Cross and Taylor: Lies, Damned Lies, And Race-Based Statistics

Reading this commentary reminded me of an anecdote that I can’t unfortunately locate: former PM Harper’s decision to replace the mandatory census with the voluntary, and less accurate, National Household Survey in 20ll was driven in part by the data being used by academics, advocates and activists as a basis for more progressive policies.

The alternative, as Cross and Taylor appear to advocate, is not to have visible minority breakdowns in the labour force survey to avoid this use of data. To my mind, it is a head in the sand approach as such data is needed to understand how well Canadian society is working in terms of economic integration.

COVID-19 has demonstrated the various inequalities between different groups. The regular censuses have also captured these inequalities as well so expanding this to the labour force survey (and public service employment equity reports) is consistent with long-standing practice.

To my mind, issues lie more with respect to how the disparities are interpreted, whether narrowly or looking at the range of factors that influence these disparities.

For example, when I look at public service employment equity data, groups that have lower levels of educational attainment (e.g., Blacks, Latin Americans) are less represented among occupations requiring university degrees. This disparity, of course, likely reflects in part earlier barriers and discrimination encountered by those groups (e.g., streaming of Blacks into non-academic streams, recently addressed by the Ford government).

Disaggregated date is need to be aware of disparities and point towards questions regarding the reasons for these disparities, and assess the degree to which policy interventions, and which kinds, may be warranted.

To their credit, Cross and Taylor do some analysis, looking at occupations and visible minorities, highlighting that Koreans, Filipinos and Southeast Asians are more concentrated in the accommodation and food service industry than not visible minorities as an explanation of why these groups were more affected by COVID-19 lockdowns.

But it is ingenuous, at best, to present socioeconomic circumstances as completely unrelated to barriers faced by some groups.

And of course, the data will be used and sometimes misused by advocates and activists, and one could argue that Cross and Taylor are equally and legitimately using data to support their position.

But curious for a former statistician to be arguing for less data and thus less needed information for evidence-based policy. And using France as a model?:

Since July, Statistics Canada has been publishing labour-market data divided into 12 ethnocultural categories including Chinese, South Asian, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean, Japanese, Arab, Black, Filipino, Latin American, White, and Others. Sliced this way, Statcan’s figures reveal the unsurprising fact that unemployment is unevenly distributed across Canada’s racial populations, just as it varies by region, gender and age. The adult Canadian unemployment rate in January was 9.4 percent, but 20.1 percent for Southeast Asians, 16.4 percent for Blacks and 16.6 percent for Latin American Canadians. “Others” had a slightly-better-than-average unemployment rate of 8.9 percent.

This move to produce racially-specific labour-market data may well have been inevitable, given the intersectional enthusiasms of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who recently declared his next budget will be an explicitly “feminist”document. It also follows logically from his government’s creation of Statcan’s Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics in 2018. Equally predictable is the effect this new information has had on public discourse.

The release of race-based labour-market data has provided further fuel to the ascendent view that Canada is an inherently unfair and racist country. Lobby groups and organizations representing the various racial groupsidentified by Statcan have latched onto the new data to back up claims regarding the “negative labour market impact of racism on Black youth” and other collective sins aimed at Canadian society. The figures are also frequently held as proof that employment equity programs and other government market interventions must be scaled to industrial proportions to eliminate the discrimination baked into Canada’s labour market.

But when it comes to fomenting outrage, Statcan is just getting started. In a recent commentary in The Globe and Mail, Anil Arora, Chief Statistician at Statistics Canada, explained his organization’s intention to double down on the collection and dissemination of race-based data. Because the initial effort last July revealed such glaring “racial disparities”, he wrote, Statcan will now be using “data from varying lenses…to measure those inequalities and track the progress being made to address them.”

French law specifically forbids INSEE from processing or analyzing data regarding “ethno-racial classifications” because it could violate constitutional requirements that all citizens must be treated equally.Tweet

As exciting and progressive as all this may seem, however, Statcan should tread carefully. Collecting race data is inherently contentious and divisive, something all national statistical agencies must recognize. While the United States has a long history of collecting very detailed race-based data, others such as France’s Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques (INSEE) do not disseminate any race statistics. In fact, French law specifically forbids INSEE from processing or analyzing data regarding “ethno-racial classifications” because it could violate constitutional requirements that all citizens must be treated equally “without distinction of origin, race or religion.”

As we shall see, unequal racial outcomes revealed by national statistics do not necessarily prove racism, and often lead to intractable debates. This is especially so in a country like Canada, where there’s a large overlap between visible minorities and immigrants who historically take years to match the outcomes for Canadians born in the country. Feeding a culture of grievance that denies any role for cultural differences in generating observed inequality can, paradoxically, perpetuate unequal racial outcomes. And as the state of affairs in the U.S. suggests, a surfeit of race-based statistics is no guarantee of racial harmony.

Neither is Statcan exempt from the principle of opportunity cost. Collecting one set of data inevitably means foregoing others – some of which may be of greater value. For years, researchers from social policy groups such as Cardus have asked for better data on how marital status affects employment and income. This would provide more detail on the important role played by family in the labour market. Yet these requests have long been ignored for cost reasons. Statcan presumably has better things to do with its limited resources. Now, however, in the middle of a pandemic, the agency has suddenly discovered the means to produce divisive race-based unemployment data.

Pandemic and Race

There are many pitfalls and risks associated with attributing different outcomes experienced by different racial groups exclusively to race, especially when these accusations are based on superficial statistics. In its July 2020 labour market report that, for the first time, segmented unemployment by race, Statcan itself noted that the top line figures showing poorer outcomes for most visible minorities categories reflected, in large part, the tendency of certain racial groups to work in industries deeply affected by the pandemic.

