Chapter 3: A pivot point: 1980 to 1985

Table of Contents

The challenging search for a new Chief Statistician

By 1980, the situation at the agency had become nearly untenable. Morale and professional pride among employees were exceptionally low, and public confidence in the integrity and competence of the agency were badly eroded. A number of factors had led to the decline, including having had four chief statisticians in under 10 years; a number of significant reorganizations; criticisms of the agency in the House of Commons and in the media; three external investigations; a number of personnel and efficiency audits; growing isolation from other federal departments; budgetary decreases of about one-fifth; and, also perhaps a factor, the public attention afforded to "fixing things" by bringing in a new Chief Statistician from the outside world, recruited by outside agents.

An article in the Ottawa Citizen in August 1980 outlined the challenges encountered in the search for a new Chief Statistician and was rife with speculation and rumour about who might be chosen. The search committee was looking for an experienced statistician, widely respected in the professional community and with vast managerial experience. Ultimately, Dr. Martin Wilk was identified as the prime candidate for the next Chief Statistician of Canada. He had three things going for him: he was Canadian, he had written extensively on statistics, and he was about to retire from his current position at American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T).

Dr. Wilk had been identified by the Executive Recruitment Committee, but first he had to be convinced to leave his executive position at AT&T, move to Canada, and head up a struggling organization. He was initially approached in May 1980 by a headhunting firm based in Toronto that had been contracted by the federal government, although, oddly enough, the recruiter was not explicit about the reason for contacting him. Since Dr. Wilk had been provided with the recently completed Moser and Price Waterhouse reports on the agency, he naturally assumed he was being asked to share his impressions since it was routine procedure for senior managers at AT&T to be approached for such counsel.

Dr. Wilk was invited to come to Ottawa for a meeting, which he did, obviously intrigued by this curious and unexpected invitation. He met with the members of the review committee, including the Secretary of the Treasury Board Jack Manion, Comptroller General of Canada Harry Rogers, Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet Fred Drummie and interim Chief Statistician Larry Fry. The review committee members provided brief summaries of the reports, and, meanwhile, Dr. Wilk was poised to give his reaction to the reports. Instead, Mr. Manion unexpectedly asked Dr. Wilk how he would handle the situation and why he felt he could do the job! A bit taken aback, Dr. Wilk responded that he had come to give his feedback on the reports, and that he would prefer to adhere to what he had prepared to do. Apparently Mr. Manion was a bit surprised, but he went along with Dr. Wilk's request. After this initial meeting, Dr. Wilk indicated that he wasn't interested in the position and returned home to New Jersey. He later explained his initial reaction to the Financial Times in an interview in the spring of 1981: "I really didn't have any significant background in political or public life or any interest in it and really don't have background relating to national statistical systems."

In the meantime, it was quickly becoming evident to the search panel that Dr. Wilk was in a league of his own and that they again had to try to convince him to take the position. He was invited once more to Ottawa, this time by the Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Michael Pitfield. Dr. Wilk was approached with a challenge—one that, of course, would be impossible to expect an outsider to carry off. He was also told at one point that this was the last chance for a centralized statistical agency, and if he couldn't manage to pull the agency's socks up, the national statistical system would be decentralized. The deliberations went on for a few more months, ending with Dr. Wilk finally agreeing in September to return to Canada to take on the job. Dr. Wilk was appointed Chief Statistician of Canada on December 1, 1980.

Dr. Wilk had no small task ahead of him. He needed to improve staff morale and public perception of the agency and demonstrate the value of Canada's national statistical office. He also fully recognized that, given recent history, he would be seen as someone who had been parachuted in from outside the agency.

Not everyone was initially comfortable with Dr. Wilk's rather direct and confrontational approach. Although he was highly skilled, many of his executive team found the Wilk years to be stressful and unpleasant because of his management style. He was to exact an immense cultural shift at the agency by instilling standards and enforcing purpose-driven decision making. When projects succeeded, there was a tremendous sense of pride, which had been lacking so long among Statistics Canada employees that some of them didn't even want to admit they worked at the agency. Dr. Wilk's tenure at Statistics Canada would come to be seen by many as a pivotal point for the agency—the force that began to alter its course and propel it into a more positive era.

