Canada to modernize statistics agency, look at new data collection

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government on Friday outlined its plans to modernize its main statistical agency, which include identifying new ways of collecting data and making it easier for people and businesses to find and use the information.

A Canadian flag flies in front of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

With information available more quickly and from a wider variety of sources than ever before, “Statistics Canada must innovate to remain responsive to the needs of Canadians,” Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said in a speech to a business group in Toronto, his first remarks on how Canada wants to become a leader in an increasingly data-driven world.

Statistics Canada releases the country’s official economic data on everything from jobs to trade and the reports are closely watched by markets and investors. Bains is responsible for Statistics Canada, though the agency operates at arms-length from the government.

Questions were raised about the agency’s operations last year when its head abruptly quit, while its website has been plagued by outages and delays.

Bains identified a number of key focus areas, including finding new methods of generating and collecting data beyond surveys.

The agency is already making in-roads in that respect, the head of Statistics Canada, Anil Arora, said at the same event, pointing to the use of satellite data to track crops as an example.

Arora said the agency plans to expand its acquisition and use of data that is collected by other government agencies and the private sector. Such information is used to complement or replace survey data.

The shift to more so-called administrative data will provide more timely information and reduce how much time businesses and Canadians spend on filling out surveys, Arora said.

The government also wants to look at new ways to integrate data from a variety of sources and make the data easier for businesses and analysts to use by making it available in its raw form, Bains said.

Still, the plans are in their early stages, with the government seeking input from Canadians through the rest of the summer and into the fall.

The Liberal government’s budget released earlier this year allocated C$39.9 million ($31.79 million) over five years to Statistics Canada to create a database of home sales in the country. Critics have long argued that Canada does not track enough data on its housing market, making it difficult to quantify risks.

Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Bernard Orr