For example, 19.1 percent of Koreans, 14.2 percent of Filipinos and 14.0 percent of Southeast Asians were employed in the accommodation and food industry, according to the 2016 Census, compared with only 5.9 percent of Whites. Given the dramatic effect the pandemic-related lockdowns and other measures have had on the hospitality sector, it seems reasonable to conclude that race played little or no role in these unequal outcomes. Rather, it was the circumstances of the industries they were working in.

It has also been widely reported that different racial groups contract Covid-19 at different rates. Some concluded that this was because these groups are particularly disadvantaged by a racist society, while others wondered whether particular racial groups might have a different genetic susceptibility to the virus. As a recent U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research study warns, merely noting differences among racial groups without knowing their source means “the political discourse can gravitate toward ‘biologic explanations’ or explanations based on racial stereotypes which are harmful in themselves and get in the way of policy solutions.” The same study made plain that it was the socio-economic circumstances of particular groups that affected their exposure to the virus. This was due to working in particular industries and using public transit, which increased their contact with other people and, in turn, led to a higher rate of infection. Once the data was corrected for these variables, visible minorities in the U.S. were found to be no more susceptible to the virus than whites.

Given how easily some data can be misinterpreted or misrepresented, it would seem that Statcan has a clear responsibility to caution users about its proper use. Figures regarding the distribution of federal government revenues and spending by province, for example, are regularly twisted by politically-motivated analysts and governments. As a result, Statcan published an article in 2007 offering a detailed explanation for why these statistics should not be considered a scorecard for which provinces are gaining or losing from their dealings with the federal government.

Much of the current debate over racism in Canada arises from the presumption that all aspects of life should be perfectly evenly distributed, and that any deviation from pure equality must be considered prima facie evidence of systemic racism. Tweet

It is, accordingly, curious that these new race-based labour-market figures do not come with a similar warning; race data is far more emotionally and politically incendiary than provincial fiscal data. It is also surprising that Statcan did not directly address the issues raised by France’s refusal to collect race-based data.

Racism of the Gaps

Much of the current debate over racism in Canada arises from the relatively recent presumption that all aspects of life should be perfectly evenly distributed, and that any deviation from pure equality (a term also recently redefined from equality of opportunity to sameness of outcomes) must be considered prima facie evidence of systemic racism. With dizzying speed, this eminently contestable claim has been elevated nearly to conventional wisdom.

In an insightful commentary published earlier this month by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, Vancouver-based writer Sonia Orlu tackled head-on the notion that “any disparity in outcomes between blacks and whites is the direct result of racism, as opposed to class differences, culture, personal ‘(ir)responsibility,’ or any other myriad of situational factors.” As Orlu, who is black, points out, this “racism of the gaps” generally relies on surface-level observations lacking in context or detail.

Nowhere is this assumption more explosive than regarding claims that members of visible minorities are disproportionately targeted, arrested or killed by police. As Orlu points out, a case for systemic racism in policing can only be proven with detailed race-based data showing police interactions as a share of the overall criminal population, rather than the population at large. While racism may create the conditions in which visible minorities commit more crime, simply arresting more visible minorities is not, in and of itself, proof police are acting with racist intent.

Orlu notes, however, that Canada does not collect the sophisticated race-based data necessary to come to an informed observation on this heated topic. With only the most basic statistics available regarding race, arrests and incarcerations, it is easy to conclude that police actions are driven by racism rather than other factors. And even when detailed race and crime evidence is available, as it is in the U.S., Orlu points out it is generally ignored by the media and public because it does not align with popular “anti-racism ideology” narratives. More information, in this case, does not produce a better debate or better decisions.

This problem is further illuminated by economist Tim Harford in his fascinating new book The Data Detective. Harford offers the example of an algorithm called COMPAS (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions) used in the U.S. to predict the probability of a criminal being re-arrested. Because the algorithm produced racially disparate results – giving higher probabilities for blacks to be re-arrested than whites under similar circumstances – it was accused of perpetuating systemic racism. And yet the algorithm itself was colour-blind; race was not an input factor.

A detailed investigation by a team of statisticians revealed that the differing results were the product of members of different races behaving differently and/or living in different neighborhoods. As Harford concluded, “The only way in which an algorithm could be constructed to produce equal results for different groups…would be if the groups otherwise behaved and were treated identically.” Such an outcome adds evidence to the proposition that unequal results between races do not prove racism if behaviour and circumstances differ.

Examples of the racism gap fallacy are in ample supply elsewhere. Last month, for example, Akim Aliu, a former NHL player and founding member of the lobby group Hockey Diversity Alliance, claimed that an observed lack of racial diversity in the National Hockey League could only have one possible source. “There are still owners in the league who don’t even believe [racism] is a problem,” Aliu complained to Reuters in a Black History Month article. “To me that is just unfathomable, 95 per cent of your league is white and you don’t see there is an issue of race.”

Yet visible minorities make up a vast majority of the lineups in many other sports. The National Basketball Association is 74 percent black, and the National Football League 68 percent. While the Canadian Football League does not provide readily-accessible race-based statistics, the number of black players in this league also appears to far exceed representation in the general population. Should all this be taken as self-evident proof that football and basketball are equally prejudiced, but in favour of visible minorities? Of course not.

In another fixation on gaps, Statcan’s Arora in his Globe and Mail commentary emphasizes the importance of moving “toward levelling the uneven economic playing field”, citing the unequal unemployment and poverty rates among immigrant women as a key example. It must be noted, however, that there is a large overlap in Canada between visible minorities and immigrants. The lagging labour market outcomes for visible minorities and other Canadians reflect the long-standing challenges of immigrants establishing themselves in Canada.

