Abolition to StatCan Cost Recovery Policy on the Census

This was a message posted on Civicaccess.ca list (also see archive for other great resources) in response to a blog post written by David Eaves.

The Civicaccess.ca list, from whence this blog is inspired, was founded on the discussion of making StatCan data free along with freeing Canada Post Data back in 2005 among many other access to public data Issues. Some on the list have been working toward that goal ever since. The number quoted by David in his article is very low and only reflect a portion of the revenue cost recovered by StatCan. Revenue generated by the sale of the Census alone since 1996 has been over $10 000 000. My ATIP requests

Statistics Canada, 2010, ATIP Request A-2010-00067, Census Revenue Notes, June 29. Indicates that

StatCan recovered $13,642,959 from the 2001 Census

The cycle for 2006 is not yet complete and therefore I do not have those figures. The figure above includes license fees, the sale of standard products, Custom Products, CD Rom fees, and Geography products. For instance the Community Data Consortium alone purchases about $700 000 worth of Census data for each cycle.

David does rightly make the point that revenue figures do not reflect the overhead cost of managing those resources and collecting them.

The cost of the census for 2001 was $432,033,300 or $14.40 per person according to ATIP request A-2010-00068. The cost recovered reflects 3.16% of the actual cost of the Census. Again, we do not know the overhead cost of recovering those moneys.

Most of StatCan’s special surveys are cost recovery projects, often cost shared between federal departments. Which means we also pay for those. Many surveys on topics related to Canada’s most vulnerable were discontinued, the LF Census was canceled and we expect to see more cuts coming down the pipes. It is true, that StatCan uses the revenue generated to fund other surveys.

The real problem however is not with StatCan but with the Treasury Board and Cabinet. There was a submission to Cabinet under the current government regime, offering cost savings by StatCan in order to cover the cost of making the Census Free. The Tory government accepted the proposed cost savings and refused to allow the giving of census data back to Canadians. If the Treasury were to actually adequately fund Statistics Canada then it would be able to give the data back to us. I am still trying to dig up the paper trail on the submission, but alas, memoranda to cabinet are confidential in Canada.

Bref, political pressure needs to be on the current government and also the Treasury. StatCan has little power over its budget beyond the usual mechanics, especially these days. We also need to keep in mind, that we have already lost disability surveys, and we have lost the ability to track the country’s immigrant, ethno cultural visible minorities, the poor, linguistic groups, people with mobility issues because the Census was just Cancelled (read more about lost surveys). More cuts to StatCan will not be about helping those groups and us advocating the abolition of cost recovery and not advocating to cover the revenue lost to StatCan by the Treasury will make us complicit in further marginalizing those groups. We need to lobby for more resources to StatCan to cover the loss of cost recovered funds, and of course to return the Long Form Census and we also need to ensure that it is autonomous from political interference as recommended by National Statistical Council of Canada. (more details available here).

I have not published my ATIP requests yet as I am still trying to validate a few pieces and do the analysis. It is also part of my PHD dissertation and at some point I need to publish officially.