Ex-StatsCan chiefs make last-ditch appeal to fix ‘egregious flaw’ in stats agency governance bill

Tend to agree with Smith and Fellegi:

A pair of former chief statisticians made a last-ditch plea to Senators last week to fix what one said was an “egregious flaw” that “fundamentally undermines” a government bill’s aim to give Statistics Canada more independence.

In an appearance in front of the Senate’s Social Affairs, Science, and Technology Committee Nov. 30, Wayne Smith and Ivan Fellegi restated the case they made in front of the House of Commons committee that studied Bill C-36: that the changes to the Statistics Act that purport to give the chief statistician more independence, should come with a more-stringent hiring process.

“I’m very conscious of the fact this is the 23rd hour in terms of this legislation,” said Mr. Smith, who served as the chief statistician from 2010 until he resigned in September 2016 in protest over the role Shared Services Canada plays in handling Statistics Canada’s information technology.

Mr. Smith called a lack of specificity in the bill over how the chief statistician is selected the “one egregious flaw in the legislation that fundamentally undermines the achievement of its objective.” The bill would change the chief statistician’s term to a fixed five years served under good behaviour, instead of the current term that lets them stay on as long as the government wants them to.

Both Mr. Smith and Mr. Fellegi—who served as the country’s chief statistician from 1985 to 2008—are calling for the creation of a three-person non-partisan selection committee to create a shortlist of candidates for the governor-in-council appointment (which would ultimately be decided by cabinet), as well as for the bill to clearly define what requirements a chief statistician should have.

“The new proposed bill gives a great deal more authority on professional issues to the chief statistician,” Mr. Fellegi said. “That makes it that much more important that he or she should be properly qualified. And an appropriately composed search committee should have that task.”

But Liberal Senator Jane Cordy (Nova Scotia), a member of the Social Affairs Committee and the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, told The Hill Times she doesn’t think the bill needs changing.

Sen. Cordy, who said she was first approached about sponsoring the bill in the spring by the government’s representative in the Senate Peter Harder (Ottawa, Ont.), pointed to comments made by Independent Senator Tony Dean (Ontario) during the Nov. 30 committee meeting that selection committees don’t eliminate potential bias.

“I’m a fan of search committees,” Sen. Dean told the former chief statisticians, but added he didn’t think the bill necessarily required changing. Instead, the recommendation could be rolled into an observation for the minister to consider.

There is precedent for choosing the chief statistician by committee, according to Mr. Fellegi, who said the appointment of his predecessor, Martin Wilk, was conducted that way. Mr. Wilk’s appointment came after a period in the late 1970s when Statistics Canada didn’t have the stellar reputation it enjoys today, Mr. Fellegi said, and needed a “transformative” leader.

“We found a transformative chief statistician who wouldn’t have applied because he was vice-president of AT&T, being paid probably five times as much, at least, as the offer from the government of Canada,” Mr. Fellegi said, adding that the search committee “basically appealed to his conscience” to have him return to Canada from the United States to take the job from 1980 to 1985.

Conservative Senator Linda Frum (Ontario), the official opposition critic for the bill in the Senate, said during her second-reading speech on Oct. 5 that the chief statistician should also be subject to approval by both houses of Parliament.

“If this government wants to demonstrate its sincere desire for a more arm’s-length relationship between the agency and the government of the day, it should support such an amendment, that parliamentary approval must be required before appointing a new chief statistician,” Sen. Frum said.

On Dec. 1, Sen. Frum’s office told The Hill Times that following the start of the committee’s study of the legislation, she still saw this as a shortcoming, but that there were no proposed amendments yet formalized.

via Ex-StatsCan chiefs make last-ditch appeal to fix ‘egregious flaw’ in stats agency governance bill – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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