In 2016, for example, Canada admitted thousands of Syrian refugees, many with limited education and little or no knowledge of either of Canada’s official languages. Do inferior incomes and more joblessness among the women of this group in the short time since they arrived prove the “playing field” in Canada is uneven? Inferior outcomes for some players don’t necessarily indicate a tilted field, it may merely demonstrate that they were sent out onto the field without the skills and training needed to compete. It is also worth remembering that the prevalence of poverty and inequality of income is much greater in the countries most immigrants come from, than is their inequality compared with native-born Canadians.

 The Inconvenient Truth that some Minority Groups Outperform the Majority

Racism – defined as the presence of deep-seated prejudices that affect individual and collective behaviour – certainly exists in Canada, as it does in all countries. And wherever present, it should be challenged and overcome. That said, collecting race-based data may not contribute to that worthy goal at all. It could instead cultivate a mentality of grievance and entitlement that undermines the impetus for individuals to strive to achieve more for themselves and their children. Look how easy it was for Aliu, for example, to take a simple statistic regarding the race of NHL players and turn it into a bitter accusation.

Arora’s recent Globe commentary, meanwhile, laments the “many economic challenges facing racialized populations, Indigenous people, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups” as proof of the need for Statcan’s big move into race data. But might it not be more useful to study how certain minority groups have overcome even-greater challenges in the past? Few groups have suffered more persecution and discrimination than Jews, yet their internal culture enabled Jewish people to achieve superior results in multiple fields of endeavour in country after country. Japanese Canadians are another example, overcoming their forcible removal from their homes to be quarantined in remote camps during the Second World War, and going on to achieve one of the highest income levels of any racial group.

It is too easy to dismiss the achievements of certain races or ethnic groups as the result of advantages and privileges. While the lagging performance of some visible minorities is automatically assumed to be evidence of Canada’s innate racism, the opposite conclusion is never drawn from the superior results displayed by other minority groups (such as Chinese, to use Statcan’s terminology) in terms of employment, scholastic achievement or avoidance of crime. Looking south of the border, pre-Covid U.S. Census Bureau data revealed that the real median household income of Asian-Americans is nearly 30 percent higher than that of whites.

Thomas Sowell, the renowned black economist at the prestigious Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has written extensively on the use and misuse of race-based data. His insights on the importance of the culture internalized within racial groups provides a good lesson on the pitfalls of superficial interpretations of race data. As Sowell observed in his 2013 book Intellectuals and Race: “Different races, after all, developed in different parts of the world, in very different geographical settings, which presented very different opportunities and restrictions on their economic and cultural evolution over a period of centuries.” Further, people tend to blame racial differences on bias, which ignores “internal explanations of intergroup differences in favor of external explanations.”

As Sowell noted wryly in his 1996 book Black Rednecks and White Liberals, “all things are the same except for the differences, and different except for the similarities.” Given current demands for diversity in all things, he was observing, why should anyone expect identical outcomes as a result? Perhaps that comment should be attached to every Statcan press release on racial differences in the labour force survey.

The Politics of Distribution Versus the Economics of Growth

There is a growing sense of malaise in Canada, including worry that we are falling well short of our economic potential. Our political and economic leaders ought to be focusing on creating the macroeconomic and cultural conditions wherein all groups can thrive. Instead, our country’s growing fixation on racial issues – including the collection of race data – invites policymakers to think in terms of improving Canada one micro-group at a time.

We have already seen its nefarious impact. The most salient fact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been its devastating impact on all of Canada, with 5.5 million people losing their jobs or having their work severely curtailed in the spring of 2020. Rather than proposing general solutions to support growth and allow the reopening of the economy, numerous special interest groups have used the pandemic as an excuse to advance their particular pet policy projects, re-packaging old proposals that have circulated for years or decades to “solve” a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. The ideas include greater provision of day care, universal basic income, universal Pharmacare, extended employer-paid sick leave and so on, almost ad infinitum, as if budget constraints no longer existed.

The greater influence of broad economic conditions than specific social policies is revealed by Arora’s own reference to the “significant progress” visible minorities were making towards equality before the pandemic set them back. He cited a sharp drop in poverty and “rapidly rising employment rates among working-age immigrant women” as evidence of this happy situation. Such pre-pandemic levels of achievement – closing numerous gaps with the rest of society – was not the product of programs targeting specific aggrieved minority groups, but the result of an improving and robust economy-at-large. As Canada as a whole grows, its gaps shrink.

The best way to resuscitate the fortunes of visible minorities is the same as for all other Canadians: reopen the economy as quickly as possible and adopt policies and attitudes aimed at supporting long-term economic growth. Tweet

The same phenomenon was in even greater evidence in the U.S., where wage gains in 2019 were led by the lowest wage-earners, especially visible minorities. In recognition of this, more Latino and black voters cast ballots for Donald Trump last November than in 2016, despite his obvious negative attributes. The clear lesson is that better macroeconomic policy and economic growth always outweigh the impact of targeted government programs.

It is important to remember that the reversal of fortunes for minorities during the pandemic was because our economy was struck by the economic equivalent of a thermonuclear device, not because Canada overnight became more racist. The best way to resuscitate the fortunes of visible minorities, therefore, is the same way as for all other Canadians: reopen the economy as quickly as possible and adopt policies and attitudes aimed at supporting long-term economic growth.

Statcan’s new race-based data invites the facile conclusion that one group’s success explains another group’s relative failure and justifies its grievance. And our faltering economic growth reinforces the sterile view that the size of the economic pie is fixed and any gain by one group comes at the expense of others. The result is a focus on the politics of distribution instead of the economics of growth.

To be fair, Statcan did a lot of good work in response to the pandemic. This includes flash estimates of GDP, adjustments to how it measures labour under-utilization, more timely data on firm turnover, and innovative ways to track population mobility during a lockdown. The agency’s recent move into race-based data does not, however, rank among these useful innovations. And its effects may outlast all the others due to the appeal it holds for groups dedicated to fanning the flames of internal complaint.