Dr. Martin Wilk

Martin B. Wilk, Chief Statistician of Canada, 1980-1985

Dr. Wilk was born in 1922 in Montréal. He had a chemical engineering degree from McGill University, and an MSc and a PhD in statistics from Iowa State University. He was a research chemical engineer at the Atomic Energy Project of the National Research Council from 1945 to 1950 before moving to New Jersey to become Research Associate and Assistant Director of the Statistical Techniques Research Group at Princeton University. He then held a number of positions at Bell Telephone Laboratories, starting with being a member of the technical staff to becoming the Statistical Director of Management Sciences Research. He was also a professor of statistics and Director of Research in Statistics at Rutgers University. In 1970, he moved into management at American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), the parent company of Bell Laboratories, culminating as Assistant Vice President and Director of Corporate Planning. Dr. Wilk was Chief Statistician of Canada from 1980 to 1985, the first mathematical statistician to hold the position. During Dr. Wilk's tenure as Chief Statistician, Statistics Canada identified strategic thrusts to meet the growing needs of its data users in the 1980s. In addition to sustaining the development of the core programs of social, economic, institutional and environmental statistics, a stronger emphasis was placed on marketing activities and information services, regionalization, research and development, and analysis.

Dr. Wilk served as Vice President of the American Statistical Association from 1980 to 1982. He was President of the Statistical Society of Canada from 1986 to 1987, and was made an honorary member of the Society in 1988 "... for seminal contributions to the fields of analysis of variance, multivariate analysis, model fitting and validation, for enormous contributions to Statistics Canada as the Chief Statistician and for insightful guidance of the Society while serving on its Board and as its President." He was an elected member of the International Statistical Institute, the recipient of the 1972 Jack Youden Prize, and a fellow of the American Statistical Association, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the Royal Statistical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the New York Academy of Sciences.

After Dr. Wilk retired from Statistics Canada, he served for 22 years on the National Statistics Council, as well as on the Advisory Committee on Science Statistics and the Advisory Committee on Statistical Methods. He also undertook several important consultancies for the Canadian government. Dr. Wilk was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada in 1999 for his "insightful guidance on important matters related to our country's national statistical system." He passed away in 2013 at the age of 90.

Morale improves

Advertisement of Martin B. Wilk to promote the corporate assignments, 1983

Throughout the early 1980s, morale at the agency improved as a result of many deliberate and direct initiatives, as well as indirectly through other positive changes in the work and working life of employees. At an early stage, Dr. Wilk realized that he could not afford to neglect morale. He believed that good morale occurred when people felt they were doing useful and interesting jobs in a comfortable environment, and that, as such, staff needed to be assured of continuing career and professional development and job satisfaction. He was not at ease until he could find a mechanism to achieve this outcome—a trait that many senior managers learned from him.

Dr. Wilk also knew that there was not one all-encompassing measure that could help boost the morale of employees and their pride in their work, but that the agency should instead embrace a series of small initiatives to sustain morale over the long term.

The Corporate Assignments Division, an important legacy stemming from those years, was therefore established to act as a broker between areas of the agency that needed help and employees who wished to broaden their experiences. On the project side, new energy and ideas were fostered and short-term task requirements could be easily addressed. On the employee side, the impact on employee morale was significant and lasting. It fostered a feeling of belonging to the organization (and not just their particular area), and sent a message to employees that their career development and job satisfaction were important. The great success of the program resulted in its implementation in other government departments. Dr. Wilk himself was even featured in a promotional advertisement used across departments.

