territories, this part must be amended. We should always include all representation, and their feedback should not be eliminated. This is one of the parts which the government needs to look at to make sure that the respect for all provinces and territories is there so that we will have collected data and feedback from the whole nation.

Statistics ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today in the debate on Bill C-36, an act to amend the Statistics Act.

My understanding is that this bill was introduced by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development on December 7 of last year. It proposes amendments to the Statistics Act with the purpose of strengthening the independence of Statistics Canada. That truly is the rub in this bill. Will this bill actually achieve that?

What this bill purports to do is it would appoint the chief statistician during good behaviour for a fixed renewable term of five years, removable only for cause by the Governor in Council. It would also assign the chief statistician powers related to methods, procedures, and operations of Statistics Canada. What does this change in the bill practically do and where do some of my concerns lie?

First of all, while the minister would still have the ability to issue directives on statistical programs, which means being able to have some ministerial or government oversight on various statistical programs, he would no longer be able to issue directives on methods, procedures, and operations.

It is incumbent on the government to provide more information to Parliament on why it feels that change needs to be made. To me, I think there is actually a functionality of Parliament that could be lost in that particular change. Certainly the minister and his department would, from time to time, require some directive on those particular issues, and making this change might impede their progress on certain efforts there. I would be interested in hearing from the government specific examples or cases which it felt led to the necessary precipitation of this particular change.

The chief statistician may require any directive given to be made public and in writing before acting on the directive. I am not a statistician. My background is in economics. However, for anybody who is doing any sort of research methodology, there might be a survey bias or sample bias or failings in statistical methods if that publicity happens in the wrong format. Certainly the minister might have some interest in that particular component of it as well. Again, I would like to hear from the government about why it is making this particular change, and if there were cases presented to the minister that precipitated this change proposed by the bill.

It is also my understanding that even though this might not be the specific intent of this change in the bill, the chief statistician could now have authorization to choose where data is housed. That is a big concern. I know that privacy and data management are concerns for many Canadians. We have been talking about cybersecurity in various forms and shapes in parliamentary committees and through different pieces of legislation here in the House of Commons.

The government needs to clarify whether or not through this bill the chief statistician would have the authorization to change the data storage locations. My understanding right now is that there is an agreement that much of our data will be stored at Shared Services Canada. There is a broader policy discussion around Shared Services Canada and data management.

I think there would be agreement on all sides of this House that any decision to be made on the warehousing of very sensitive data that Statistics Canada might decide to collect should be informed by ministerial oversight. Prior to this bill passing, the government needs to clarify whether or not it would amend the portion of the bill that might allow that to happen. I certainly would not want to see the chief statistician, who is essentially not accountable to anyone, make an overarching decision on where that level of sensitive data would be housed, especially when there has been parliamentary direction to the housing of data made to date. I might add, just to contextualize this, let us say that the chief statistician chose to use a third party to house some or part of the data. There could be security concerns.

While the whole privacy component sounds sort of dry, it is quite valid. Again, it is incumbent upon the government to ensure that component is clarified and perhaps removed from this bill. I do not think that is an appropriate power for the chief statistician to have.

The chief statistician, under this change, would also have authority to develop questioning within surveys. There is a whole debate around that. We could spend hours talking about how sensitive or how invasive a survey from Statistics Canada should be and what the requirements are to that effect.

I was talking to a colleague at one point about how certain data collection around agricultural activities on farms could be used by businesses to form monopolies and price gouge and all these sorts of things. Many Canadians are very sensitive about the types of information that they share.

Again, I almost feel like the bill is a solution in search of a problem. The government has not really explained why it would give this power to the chief statistician. If there have been particular instances that the Liberals feel that removal of ministerial oversight on this particular issue is beneficial, I think they need to explain that to Canadians. Again, this is within a bill that might seem benign in so many different ways, but this is very impactful on the lives of Canadians. My question on that point is why? I do not understand.

Many of my colleagues have talked about the fact that the bill would create the Canadian statistics advisory council. It would be comprised of 10 members and would replace the National Statistics Council. The council would advise the chief statistician and the minister and would focus on the “quality of the national statistical system, including the relevance, accuracy, accessibility and timeliness” of the statistical information produced. Under this bill, the council would be required to “make public an annual report on the state of the national statistical system”.

The government has produced no evidence as to why it would make this change. This seems crazy. We are replacing a board. I want to refer to a quote on this. The National Statistics Council, which this bill is trying to dissolve, has been in place to advise the chief statistician since the 1980s. It is made up of 40 experts and has been described by the UN as, “a bulwark in defence of the objectivity, integrity, and long-term soundness of Canada's national statistical system”.