With race-based data now being widely disseminated, this process may be unstoppable. Any move to cut off funding for this project will be widely condemned by the many vocal advocates of the “race industry”. Canadians should thus prepare themselves for a steady stream of studies in the coming years declaring the presence of gaps that allegedly prove the existence of systemic racism, but which tell us nothing about their origin or the best way to reduce them. All this is an unfortunate but costly distraction from the bigger and more important issues of innovation, investment and entrepreneurship that will be necessary to restore an economy that will benefit all Canadians – of every race and colour.

Philip Cross is a senior fellow of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the former chief economic analyst at Statistics Canada. Peter Shawn Taylor is senior features editor of C2C Journal.


COVID-19 Impact on Immigration: October data

The latest October numbers for Permanent Residents, asylum seekers and study permits (international students). Unfortunately, the data tables for temporary residents have not been updated since August, and citizenship not since June.

Permanent residents

Overall, permanent resident admissions are down by 51.8 percent in October 2020 compared October 2019, and  42.9 percent year to date. Family and refugee categories have declined more than the economic category.

With respect to Provincial Nominee Program, declines have been less in Alberta and British Columbia than other provinces.

Transition from temporary residents to permanent residents account for close to 40 percent of total admissions in 2020 year to date, with the post-graduate work program and the International mobility program being relatively less affected that international students and the temporary foreign worker program (note some double counting between these programs and overlap with the Provincial Nominee Program). 

Asylum claimants have declined dramatically given travel and border restrictions (particularly airport arrivals), from an average of over 5,000 a month in 2019 to an average of less than 1,300 April to October 2020. Inland claims accounted for 56 percent of all claims in 2019, and for 81 percent April to October 2020. 

International students (study permit holders have declined from an average of 35,000 per month in 2019 (with summer seasonal peaks) to 27,000 April to October 2020, with some variation among countries of origin (citizenship) year to date as well as by province of destination.

Quebec stops publishing daily COVID-19 data despite leading country in number of cases UPDATED: Quebec reversal

Update: Quebec announced that it will continue publishing the data on a daily basis following an outcry (Québec recule: les données sur l’évolution de la pandémie seront publiées sur une base quotidienne). Still curious about the rational behind the original decision.


Not sure this strategy will address the “communications” issue as weekly reporting will likely continue to highlight Quebec’s relatively poor performance both domestically and internationally.

Not a great example of transparency and accountability.

Will change my weekly update to accommodate their Thursday release schedule:

Quebec’s Health Ministry says it will only provide weekly reports about COVID-19, rather than providing a daily rundown of the situation.

The province’s public health institute, INSPQ, had also been publishing daily updates, including the number of cases and hospitalizations in Quebec, the number of tests conducted and how many people have died.

The data was also broken down by age and region and showed how many long-term care homes have outbreaks.

The move from daily to weekly updates appears to mean Quebec is providing data less frequently than any other Canadian province, despite leading the country in number of cases. Ontario, which has the second-highest number of cases, continues to provide daily numbers.

As of Thursday, Yukon’s Emergency Measures Organization is providing a public update once per week — but the territory has only 11 confirmed cases.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the change in his daily news conference on COVID-19 Thursday, saying it’s up to each province to decide how transparent it needs to be.

He also said that Quebec still has a “significant number of cases” and deaths every day.

“I certainly hope that Premier [François] Legault would continue to be transparent and open with Quebecers and indeed with all Canadians as he has been from the very beginning,” Trudeau said.

The Health Ministry and INSPQ will only publish the data on their respective websites every Thursday, the first of them beginning July 2. The ministry will also be sending out a news release with the figures on that day every week.

The decision was first announced in a news release on Fête nationale, the province’s annual holiday.Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director, said Thursday that the decision was made in order to provide the public with “more stable numbers,” as fewer confirmed cases each day will make any day-to-day increase appear more significant than it is.

He said this would also allow the province to provide a more accurate portrait of how the virus is spreading, as reporting delays have often prompted a revision of the daily numbers.

“As soon as there is some important data to share with the population, we will do that.” Arruda said, suggesting that the daily updates could return in the event of a second wave of infections.

The government announcement appeared to take the INSPQ by surprise. A notice on its website Tuesday said it would begin limiting its updates to weekdays only, rather than seven days a week.

But on Thursday, following the Health Ministry’s announcement, it said it too would only provide a weekly update. A spokesperson referred any questions to the Health Ministry.

The number of daily cases and deaths in Quebec has declined in recent weeks.As of Thursday, 55,079 people in Quebec have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. That’s an increase of 142 new cases since Wednesday.

There are 487 people in hospital and 5,448 have died. A total of 520,227 tests have come back negative.

The Quebec government has allowed most businesses to reopen, including restaurants, bars, gyms and shopping malls, with physical-distancing restrictions in place.

Source: Quebec stops publishing daily COVID-19 data despite leading country in number of cases

Statistics are great unless they measure the wrong things: Don Pittis

Always a risk, particularly in today’s economy:

If prices are rising by about two per cent, as inflation data is likely to show this week, why did one of my newspaper subscriptions just go up by 17 per cent?

And if wages are rising at about four per cent, as recent jobs data has shown, why are some provincial governments insisting that wage increases be held below one per cent?

As house prices go through the roof, the fact that the price of the biggest purchase Canadians make in their lives is not included in our inflation statistics makes it easy to see why many young people have expressed doubts about the accuracy of those figures.

It is a struggle that Statistics Canada faces every day as it tries to sketch out with numbers an authentic picture of the reality Canadians experience. But Oxford fellow and bestselling author of Age of Discovery Chris Kutarna says the task is far more complicated than many statisticians like to admit.