One of the more direct morale-targeting initiatives was a "contact" program, established in early 1981 to allow employees to anonymously contact management with suggestions, opinions, concerns or questions. Written responses were sent to employees' homes to ensure confidentiality (before the creation of email!). Requests sent to the program dropped from 44 in its first month of operation to 1 or 2 per month a year later. A new employee assistance program, staffed by two full-time nurses trained in employee counselling, was also implemented to provide professional counselling services in a variety of fields to all employees.

Another important influence on the improved morale at the agency was the generous attention afforded to it by its new Minister, the Honourable Jean-Jacques Blais, Minister of Supply and Services and Receiver General for Canada under the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Minister Blais also held the title "Minister Responsible for Statistics Canada," and requested an office at the agency—the only Minister responsible for Statistics Canada to ever do so. In fact, his father, Rudolphe Blais, had recently retired from Statistics Canada, having worked on the 1971 Census and in the Official Languages Division.

Minister Blais was from Sturgeon Falls and represented the riding of Nipissing in the House of Commons from 1972 to 1984. He officially opened Statistics Canada's Sturgeon Falls office in July 1983. Minister Blais was extremely involved with the agency, evidenced by his continued involvement in both its large projects and its day-to-day affairs. For example, in 1980, he visited the Vancouver regional office to present a certificate to Pricing Survey Project supervisor Don Kembel, who was retiring with 38 years of service. In the summer of 1981 at a gathering of census employees in the Jean Talon building, the Minister congratulated them on their professionalism and success in carrying out the 1981 Census. He also supported and contributed to the Public Communications Program at the time, personally attending 22 functions across the country to promote the importance of the census. In May 1982, when Dr. Wilk's administrative assistant, Jacqueline Poullet, was honoured for having saved the life of a young boy who had fallen into the Ottawa river, Minister Blais was on hand to present her with an award (she also later received the Medal of Bravery from the Governor General). He and the Minister of Agriculture at the time, Minister Whelan, attended a news conference announcing the results of the 1981 Census of Agriculture in June 1982, and, in November, he attended the first long-service awards ceremony for agency employees.

In a videotaped Christmas message to regional offices, Dr. Wilk praised Minister Blais' positive influence on the agency: "He has shown sensitivity and respect for the apolitical traditions and scientific objectivity that must characterize Statistics Canada. I have been able to pursue my responsibilities secure in the knowledge that Mr. Blais would never ask nor permit the Bureau to alter its stance as an impartial reporter of the nation's social and economic characteristics. His support has given all of us at Statistics Canada the freedom and the encouragement to strike out in new directions, pursue new methods and new programs and generally attempt to improve on what has gone before."

By 1984, the annual turnover rate for continuing employees had almost halved in four years, decreasing from 11% to around 6%. This was also 3% lower than the public service average at the time. Grievances dropped from about 100 to about 30 per year.

Organizational changes

A new focus on integration

Employees from the new Employee Assistance Program, 1986

While there was some reorganization in the early 1980s, the structure of the Bureau did not immediately undergo a major shift comparable to what it experienced in the 1970s. Dr. Wilk believed that having the right people in the right positions was vastly more important than any given organizational structure. In fact, he cautioned against solving institutional problems by relying on paper-based reorganization schemes, given that they challenged both stability and loyalties. Instead, he continually emphasized that the agency's strength and most important resource were its employees. The tradition of recognizing an "Employee of the Year" for significant contributions to the work of the agency began under his tenure in 1984, a practice that continues to this day.

Dr. Wilk praised the ongoing work of the agency in a May 1982 interview with Ottawa Citizen reporter Dan Bailey: "The vast bulk of our resources and what we do are associated with programs that have been in place subject to evolution over many years, and in some cases over decades. That's where most of the credit, that's where most of the pride, that's where most of the resources, that's where most of the accomplishments really lie. Yes, we are evolving our prices program but the vast bulk of the prices program is the collection of prices. Yes, we're evolving our Labour Force Survey but the vast bulk of the work and accomplishment there is in the regular determination on a monthly basis of employment and unemployment in Canadian households. It was certainly true that ten years ago internationally, Statistics Canada was regarded as the pre-eminent statistical organization in the world. It is true that its reputation has been damaged or apparently eroded somewhat over the past ten years but my point is that the accomplishments that led to such a reputation are largely still in place…"