With this bill, the Liberals are trying to replace a body that has been described by the United Nations, which the government is quite fond of, as something that is fantastic and working great with a council that is appointed by the government. Given the powers that this council is going to have and the fact that the government is changing it from something that is quite objective and working well, it begs the question, why are the Liberals doing this? Why would they replace this council with political appointees?

Again, there is no evidence in the bill and there has not been any evidence with concrete examples presented in speeches by my colleagues opposite as to why something that is functioning well needs to be replaced. I feel like this is almost something that somebody who wants to be appointed to this new board cooked up and gave to the minister and it was put in this bill. It just makes no sense.

Even so, if the government wants to come forward and say that the NSC is not functional in five or six different areas, then why not just give it a revised mandate? Look at the terms of reference under which the NSC operates and revise them.

I want to park that point for a moment, because in the latter half of my speech, I want to talk about why we are even spending parliamentary time with this bill as a priority. However, to continue on, my colleague who spoke earlier talked about how the NSC has representation from all corners of Canada. My understanding is that with the reduction in numbers, there will definitely be regions of this country that will lose their representation on this board.

That is important, because when looking at the priorities of Statistics Canada and the scope that is currently there, representation from each corner of the country is important. This is why we have Statistics Canada. It looks at regional differences in different types of datasets, which inform us on the best public policy options to take. I am concerned that the reduction in membership will remove the breadth of representation on the board right now.

The bill would no longer require “the consent of respondents to transfer their Census information to Library and Archives Canada and repeals imprisonment as a penalty for any offence committed by a respondent.”

We often talk about consent rights in this place in a wide variety of contexts but consent on information sharing is a topic that Parliament should be seized with. I would suggest that the bill perhaps violates the consent rights of Canadians in this regard. That is certainly not transparency. That would be the opposite of transparency. It is incumbent upon the government to talk about something that is not in the bill right now and that is how it plans to safeguard the consent rights of Canadians as to their information being shared before the bill is passed.

The bill would amend “certain provisions by modernizing the language of the Act to better reflect current methods of collecting statistical information”. That seems reasonable to me. Our legislation in this regard should not be static. We should make sure that our legislation reflects technological advancements and new methodology. That does seem reasonable to me.

The bill will head to industry committee should it pass the House. Industry committee will be seized with hearing witnesses on some of the points that I just raised.

Why is this legislation a priority? This is going to be the third bill that comes through the House of Commons and goes to industry committee and yet none of the bills have had any sort of reference to a jobs plan, innovation strategies, or anything that could particularly help Canada. My question is just simply: why? Why is this a legislative priority of the government? Why is this a priority of the House of Commons, which could be debating issues of much greater importance?

We are talking about statistics and the importance of statistics and I would like to give the House some statistics. Right now, my province has seen a change in unemployment rates in roughly an 18-month period from essentially the natural rate of unemployment in my home city of Calgary to over 10%. This is a sobering statistic.

When I think about what industry committee and the House should be seized with as opposed to changing the structure of the National Statistics Council and spending hours of debate on this, I have to wonder why are we not talking about how Canada's trade policy could be bolstered in light of some of the decisions that are being made in the United States right now. I would love to spend hours debating some strategy in terms of how we can take advantage of the opportunities created by the Canada-European free trade agreement. These are the things that industry committee should be seized with. The fact that the government wants to send this legislation to industry committee seems like it is filibustering that committee. It is very strange.

There are some other things I would like to see come out of industry committee as opposed to this legislation.

We talk about economic diversification in Alberta, which is something I have been interested in during the course of my parliamentary career. Why is industry committee not talking about a jobs plan that could create broader economic conditions for growth? I am speaking of things like a lower tax climate, especially when we look at the changes being made in the United States.

I hear colleagues in the United States saying that the new administration is going to be lowering taxes in several key areas that are going to render investment opportunities in Canada unattractive. Why is industry committee not studying the Canadian tax system, especially the proposed tax increases by the government, and how that will affect the competitiveness of our industries and our investment climate? That would be a great study for industry committee to look at. It could refer some recommendations back to the House. Instead, we have before us a bill that would change the National Statistics Council from 13 members to 10 who are now appointed. It makes no sense.

Something else I would like the industry committee to study that would use statistical data provided by Statistics Canada is how to spur innovation in a country where we have traditionally seen very high publication rates and we have focused on academic research. I fully support academic research and a strong academic research system, but that is where a lot of our investments over successive governments have gone. Why do we not see more industry-sponsored R and D, and why are some of our key strategies for the commercialization of research and development simply licensing technology out of the country? In some of our new and up-and-coming industrial sectors like the competitiveness and the opportunities we have with clean tech, why do we see such low adoption rates of technology that is grown in Canada into Canadian industry? Why is that happening? Is there a policy that the government could undertake that could incent adoption of Canadian clean tech?