Kutarna worries that Statistics Canada’s plan to plunge into the ocean of “Big Data” so beloved of retailers and credit card companies — described last week by chief statistician Anil Arora — will inevitably create bias in the results simply because we are measuring the wrong things.

“One of the terrifying and most fundamental sources of risk is that we only consider what we’re now measuring as real,” said Kutarna, on the phone from London, England.

For example, long-standing data sets built on debt, spending, prices and gross domestic product simply close the door on values such as family, respect, happiness and species extinction.

“There is far more that is real and not being measured than there is that is real and we are measuring it,” said Kutarna.

One practical example from his book is the failure of modern statistics to measure the value of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia which, despite providing value to billions, adds less to GDP figures than the old Encyclopedia Britannica which reached far fewer people.

In a recent speech, Stephen Poloz, governor of the Bank of Canada, described an economy changing so fast that our statistical models fail to grasp it.

Poloz paraphrased the Solow Paradox, the observation by economist Robert Solow that computers had led to an increase in productivity everywhere but in the statistics. Poloz suggested GDP is being understated by as much as two per cent.

One example he offered was the way so many companies are distributing computer services to the cloud, turning whole computer divisions into a budget line item.

“How does StatCan deal with that?” asked Poloz.

Last week, Arora boasted to a gathering of the Empire Club that Statistics Canada was respected everywhere as a global leader, but he acknowledges it is constantly struggling to keep up with changing technology and the shifting understanding of how the world works.

“Look, that’s what statistics is, right? To take what are evolving concepts, nebulous concepts, things that haven’t even taken a lot of shape and then quickly try to turn them into numerics,” said Arora in an interview.

The statistics chief calls it a “team sport” where governments and individuals need to decide which of the millions and millions of things that could possibly be measured should be addressed by the some 5,000 employees at Statistics Canada. Their job, he says, is to bring scientific rigour to the process, so that the numbers are as accurate as possible.

“This is always going to be a journey,” said Arora, adding that finding and incorporating into our figures what have so far been labelled intangibles may be a never-ending task.

Part of that journey that those employees are now undertaking is the attempt to mine the immense bodies of information embedded in Big Data, those traces of activity we leave behind when we do almost anything on the internet from buying to searching. Not only are they readily available for quick analysis but they reduce the employee hours required in traditional surveys.

“Alternate sources of data are increasing exponentially and we have the technologies and the mechanisms to convert them to public good with high quality statistics,” said Arora in his speech.

When it comes to the inadequacies of GDP, a big part of the problem has less to do with Statistics Canada than how we continue to use familiar indicators that may be out of date.

Arora says the University of Waterloo’s Canadian Index of Wellbeing includes 200 indicators — from crime and safety to sustainable growth — most of which come from Statistics Canada data. But it’s GDP that gets the attention.

Statisticians are always groping to find the data sets that matter. But even in areas we think we know and understand, statistics are merely an indicator — an estimate, of reality. Things we don’t understand are, by definition, even harder to measure.

“We live in this culture where what is real is what we measure,” said Kutarna, “That the things we measure are reality.”

In which case, a certain amount of healthy skepticism, whether about this week’s inflation numbers, about GDP, productivity or the many other financial statistics that are often offered as solid immutable facts, may well be in order.

Source: Statistics are great unless they measure the wrong things: Don Pittis

Trump Cut Muslim Refugees 91%, Immigrants 30%, Visitors by 18%

Stats are revealing:

On December 7, 2015, President Trump called for a Muslim ban. This ban later turned into “extreme vetting” policies, which—according to Trump—had the same goal. Now nearing the 2-year mark of his administration, an accurate assessment of these policies is now possible. All the major categories of entries to the United States—refugees, immigrants, and visitors—are significantly down under the Trump administration for Muslims or applicants from Muslim majority countries.

91% fewer Muslim refugees

President Trump has dramatically reduced the number of Muslim refugees. According to data from the U.S. Department of State—which records the religions of refugees—Muslim refugees peaked at 38,555 in fiscal year (FY) 2016, fell to 22,629 in FY 2017, and reached just 3,312 in FY 2018—a 91 percent decline from 2016 to 2018. Refugees of other faiths have also seen their numbers cut, though not to the same extent as Muslims. The share of refugees who were Muslims dropped from 45 percent in FY 2016 to 44 percent in FY 2017, and then again to 15 percent in FY 2018. President Trump has reversed the earlier trend under President Obama, where Muslim refugee admissions increased.

30% fewer immigrants from majority Muslim countries

Approvals for immigrant visas—that is, for permanent residents—for nationals of the 48 majority Muslim countries have fallen from 117,444 in FY 2016 to 104,228 in FY 2017 to 82,260 in FY 2018—a 30 percent drop overall. The share of new immigrants entering from abroad from majority Muslim countries has fallen as well, from 19 percent in FY 2016 to 18 percent in FY 2017 to 15 percent in FY 2018. This also reflects a change in the prior trend. From 2009 to 2016, immigrants from Muslim majority countries increased from 80,435 to 117,444.

The decline in immigrant visas occurred primarily in the family reunification categories, which President Trump refers to as “chain migrants.” From FY 2016 to FY 2018, the number of family-sponsored immigrants declined by 29,607—a 36 percent decline. Special immigrants—interpreters and other partners of the U.S. military mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan—accounted for the rest of the reduction. In FY 2018, there were 45 percent fewer immigrant visas for special immigrants than in FY 2016.

18% fewer visitors from majority Muslim countries

Though they were already relatively low to begin with, nonimmigrant visa approvals—temporary visas for workers, students, and tourists—from Muslim majority have also declined 18 percent from 2016 to 2018. In 2016, the Obama administration issued 856,886 nonimmigrant visas to nationals of Muslim majority countries. In 2017, this number fell to 718,535. By 2018, it had dropped to 702,375—154,511 fewer than 2016. The declines occurred among both tourist visas and other visa categories.

