This post is a bit of a departure from what I normally post about, in that it doesn’t deal directly with research resources and strategies, but with the larger context in which some of those resources exist and what data gets produced.
If you read this blog, it’s because you’re interested in research and care about timely, accurate information and how to find it. And if you’re a Canadian, you know that a federal election is being held on October 19th.
As I consider which party gets my vote, information policy has been weighing heavily on my mind. During the Conservative party’s rule for the past 9 years, there has been a steady erosion in the quality of the information produced and made available by the federal government.
In their efforts to curb government spending, and for certain ideological reasons, the government:
– Cut funding to Statistics Canada, hampering its ability to gather, analyze, and release quality data in a timely fashion;
– Scrapped the mandatory long-form census and replaced it with a (more expensive) voluntary National Household Survey that has a lower response rate and is therefore distorted and less reliable;
– Closed a number of federal libraries and threw away their content;
– Muzzled government scientists so they weren’t able to share their research with the media or even international colleagues; and
– Undermined the Access to Information regime with funding cuts, delays, and refusals, making it largely useless. Canada’s access law now lags behind that of India, Mexico, and Pakistan, despite the Conservatives’ promise to bring more transparency to government when they were first elected.
These actions have certainly hurt policy making and academic research, but a less discussed issue is how much they’re hurting the business community, especially small and medium sized businesses. Businesses depend on good quality information to make the right strategic and competitive decisions. Large businesses sometimes have the means to undertake needed research or purchase reports from consultants and market researchers, but small and medium sized businesses simply cannot afford those fees, which can run thousands and tens of thousands of dollars per report. And all businesses depend on certain information that can only come from the government, such as census data and jobs data.
In February, some notable business organizations, such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Canadian Economics Association, Martin Prosperity Institute, and the Canadian Association of Business Economics expressed their concern about the voluntary household survey, and called on the government to reinstate the mandatory long-form census.
As one economist noted:
We need good data. It’s a multibillion-dollar mistake to go from the good quality long-form census data to a NHS because of the uncertainties and distortions involved … I think of these data as a public good … that provides a benefit to all Canadians, either directly or indirectly.”
On October 19th, I will be thinking about information quality, availability, and access when casting my vote. My business’s success, and that of my clients, depends on it.
[I wrote this post before I saw the detailed article published yesterday in Maclean’s magazine called “Vanishing Canada: Why we’re all losers in Ottawa’s war on data.” Do take a look.]
Photo source: Landrachuk, Pixabay