Now that the big political summer shutdowns are over, the door has opened to consider how the public service system works. For example, even as its existence was far from settled by last fall’s election, the Post-Secondary Education Student Loan Program survived the Federal Budget.
How so? First, the government recognized that it had already cut off the program to low-income, first-generation students because of a poorly understood and badly enforced “debt-to-income threshold.” Second, as Adam Connor describes in The Spaces Between, the government realized that this was not just bad economics but, more fundamentally, a matter of social justice. Their response to that realization was “Grace Under Fire.”
But to restore education access for those already in school is not enough. The government’s independent oversight agency, Statistics Canada, recently released its annual report on Parliament’s use of its services. To cite one recent example, in March the government had 334,523 posts (for which data was available) in the strategic priorities and policy frameworks review (SPK). That’s 19 per cent more than its counterpart the previous year.
In each case, the SPK provides recommendations for the government to adopt, one of which is: “Faster and broader National Statistic Analysis and Reporting” or NSAR.
Currently, NSAR’s annual catch-up report is published by Statistics Canada (SC) on May 31, not even two months after the formal fall response deadline of January 31. Consequently, NSAR is both an opportunity and a threat to the CBC.
NSAR is designed to broaden what SC collects. It is a big deal. The statistics include “personal and economic indicators,” one of which is the percentage of women in Parliament, up from 11 per cent in the previous Parliament to 17 per cent.
The new statistical system will also enable corporations and individuals to place more trust in government, to “narrow the productivity gap between public and private sector output,” as the CBC put it. From the perspective of producers, they will have a better idea about the overall GDP.
What might be more important, however, is the evidence available by giving producers a tool with which to challenge governments. There are two ways that this might happen. First, producers could speak up to produce NSAR. That’s the route the financial services industry took under Paul Martin’s former Economic Action Plan.
Second, when the sector is satisfied with the quantity of data, it might go about “right-sizing” what’s known as its “prime data share.” For example, the financial services industry shares its data far more widely than the government does on the number of Canadians with home mortgages or credit cards.
Canadians are a little ahead of the financial services industry on this, which, even so, is a good thing. However, given the government’s small contribution to NSAR, Canadians could find themselves left at the data execution table because the political sector does not keep up with what other industries do.
Shouldn’t we like to see Canadians gain a greater grip on the way their country is run — and not just by the government? Canadians should be free to access all the goods and services the public sector provides, even in the times when its representatives shut their mouths.
About the author:
*On a personal note, some readers are reminded of Rob Ford. Here’s a link to his book Start With Why.
*Shelagh Day is the President and Chief Executive Officer of StatsCan. StatCan is a public information organization that provides statistics, support services and analytical analyses. Statistics Canada creates or acquires statistics using information from almost 300 different sources, and provides that information to a variety of stakeholders who have different information needs, including private-sector organizations and individuals, other government institutions, the private sector, industry, policy makers, journalists and citizens.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.