Explanations for the Decline in Visas and Refugees

Since President Trump establishes the refugee quotas for each region of the world and for each fiscal year, his decision to cut the quota and distribute the cap away from the Muslim world explains the drop in Muslim refugee issuances. For FY 2017, President Trump established the lowest refugee quota in the history of the refugee program.

The primary cause of the decline in the immigrant visa approvals is the travel ban that has singled out for exclusion eight majority Muslim countries since January 2017: Chad, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Chad and Sudan have been completely removed from the list, and while Iraq is not officially designated, the latest proclamation from September 2017 singles Iraqis out for additional scrutiny.

The eight travel ban countries explain 65 percent of the decline in immigrant visa issuances for Muslim majority countries. Immigrant visa issuances for these countries have fallen 72 percent from FY 2016 to FY 2018. The travel ban explains only 28 percent of the decline in nonimmigrant visa issuances from Muslim majority countries. Nationals of the travel ban countries received 62 percent fewer nonimmigrant visas in 2018 than in 2016.

Beyond the travel ban, President Trump has imposed “extreme vetting” policies that make immigrating more bureaucratic and costly for everyone. He has massively increased the length of immigration forms, adding new subjective “security” questions. According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, more applications for Muslims are disappearing into an “administrative processing” hole, where applications are held up for security screening. Undoubtedly, some Muslims simply want to avoid the United States where storiesof profiling and discrimination abound.


The bottom line is that the Trump administration is leading a major overhaul in the types of travelers, immigrants, and visitors who are coming to the United States. His administration reduced Muslim refugees by 91 percent and has overseen a 30 percent cut to immigrant visas for majority Muslim countries and an 18 percent cut to temporary visas. These policies lack a valid national security justification, but they are nonetheless having a significant effect. President Trump is certainly following through on his promise to limit Muslim immigration, even if a “total and complete shutdown” has not happened.

Source: Trump Cut Muslim Refugees 91%, Immigrants 30%, Visitors by 18%

L’Institut du Québec remet les pendules à l’heure en immigration

Good initiative in presenting the data:

Parce que plusieurs données sur l’immigrationsont semées à tort et à travers en cette campagne électorale, l’Institut du Québec (IdQ) a cru bon de remettre les pendules à l’heure en publiant une « mise à jour » pour clarifier certaines informations. Car si certains politiciens confondent encore des statistiques, d’autres ne prennent pas le soin de les mettre en contexte.

L’IdQ travaille sur les thèmes de l’intégration des immigrants au marché du travail depuis un certain temps, mais a senti une certaine urgence à préciser certaines données. « En voyant à quel point c’est devenu important dans les élections, surtout la question des seuils migratoires et la rétention, […] on a senti que notre mission était de sortir rapidement », a dit Mia Homsy, directrice de l’IdQ, auquel s’associent le Conference Board du Canada et HEC Montréal. « Je ne suis pas certaine des chiffres que [les chefs de partis] utilisent. Je vois aussi qu’ils essaient d’en éviter certains… ce n’est pas toujours clair. »

Le taux de rétention

Mme Homsy invite à ne pas confondre « solde migratoire net », qui est la somme de la migration internationale (entrées et sorties) et de la migration interprovinciale (entrées et sorties) qu’on soit immigrant ou natif, et taux de rétention, qui mesure le nombre d’immigrants encore au Québec plusieurs années après leur arrivée. Ce que pourrait avoir fait le chef de la Coalition avenir Québec, François Legault, qui se plaît à répéter que, des 50 000 immigrants qu’il accueille, le Québec en perd 13 000. Parle-t-il du solde migratoire net, qui est de 12 600 ?

M. Legault pourrait avoir plutôt fait allusion aux 26 % d’immigrants qui ont quitté le Québec, mais, dans ce cas, il omet de préciser que c’est entre 2006 et 2015 (soit sur 9 ans). Ce qu’il ne dit pas non plus, c’est que ces chiffres sont du ministère de l’Immigration et se basent sur les renouvellements de la carte d’assurance maladie, qui ne tiennent pas compte des décès et des non-renouvellements volontaires.

Les chiffres publiés par l’Institut du Québec, qui se basent sur les déclarations de revenus, ont une connotation beaucoup plus positive : seulement 18 % des immigrants arrivés entre 2005 et 2015 auraient quitté la province. Et le Québec se classe 4e au Canada pour son taux de rétention. « J’avais en tête que c’était catastrophique, mais on n’est quand même pas si loin de l’Ontario », a déclaré Mme Homsy. Selon le rapport, le taux de rétention sur cinq ans est encore plus encourageant, soit 84,3 %, et il constituerait une nette amélioration par rapport à il y a 15 ans.

Peu de francophones

Le chef de la CAQ et celui du Parti québécois, Jean-François Lisée, ont aussi répété que trop peu d’immigrants (42 %) parlent français à leur arrivée au Québec. Or, ils omettent souvent de préciser que cette donnée est pour 2017 seulement, année où le Québec a reçu beaucoup de réfugiés. En 2016, 48 % des personnes qui arrivaient ici parlaient le français, et en 2015, 56 %.

Brahim Boudarbat, professeur à l’École des relations industrielles de l’Université de Montréal, fait remarquer que, pour avoir l’heure juste, il faudrait uniquement s’intéresser à la catégorie des immigrants économiques, car ce sont eux qui sont sélectionnés avec, notamment, le critère de la langue française. Et là, toutefois, les politiciens n’auraient pas tort de s’alarmer sur la proportion d’immigrants francophones, qui sont en diminution constante depuis ces dernières années, passant de 67 % en 2012 à 53 % en 2016. « Ça, c’est un problème, puisqu’on voit que ça baisse », dit-il. Le ministère de l’Immigration a reconnu qu’elle avait admis un plus grand nombre de personnes déclarant uniquement connaître l’anglais, notamment parce que l’adéquation entre les besoins du Québec dans certains secteurs d’emploi et les compétences des travailleurs migrants était devenue plus importante que le seul critère de la langue.