The minimal restructuring that did take place at the agency in Dr. Wilk's early years as Chief Statistician was aimed at balancing responsibilities and encouraging communication by establishing interdependencies. The notion of establishing interdependencies was something that Dr. Goldberg had abstracted about and referred to as "the horizontal dimension." In 1982/1983, a program aimed at the integration of activities through a systematic, agency-wide review of operations was launched. The integration of operations was designed to assist the agency in moving away from the historical "autonomy" of the statistical program divisions. Divisions were called upon to concentrate resources on issues related to the quality and relevance of existing products, and managers were encouraged to examine the effectiveness of each program. Concurrently, the work of the regional offices broadened in scope as they assumed additional responsibility for data capture, processing and dissemination as well as user liaison services. The result, as published in a 1983 Auditor General's report was that "the Agency has now stabilized (with) ... a renewed sense of direction and purpose." The Auditor General also remarked that "with respect to meeting user needs, we found that the agency's product line is certainly relevant. We found no instances where the agency was spending significant sums on products that had no identifiable users...over the past five years, the agency has taken significant steps in reducing the response burden placed on individuals and businesses."

While Dr. Wilk was in the early years of his tenure at Statistics Canada, the number of broad structural changes to the organization were fairly minimal, whereas some of the changes made near the end of his term defined the shape of the agency for the next two decades. These changes included the centralization and integration of headquarters operations, the recentralization of methodology, the creation of the new Analytical Studies Branch, and the creation of a communications and operations field.

The Operations and Integration Division was established in 1985 to achieve significant cost savings through the integration and centralization of operational processes. This shifted the focus of survey managers away from production operation routines and toward program design, information development, and greater research and development. The varying peaks and valleys of the workloads of individual programs were smoothed by having one centralized area focused on such processes. This also served to enrich the work of employees involved in routine or repetitive operational tasks by providing a broader scope of work. The concern with this approach was the loss of the survey manager's ability to directly influence or advise the staff processing the survey. To address this concern, a precise documented specification of the operational work required and the quality of the output expected was required in advance.

The backbone of the agency

In 1983, a total of eight regional offices (Halifax, Montréal, Sturgeon Falls, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and Vancouver) were conducting household surveys, census operations, and increasingly business surveys. The Ottawa Regional Office had moved to Sturgeon Falls in July 1983 in keeping with a government decentralization policy designed to increase federal presence in the regions and to promote new job creation. The regional offices also handed reference and consultative services, which were increasing from year to year. In 1980, they received about 140,000 information requests, which rose to 320,000 by 1985. Dr. Wilk also ushered in a new era of closeness with the regional offices through personal visits and Christmas videos produced specifically for them. He felt strongly that they were the backbone of the agency and were instrumental in bringing about better relations with the public, better response rates, and increased user satisfaction.

New management initiatives

In an interview with employee-oriented SCAN magazine, Dr. Wilk outlined his thoughts on management. He explained that he saw management as more than careful administration and oversight of operations; more importantly, it was about taking responsibility for people and the products and services of the organization: it was leadership, planning and prudent innovation. In terms of innovation, Dr. Wilk wrote a paper entitled "Management contributions to innovation in Statistics Canada" in 1989, outlining his views on the challenges of innovation at a statistical agency. He summarized some of the intrinsic contradictions facing all statistical offices as follows:

"to lead in information development but appear to follow; to assure continuity of standard output but to innovate; to be sensitively concerned and self-critical of product quality but retain public confidence; to maintain a low profile but achieve a high public status; to support creative research and analysis within an institution which is dominated by standardized production and resource limitations."