I have great respect for the current president of Sustainable Development Technology Canada. I just spent an hour talking to her about these sorts of things. Yet, I am coming into the House of Commons to debate the National Statistics Council when the government has shown no evidence that this needs to be changed.

If I were sitting on the industry committee, I would love to see the government study whether the impact of the carbon price affects mid-size energy sector companies at perhaps disproportionate ways to larger-sector companies; and whether this is the best public policy option to ensure the growth and development of the energy sector. That would be something that I know people in my riding would be very interested in because perhaps that could lead to a revocation of what I think is a very bad piece of public policy. It would not be tangential for the industry committee to even look at topics around price elasticity assumptions related to the carbon tax and potential impacts on the energy sector and various other industrial sectors as they relate to either job growth or job decline. I think that would be in the committee's scope. These are the things that parliamentarians on the industry committee could be studying.

What the government has prioritized in this bill is essentially reducing accountability from Statistics Canada to Parliament. I do not understand it. It seems bizarre to me.

Something I have heard over and over again from people in my community is that they are wondering why the government has not talked about how to retain skilled labour in Alberta during this downturn. I would love to see the industry committee spend some time in Alberta and go and talk to some of the key trade associations and professional groups like geologists and geophysicists and accountants and lawyers, and our whole services industry that we have taken decades to build up in Alberta. I would love the committee members to talk to those groups of people and ask what changes they are facing in terms of their decision to stay in Alberta or not; and then what public policy options the government can look at in terms of keeping them there, so that if there is an opportunity for further investment down the road, labour is not a deterrent to growth.

In fact, the industry committee could even look at the impacts of skilled labour availability in western Canada in terms of how that impacts jobs and growth in the energy sector. That would be such a relevant, interesting study. I have a hope that it would even get national media attention because that is something that parliamentarians could use their time on that would certainly help jobs and growth in Canada, which I would hope would be the mandate of the industry committee. Indeed, I hope it would be the mandate of Parliament.

I have significant concerns with this bill. To re-emphasize, I do not understand why the government has put this forward. More important, the government really owes an explanation to Canadians as to why it has chosen to spend the industry committee's time looking at this when there are so many other pressing concerns that the committee members could be using, and then reporting back to the House with concrete recommendations that could produce a jobs plan for Canada.

In conclusion, outside of explaining some of the key components that I had at the front end of the speech as to why these changes are being made, I hope that the government will also use the time of this House in a more effective way when it comes to creating jobs and economic growth for Canadians.

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12:20 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, in listening to the member, I think she underestimates the importance of Statistics Canada and the work that it does. This is important legislation, contrary to what she might believe. We, as a party, have talked about bringing in legislation to allow for a more independent Statistics Canada. We have done that through this legislation. Therefore, it is the fulfillment of a commitment that was made. It is important to recognize that it is not only Ottawa but many other stakeholders that use the statistical information that is gathered.

The member asked what the legislation does and why we are debating it. It provides for that more independent Statistics Canada. One example of it reinforcing that independence is by assigning authority to the chief statistician to make decisions on several things, such as statistical procedures, methods and professional standards employed for the production of statistics, the content of statistical releases and publications, the timing and methods of dissemination of statistics compiled, and the operations and staff of Statistics Canada. Therefore, I hope the member will recognize that this is important legislation, and will vote accordingly.

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12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite made an implication that I did not refer to in my speech. I do not think anyone here is underestimating or trying to diminish the importance of Statistics Canada to the work that we do in this place. In fact, it is vital. I am constantly asking for statistical analyses from the Library of Parliament when I am doing research that pertains to debating legislation in this House. There are so many people in this country who rely on this data.

However, this is a procedural bill. It changes the functionality of how Statistics Canada operates. It is not about diminishing its importance. Rather, the member opposite did nothing to say why this is a burning, pressing issue that the House of Commons should be seized with. Anybody who is watching this debate today will be saying, “Wait. What are they talking about? Why is this a problem?” This is not an issue for the front page of the newspapers. I have never had an email written to my office about the need to change the National Statistics Council from 13 members to 10 Liberal-appointed members. I would be hard-pressed to find anyone in this place who has received an email from a constituent to that effect. Therefore, the member opposite has unfortunately done a woefully inadequate job of trying to convince the House that this is a matter of significant burning import for Canadians.