Seuils et chômage

M. Boudarbat fait remarquer que les partis parlent peu de régionalisation, mais débattent beaucoup des seuils d’immigration. « On s’attendrait à ce que les libéraux, qui ont un discours de pénurie de main-d’oeuvre, parlent d’augmenter les seuils, mais ils ne le font pas. Moi, j’interprète ça comme une réduction », indique le professeur. « Dans sa tête, [le chef Philippe Couillard] pense sans doute à 60 000-65 000, mais il ne le dit pas, parce qu’il serait obligé de le justifier, comme le font les autres partis. »

Pour sa part, le chef de la CAQ justifie son intention d’accueillir moins d’immigrants en répétant que le taux de chômage parmi cette population est de 15 % dans les cinq premières années. Or, s’il est effectivement de 14,1 %, comparativement à 9,1 % en Ontario, ce taux a tendance à diminuer, étant donné la conjoncture économique favorable. Après avoir oscillé entre 10 % et 13 % depuis 2007, le taux de chômage des immigrants âgés de 25 à 54 ans atteignait 8,7 % l’an dernier. « Les employeurs vont désormais considérer un CV d’immigrant qu’ils auraient peut-être mis sous la pile il y a 15 ans, voyant que leur production est compromise », avance Mia Homsy.

Pour un portrait plus juste de la situation, les politiciens devraient toutefois s’intéresser de plus près à certaines données qui ne ressortent pas souvent, soit le taux de surqualification et la provenance des immigrants. « Les gens des pays musulmans ont un taux de chômage plus élevé », rappelle M. Boudarbat.

Source: L’Institut du Québec remet les pendules à l’heure en immigration

Citizenship Statistics January-June 2016: 64 Percent Drop in Applications

The release of IRCC citizenship and other statistics for the first half of the year provides an indication of what the overall 2016 numbers of permanent residents and new citizens will likely be.

citizenship-data-slides-2015-008The chart above, year-to-year comparison, shows the expected drop (41 percent) in the number of new citizens following IRCC’s success in 2014 and 2015 in eliminating the backlog (from a high of  323,000 in 2012 to 59,000 on 30 June 2016).

The more significant news is the dramatic drop in the number of people applying for citizenship (63.9 percent), mainly reflecting the sharp increase in citizenship fees from $100 (plus $100 right of citizenship fee) before February 2014  to $530 in 2015 (the right of citizenship fee remained unchanged).

To a lessor extent, some of the 2014 changes to the Citizenship Act in C-24, such as the extension of language and knowledge testing to 55 to 64 year olds, also played a role.

If this trend continues, there will only be about 70,000 applications in 2016, compared to about 130,000 in 2015.

Of concern is that IRCC did not appear to have seriously considered the possible impact of this increase in fees when advocating successfully for an exemption to the User Fees Act and its requirements for full public consultations.

In the Canada Gazette announcement announcing the increase to $530 (Regulations Amending the Citizenship Regulations P.C. 2014-1453 December 12, 2014), IRCC stated:

“An important assumption made in the monetized analysis is that the fee increases are not anticipated to affect the demand for citizenship. The last census (2006) reports that 85% of eligible immigrants received Canadian citizenship, or approximately 228,000 individuals. The CBA assumes that the fee increase will not impact the naturalization rate as the value placed on obtaining citizenship is very high and the benefits associated with obtaining citizenship far outweigh the fee increases. Thus, the number of applications expected per year is not anticipated to fall following an increase in the fees.”

Hard to believe that such a categorical assumption could be made, in contravention of basic economics and the realities of many low-income and refugee immigrants. Pure assertion, no real evidence. It mischaracterizes the Census number, which includes all the foreign-born (about six million), not just recent immigrants whose naturalization rate is significantly less.

Approval rates increased slightly to 92.1 percent from 91.4 percent.

Processing time continues to decline from 21 months during FY 2015-16 to 18 months in the latest quarter (April-June 2016), helped by the declining number of applications.

A cynic might suggest that the previous government, in addition to implementing many of the administrative changes and business process simplification needed to reduce future backlogs, put into place a number of measures that effectively reduced demand for citizenship as part of the their objective of making citizenship “harder to get and easier to lose.”

The increase in the number of new permanent residents reflects the increase in levels for 2016.

The datasets used are from Opendata: Citizenship Application ProcessingImmigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Overview.

One minor irritation with the datasets of Opendata: for citizenship, IRCC has moved from calendar to fiscal year reporting unlike for permanent and temporary residents, where it remains on a calendar year basis.

While it is possible to correlate the calendar and fiscal years, IRCC should be consistent for all its data sets. While I prefer the calendar year basis given that it allows to track longer term trends consistently, I can also understand the rationale for fiscal years, given the linkage to planning, budgeting, and reporting.

But please pick one or the other and stick to it!

Note: Revisions to application numbers can occur given incomplete applications are returned to the applicant without being entered into the database. When these are subsequently resubmitted with the missing information, they are dated and counted from the date of the original application. It is unlikely, however, that any revisions will alter significantly this trend.

Garbage in, garbage out: Canada’s big data problem

A reminder that despite the restoration of the Census, there still remain significant gaps in the collection, methodologies and dissemination of statistical data by the government:

In a recent article in the Toronto Star, Paul Wells lays out what he sees as Prime Minister Trudeau’s game plan for slowing Canada’s brain drain and making science pay. “Over the next year,” he writes, “the Trudeau government will seek to reinforce or shore up Canada’s advantage in three emerging fields: quantum tech, artificial intelligence and big data and analytics.”

