Alice Wong on Facebook
Information on Birth Tourism petition (e-397)
Make a statement in the House of Commons!
Richmond Centre Electoral District
On February 7, 2017, Alice Wong gave a speech in the House of Commons on second reading of Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Statistics Act.
The following is a transcript:
Hon. Alice Wong (Richmond Centre, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, today I wish to join my colleagues in the discussion regarding Bill C-36 and the proposed changes to the Statistics Act. Although many changes are proposed in the bill, ranging from minor language updates to creating a new Canadian statistics advisory council, the broader intent of the bill is to provide greater independence to Statistics Canada, or StatsCan, as I will be referring to it in my speech.
As many of my colleagues have already mentioned, the work done by StatsCan is very important in ensuring the appropriate protection of Canadians’ personal information. Moreover, I recognize that the information stored and produced by StatsCan is crucial for wise and evidence-based decision-making by governments and that it provides important information for research and academic institutions.
As a former researcher myself, I think we can all agree that this information must be accurate and trustworthy to be relevant. However, what is even more important is that the privacy of Canadians is protected and that the collected information is kept secure.
I have three primary concerns regarding the proposed changes in Bill C-36. I will begin by speaking about the intended independence of Statistics Canada and the individual serving as the chief statistician, the CS. I will also comment on the proposed Canadian statistics advisory council, and I will finish my debate with the concern about information-sharing and the importance of privacy for Canadians.
I wish to state that the independence of StatsCan and the chief statistician is not inherently a poor decision. However, it is of great importance that should independence be given, there would be sufficient guidelines on what the chief statistician’s role would be in how information would be handled. Guidelines regarding where information is stored, how it is regulated, and what information is gathered from Canadians must be considered.
As Bill C-36 proposes, the minister would no longer have direct control or influence over the methods, procedures, and operations of StatsCan. Instead, all of those decisions and processes would be determined by the chief statistician.
We must remember that it is elected officials who are accountable to Canadians, and when we give too much independence to departments, such as StatsCan, we are limiting the accountability of that organization to Canadians.
We answer to the people, and when the people are those involved, as they are in the circumstance of personal information and data, there must be a source of accountability. This notion of accountability extends further to those who oversee the programs and activities of the organization. This leads to my next concern.
Currently, the National Statistics Council serves as an overarching advisory committee. It was established in 1985, with members from all territories and provinces. The council provides insight and advice to the chief statistician regarding StatsCan’s activities and programs, as described on StatsCan’s website. The proposed Canadian statistics advisory council would not include representation from across the country. Instead, the new council would have only 10 members. They would report to both the chief statistician and the minister and would be tasked with producing an annual public report on the current statistical system.
It is simple math. Three territories or provinces would not be represented on the new council. Their feedback would be eliminated. This shows incredible disrespect for the provinces and territories.
I understand that the government enjoys creating new boards as a means to appoint its friends to new positions. I cannot understand why it could not have simply altered the current council to incorporate new responsibilities. This would help maintain equal representation from across the country.
When we are dealing with Canadians’ personal information, we must ensure that those interacting with the data at StatsCan, as a whole, are not seeking to further the government’s agenda. This would not only fly in the face of independence but would also undermine the government’s accountability to Canadians.
As I previously mentioned, the protection of Canadians’ security is of utmost importance. Furthermore, the information collected must be appropriate and not viewed as invasive and too personal. With the independence of the chief statistician, he or she would be required to generate the questions included in the census or survey. It is important that there be accountability and that the questions generated are not deemed to be invasive, as that could skew results should individuals feel the need to inaccurately represent themselves. I understand that this is not the intent of the bill, but it is one of the concerns I have.
One last point on privacy is that Bill C-36 would remove the requirement for consent to transfer and store information records after 92 years. When information has been stored at StatsCan for 92 years, the data would be moved to Library and Archives Canada, where it would be accessible by all Canadians. I think many of my colleagues would agree that in the case of StatsCan data, it is not the place of the government to determine what personal information is kept private or made public without the consent of Canadians. When we are discussing private information, it is always the right of citizens to give their consent. It is not for the government to determine at what point consent for information-sharing should be waived.
As a former professor and self-proclaimed lifelong learner, I value the academic and research communities and the importance of having relevant, quality data. For this reason, I understand the importance of Statistics Canada and all the work it does. However, I too have participated in research and believe in the respect for and protection of citizen information. The government must strike the appropriate balance between protecting the privacy rights of Canadians and collecting good-quality data.
I look forward to continued debate on the bill, and I hope the concerns I have highlighted throughout my speech will be considered.
Mr. Steven MacKinnon (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her speech and for her constructive suggestions. I am sure some of them will be examined.
One thing we do not hear a lot coming from our friends across the way is praise for the independent work of Statistics Canada. We do not have to go very far to have a Conservative admit privately that the decision to go to the national household survey and upend our previous long-from census was perhaps something they paid too high a price for, given the outcome of that debate.
I wonder if the hon. member could reflect on the expertise of Statistics Canada and on the decision made to go to the national household survey and not make it mandatory.
Hon. Alice Wong:
Mr. Speaker, in my speech I mentioned more than three or four times the importance of the work of Stats Canada and recognized the usefulness of collecting quality data. The most important thing to remember when collecting any data is the protection of privacy and the assurance that the data is reliable. I also mentioned in my speech that it is important to have accurate and relevant data in decision-making. That is why, although I have some concerns with the bill, I believe there are good measures in it that will help keep our research data relevant.
What is most important is that the people who are asked to answer the questions do not feel that the questions are too invasive or too personal. Otherwise they would probably give us wrong data, and that data would not be useful.
Mr. Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, there have been debates and arguments that the independence of Statistics Canada cannot be achieved when the government is trying to impose on it an information technology system through Shared Services Canada. On the one hand, Statistics Canada is asked to collect important data and to do it in a way that would be the most efficient, according to its own standards, but on the other hand, we are telling Stats Canada to do it while imposing on it methodology and technology that would impede this ability.
I would like to hear the comments and views of my colleague on this seemingly difference of opinion, and difference in perception on the independence of Statistics Canada.
Hon. Alice Wong:
Mr. Speaker, it is important that the independence of Stats Canada be maintained so that a government would not be able to meddle with the data.
However, there should be guidelines as well regarding how the data is stored, the reach of the chief statistician, how the information is collected, and also how the questions are designed. All these are concerns that I have regarding the independence of StatsCan. Of course, I believe that it should be independent, but also there should be guidelines.
Ms. Dianne L. Watts (South Surrey—White Rock, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, as my colleague has already mentioned, she is a doctor and a professor and understands research and data. I just want her to comment on the National Statistics Council, its diversity and experience, and what her thoughts are on reducing the size of the council.
Hon. Alice Wong:
Mr. Speaker, this is one of the concerns I mentioned in my speech. That portion of the bill is my major concern, because we have 13 provinces and territories, but in the new council the Liberals are proposing, there are only 10 members. This means that three provinces and territories will not be represented. If we want to have feedback from all the provinces and territories, this part must be amended. We should always include all representation, and their feedback should not be eliminated. This is one of the parts which the government needs to look at to make sure that the respect for all provinces and territories is there so that we will have collected data and feedback from the whole nation.
Filed under: Parliament