A number of new internal management initiatives were implemented, and many are still operational today—a strong testament to their value. Dr. Wilk began to involve all managers more directly in the management process through the establishment of a management committee structure. These committees were instrumental in facilitating communication and consensus decisions in areas such as agency policy, personnel, operational planning and finance. They also broadened the institutional understanding of managers and their sense of responsibility for the agency at large. Managers contributed to the committees, not to reflect their particular areas of the organization, but to represent the interests of the agency as a whole. In addition, rotation of managers' responsibilities was introduced, which helped discourage parochialism and encourage attention to overall agency performance. Statistics Canada also established its own in-house middle management training program—one of the few departments to do so at the time. Management practice working groups were a forum through which recommendations for management changes could be brought forward. Such working groups helped foster a greater sense of cooperation and cohesion. These were also the formative years for off-site management conferences, which were the first opportunity some managers had ever had to meet one another. Since Dr. Wilk's tenure only lasted five years, many of these initiatives were still in their infancy when the next Chief Statistician was appointed. As such, it became Dr. Fellegi's challenge and ultimately great success to instill the initiatives into the culture of the agency.

The Policy Committee was established, consisting of the assistant chief statisticians and acting as the senior forum for advice on policy issues. In turn, the committee was informed by the functionally oriented management committees. The existing Executive Committee was eventually discontinued.

Statistics Canada also established regular program evaluations to assess relevance and client satisfaction with the creation of the Program Evaluation Division. In July 1981, Treasury Board issued a circular outlining the general principles and methods for the establishment of program evaluation within federal departments and agencies. Statistics Canada had one of the first evaluation policies in the federal government. By mid-1983, evaluations of several major programs had been carried out, including Balance of Payments, the Labour Force Survey, External Trade, Science Statistics, Computing, Justice Statistics, and Culture Statistics.

Embracing diversity

To increase diversity at the agency and across the public service, conscious efforts were being made in the areas of recruitment and employee support.

In 1980, for example, a program was introduced at the agency to increase its francophone population, particularly within the Economists, Sociologists and Statisticians occupational group. The agency undertook active recruitment on Quebec university campuses as part of the initiative, and, within the next four years, francophone representation in that group grew from 14% to 35%. The diffusion of bilingualism in the federal public service was also evidenced by the opening of the new Language Training Centre in 1982 at Statistics Canada, which increased accessibility to language training for employees. The joint project between Health and Welfare Canada and Statistics Canada was supplied with language teachers by the Public Service Commission.

While major efforts were made to improve representation of French speakers, employment equity had not yet become a major objective for the government or society in general—most notably absent was employment equity for visible minorities. There was some movement in the employment equity for women, and even less for Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and people in a visible minority group.

The Equal Opportunities for Women Program continued, and included regular lunchtime sessions to ensure management was aware of the challenges faced by women in the pursuit of their career aspirations. In October 1983, the public service announced its target to double the number of women in the management category over the next five years. At the agency, to improve the representation of women in certain occupational groups and at senior levels, managers were required to plan targets for female participation and provide a timeframe in which to meet these goals. Regular annual reports reviewing progress and recommending future actions were produced for Treasury Board.

The agency also introduced a program in 1979 to increase employment opportunities for Indigenous people, including focused recruitment efforts and identification and removal of barriers to staffing and career advancement. The 1981 Census was identified as a specific area for an initial hiring focus, with almost 1,000 Indigenous people hired for the census.

A program was also introduced to increase job opportunities for the persons with a disability, including the identification and removal of architectural barriers, arrangements for aids or services, and the organization of awareness sessions for managers and other employees.

However, much more work needed to be done and a number of years elapsed before the public service and the agency began to fully draw on the strengths offered by a diverse employee population.

