Canada's Chief Statistician has resigned amid accusations the Liberal government is compromising the independence of Statistics Canada.
PressProgress has learned Wayne Smith, head of Statistics Canada, announced his resignation Friday morning.
In an e-mail to the National Statistical Council, Smith – who joined Statistics Canada in 1981 – explained that he had a "deeply held view" that the previous Harper government had "significantly compromised the independence of Statistics Canada."
But as the new Liberal government moves forward with initiatives that "purport" to restore independence to the agency, Smith says he is not willing to "preside over the decline" of the agency:
"I cannot lend my support to government initiatives that will purport to protect the independence of Statistics Canada when, in fact, that independence has never been more compromised. I do not wish to preside over the decline of what is still, but cannot remain in these circumstances, a world leading statistical office."
The Liberal Party's 2015 election platform explicitly promised to "make Statistics Canada fully independent":
On Friday, policy experts stressed the significance of Smith's resignation and suggested a desire to defend the institution against "politicization" as a possible motivation:
"The Chief Statistician's removal or resignation would be a major public and media event" , wrote Fellegi in 1995 1/n— Miles Corak (@MilesCorak) September 16, 2016
"the importance of a high public profile as part of the defence against the politicization of the statistical system" 1/n— Miles Corak (@MilesCorak) September 16, 2016
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains reacted to Smith's resignation by echoing the language of the Liberals' 2015 campaign pledge.
"We are working closely with Statistics Canada towards the reinforcement of the independence of this eminent institution which plays an essential role in providing Canadians with accurate and reliable data," Bains said in a statement.
Here is a full copy of Smith's e-mail obtained by PressProgress:
"I am writing to inform you of my decision to resign as Chief Statistician of Canada, effective today.
All of you are aware that the government has committed to reinforce the independence of Statistics Canada.
All of you are also aware of my strongly held view that the action of the past government that most significantly compromised the independence of Statistics Canada was the decision to force Statistics Canada into the Shared Services Canada initiative with respect to the supply of its physical informatics infrastructure. Shared Services Canada, and persons who can influence Shared Services Canada, now hold an effective veto over many of Statistics Canada's decisions concerning the collection, processing, storage, analysis and dissemination of official statistics through denial or constructive denial of essential services.
All of you are aware of my view that this loss of independence and control is not only an apprehension, but an effective reality today, as Statistics Canada is increasingly hobbled in the delivery of its programs through disruptive, ineffective, slow and unaffordable supply of physical informatics services by Shared Services Canada.
I have made the best effort I can to have this situation remediated, but to no effect. I cannot lend my support to government initiatives that will purport to protect the independence of Statistics Canada when, in fact, that independence has never been more compromised. I do not wish to preside over the decline of what is still, but cannot remain in these circumstances, a world leading statistical office.
So I am resigning, in order to call public attention to this situation."
UPDATE: According to the Ottawa Citizen, Smith sent an additional e-mail to Statistics Canada employees on Friday elaborating in greater detail on his concerns about Shared Services Canada and his inability to "convince the current government to correct the situation."
Here's an excerpt from that e-mail:
"At issue is the independence of Statistics Canada and our ability to operate to our fullest potential and provide the greatest benefit to Canadians. The previous government required Statistics Canada to transfer our informatics infrastructure to Shared Services Canada without creating any corresponding accountability on the part of Shared Services Canada to provide the informatics services Statistics Canada needs to carry out our mandate and in a manner that is commensurate with the resources transferred, timely and affordable. This effectively gave Shared Services Canada, and anyone who can influence Shared Services Canada, substantial control over Statistics Canada’s program. As you are all aware, this situation has already led to a progressive degradation of informatics infrastructure support with significant consequences for our effectiveness, our budget and our program.
I have made every effort to convince the current government to correct this situation. I have not succeeded. I believe it is the professional duty of a national statistician to resign if the independence of the national statistical office – as envisioned in documents endorsed by Canada such as the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the OECD Recommendation on Good Statistical Practice – is compromised. I would note that Statistics Canada’s independence cannot be assured without addressing the issue of Shared Services Canada ...
So, I must leave, to preserve my personal integrity and to draw public attention to my concerns."