| OTTAWA, Sept 21
OTTAWA, Sept 21 Changes to the data
infrastructure at Canada's main statistical department have put
the release dates of major economic reports at risk, the former
head of the agency said on Wednesday, days after he stepped down
to draw attention to his concerns.
Obsolete equipment and staff that do not always understand
Statistics Canada's operations have led to data processing
problems and other technological difficulties, including delays
with its website, former chief statistician Wayne Smith said.
In an arrangement under the previous Conservative
government, responsibility for StatCan's informatics
infrastructure was transferred to Shared Services Canada, the
department that oversees information technology services
"When we had full control over our infrastructure and
operations, we were able to perform to a very high level and
that's now at risk," Smith said.
StatCan releases the country's official economic data on
everything from jobs to trade.
Smith said equipment that is not being maintained is causing
an increasing number of incidents and problems in data
"When I left, at that point, we did not have the capacity to
operate another 12 months with the existing infrastructure,"
said Smith, who left last Friday, the second chief statistician
to quit in recent years.
"We're running on extremely high-risk equipment," he later
Statistics Canada did not immediately respond to a request
for comment. A senior official for Shared Services told
reporters earlier this week that StatCan data is safely stored
and that outsiders cannot access it.
Aging servers led to several months where StatCan was not
able to process its monthly business surveys, which include
retail and wholesale trade, simultaneously but instead had to do
them one after another, Smith said.
"The consequence is a major loss of time, our delivery dates
are put at risk and the data quality is put at risk," he said.
Processing delays cut down the time StatCan has to review
the data, Smith said, though he stressed that figures released
to date are sound.
"If we have to miss a release date or push it, we'll do that
before we'll release data that we have any concerns about."
Economic release dates are typically set about a year in
advance and are followed closely by financial markets and
Economists have sometimes questioned the veracity of
StatCan's volatile monthly employment numbers. The agency
withdrew a jobs report in 2014, citing a flaw in the way the
figures had been processed.
(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Alan Crosby)