As he should. If that’s the plan, it’s a good one. Canada’s future prosperity depends on our ability to innovate and retain the best talent in those three fields.

What we call “big data analytics” works by finding previously unknown patterns in the huge blocks of data that very large organizations — governments, for example — grow around themselves constantly, like coral. Finding those patterns can point the way to new efficiencies, new ways to fight crime and disease, new trends in business. But as with any complex system, what you get depends on what you put in. If the inputs aren’t accurate, the results won’t be, either. So before we embrace the “big data revolution”, we may want to look first at the worsening quality of the data our federal government produces, and that businesses, activists and social planners use.

Take something as basic as divorce. Statistics Canada first started reported marriage rates in 1921, divorce rates in 1972; it stopped collecting both data streams in 2011, citing “cost” concerns.

Marriage and divorce rates are exactly the kinds of data streams consumers of big data want collected, because they affect so many things: government policies, job markets, the service sector, housing starts — you name it. Having abandoned the field now for five years, StatsCan’s data volume on marital status isn’t nearly as useful as it might have been.

Take wildlife conservation. Recently an Ontario provincial backbencher proposed a private members bill to allow for unlimited hunting of cormorants. The bill’s proponent says the species is experiencing a population explosion. And we don’t know if he’s right or wrong — because the feds stopped collecting that data in 2011.

open quote 761b1bCanada used to publish statistical reports that were every bit as good as the Americans’ — in some cases, better. Then we stopped.

Here’s another big data blind spot: gasoline imports. After having reported data on gasoline imports regularly since 1973, StatsCan has been suppressing the numbers since 2013 due to what it calls “privacy” concerns. In the last reporting year, 2012, a staggering amount of imported gasoline came into the country — almost 4 billion litres.

Now, if you were thinking of expanding your oil refinery, or wanted to know more about how dependent this country is on foreign fuel, this would be pretty precious data — the kind you’d probably pay for. But the data aren’t reliable — any more than the StatsCan data on gasoline demand by province, which we use to work out whether carbon taxes are actually reducing demand for gasoline. It’s bad data; it has been for years. You’d think someone in the higher echelons of the federal or provincial governments would get annoyed.

Combing through StatsCan’s archive of reports can be a bewildering experience, even for experts. Its online database, CANSIM, is easy enough to use. It’s the reports themselves that sometimes fail you.

Say you want to understand trends in Ontario’s demand for natural gas. You’d start by looking at CANSIM table 129-0003, which shows an increase in sales of natural gas in 2007 over 2006 of 85 per cent. “Ah,” you think to yourself, “that must be because of the conversion of coal-burning plants to gas.” But no, that change occurred years later. Ask StatsCan and they’ll tell you that they changed their methodology that year — but didn’t bother re-stating the previous years’ numbers under the same methodology. Individually, the numbers are accurate — but the trend stops making sense.

StatsCan changed its methodology again this year; it now warns researchers to take care when comparing current and historical data. That’s an improvement over changing the methodology without telling anyone but it isn’t very helpful for understanding long-term trends.

And this isn’t just StatsCan’s problem. The National Energy Board published an excellent report showing where Canada’s crude ends up in the United States. Industry analysts use the numbers to understand the reasons why light and heavy crude are selling for what they’re selling for south of the border.

The NEB stopped reporting the data after September 2015. Ask why, and this is the response you get: “The Board has decided to discontinue publication of this data while we re-evaluate our statistical products.” That, of course, was a year ago.

Source: Garbage in, garbage out: Canada’s big data problem

2015 in review – My WordPress blog stats

For those interested, and in the spirit of openness and transparency, please find the WordPress 2015 annual report for my Multicultural Meanderings blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 27,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

The top posts:


Click here to see the complete report.

Québec désapprouve l’abolition de la banque de données des statistiques officielles

Quebec’s cancellation of the census moment?

La décision a été vivement dénoncée mercredi, notamment par des chercheurs qui y avaient recours. « La banque de données fait partie de ces coupes dont on s’évertue à faire croire qu’elles n’auront pas d’impacts sur les usagers. Mais elles en auront », s’est indigné André Lemelin. Ce professeur d’économie à l’Institut national de recherche scientifique (INRS) s’intéresse de près aux statistiques régionales et utilise régulièrement les données de l’ISQ, dont celles de la BDSO.

« Les chercheurs devront dorénavant courir à droite et à gauche, trouver quel ministère et qui est responsable de quoi pour pouvoir obtenir des données. C’est décidément une perte déplorable », décrit-il. L’ISQ effectuait en effet un travail de sélection, de préparation et de mise en forme des données pour les rendre « intelligibles, conviviales et accessibles », mentionne Patricia Caris, directrice générale adjointe aux statistiques et à l’analyse sociales. Des compilations statistiques sur mesure, un service déjà offert moyennant plusieurs centaines de dollars, pourront être obtenues. M. Lemelin doute toutefois que les chercheurs soient prêts à assumer ce fardeau supplémentaire pour leurs fonds de recherche qui fondent aussi.

Le président du Syndicat de professionnelles et professionnels du gouvernement du Québec, Robert Perron, s’inquiète aussi vivement : « C’est une “ harpérisation ” de l’État qui rendra plus difficile la dénonciation de ce qui se passe », croit-il.

« La transparence est l’un des outils de la démocratie, l’information nous permet de comprendre la société dans laquelle on vit », renchérit Lise Millette, présidente de la Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec. Elle déplore le fait que les journalistes devront « reprendre le bâton du pèlerin et cogner à la porte de chacun des ministères quand notre coffre à outils n’est déjà pas très garni ».

Québec désapprouve l’abolition de la banque de données des statistiques officielles | Le Devoir.