Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More Census door-kicking

Some more food for thought.

The 2006 Census marked Statistics Canada's first use of Lockheed Martin Census Systems product for the technical design and implementation of the census. Census staff were Statistics Canada employees, and did not work for Lockheed Martin. The aerospace and defence corporation provided the system for data collection and analysis but Canadian's personal data remained with Statistics Canada.

Statistics Canada field-tested Lockheed Martin's product before the 2006 Census was launched. I cannot find any information on the results of those field-tests. However, my own experience and the language here suggests there may have been significant problems when that system went live (emphasis mine):

The Census is the only source of coherent and detailed information for small geographic areas, based on the same statistical concepts for the entire country. This information is vital to all levels of government, the private sector, academic and not-for-profit entities in the decision-making process, and in the formulation and monitoring of programs and policies. Census data are used extensively by the private sector in pursuing market opportunities including expanding or locating new businesses.


For the 2011 Census, Statistics Canada plans to leverage heavily on the approaches and processes developed for the 2006 Census. These include an option for Canadians to respond to the Census on-line, automated editing and data capture technologies and greater centralization of operational activities. A strategy that maximizes the re-use of successful 2006 approaches and systems will be pursued.

The interim funding allocation for fiscal years 2008-09 and 2009-10 is required to plan, design, develop and test systems and processes in advance of the 2011 Census, as well as to maintain essential infrastructure. Statistics Canada must test key census processes, systems, and planning assumptions in an integrated end-to-end Census Test which will be conducted in 2009.

The size and scope of the 2011 Census will be presented to Cabinet for approval in the fall of 2009. Development and testing activities have been designed to allow the presentation of basic or comprehensive content options. Should the decision be to conduct a comprehensive census in 2011, funds are expected to be sourced from both the fiscal framework and other federal departments, as has been the case since the 1986 Census.

"[M]aximizing the re-use of successful" 2006 practices implies that there were some unsuccessful ones. In fact, I would put money down that there's a story to be told there. I would also be very interested to see the results of the 2009 trial for the 2011 Census, especially in the context of the last bolded statement.

The census is not something that can be put off until they get it right. The 5th year mid-May go date is fixed and Statistics Canada must leave the ramp and step into the slipstream then with whatever system they have. There simply isn't time to pick a new one.

If the adoption of a mercenary census system has led to escalating costs and major implementation problems, would we hear about it from this government? Or would they put up a barrage of ideological smoke to mask some other brand of incompetence?

I suppose I'm asking because I've felt the rationale for cancelling the long-form has been a little watery - from all sides. From the Cons you'd expect at least something they could sell to their base like the libertarian bullshit about government intrusion into people's private lives. If they buggered the funding math or have some other reason that reflected very poorly on them, they'd stitch their mouth's shut before they let it out. We non-Harperites are left to speculate about rationales like denying fuel for the Opposition when the real reason might be much less insidious and reek of basic ineptitude. In any case, I sense there's a big piece of the puzzle were missing.

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