Martin B. Wilk practicing his French in the new language laboratory at the Language Training Mini-Centre, 1982
Employees from the Labour Force Survey beginning their work in Yukon, 1981

Greater focus on research and development

Throughout the Wilk years at Statistics Canada, greater attention was focused on re-examining and redefining strategic objectives. In May 1981, Dr. Wilk addressed the annual meeting of the Statistical Society of Canada, where he shared his perspective on the agency. He spoke of his belief that the agency's purpose was to provide an information service to the public. Testament to this shift in focus, the first annual report signed by Dr. Wilk, that of 1979/1980, was significantly different from the program-by-program detailed monotony of previous annual reports. It began by clearly delineating the purpose and contributions of the agency to Canada, to the lives of Canadians, and internationally. Effectively "staying out of the weeds," it provides highlights and focuses on the rationale for programs and activities. As opposed to a collection of descriptions of individual efforts, it paints a picture of an integrated, purpose-driven organization.

At the same time, Dr. Wilk felt strongly that resources must be continually dedicated to creative and relevant research and development; the identification and implementation of new statistics, methods and processing; and the improvement of production and dissemination. In fact, Dr. Wilk characterized the agency as "a two-headed creature, half scientific research institute, half information production agency." While the agency was unequivocally a scientific organization, it had major production responsibilities as one of the largest publishers in the country, publishing an average of nine titles every working day.

While research and analysis was somewhat strengthened during the early 1970s under Dr. Ostry's tenure, they did not return to the level of research that Dr. Goldberg sponsored and demanded; they even took to the back burner during the pressing turmoil and budgetary reduction exercises in the late 1970s. However, starting in 1983, an appendix to the agency's annual report listed a partial bibliography of research works by Statistics Canada employees.

Analysis and research functions were also encouraged and actively promoted at the agency through stronger ties with academia and research. This was achieved through a program of fellowships and internships, a network of advisory committees, and by recentralizing methodological services at the agency to allow for corporate direction and improved intellectual collaboration. This was a deliberate and profound change, and research, development and analysis thereafter remained an important part of the agency's culture and raison d'être.

The Visiting Fellowship and Internship Program engaged leading scholars and experts to undertake assignments and share their analytical abilities with the agency, allowing them to devote more time to analysis. The visiting fellows in 1985 undertook research on topics such as linguistic minorities, mathematical demography, and the characteristics and career patterns in the teaching profession. The program helped strengthen Statistics Canada's reputation as a social science organization.

The overarching Research, Development and Analysis Committee was created to coordinate and stimulate innovation and integrate the research work undertaken by the various research enclaves at the agency. The committee carried out a coordination function, provided strategic direction, and helped formulate priorities and identify opportunities.

To coordinate and underpin the agency's program of research and development in survey methodology and data analysis, the Methodology Research Committee was established in August 1982. The committee developed and maintained a strategic plan for methodology research at the agency, operating to coordinate and oversee the research of the various methodology divisions, which, at the time, were scattered throughout the fields. In 1984, when methodology was recentralized, the committee continued to act as the branch's management committee for the methodology research program. The Methodology Research Committee also provided an annual report on its achievements and plans to the Methods and Standards Committee, which was established in 1984 as one of the new corporate management committees.

The first Statistics Canada symposium, whose theme was "a critical look at survey research from planning to evaluation," was held in September 1982. The second symposium, held in 1984, was also the first in the annual series on data analysis methods and organized by the Methodology Research Committee.

The Research and Analysis Division was established in the social statistics field in 1981, and was later absorbed into the newly formed Analytical Studies Branch. A new monthly publication, Current Economic Analysis, was introduced in 1980/1981. It featured analyses of current economic developments on topics of special interest such as recession and expansion in the economy, as well as the results of a new system of leading indicators. The agency had been working on a new index of leading indicators, which, as inflation continued to rise, had quickly become one of the most watched barometers of the country's economic performance by 1981/1982. The index combined a group of economic variables, including housing starts, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and retail sales, which could all be used as indicators of the direction of the economy.

Dr. Wilk and his senior managers recognized that it was critical for the agency to analyze social and economic developments to identify emerging issues and contribute to their illumination. This work needed to be carried out with ongoing interaction and communication with policy departments. However, there was some tension as a result of the apparent intrusion of its analytical work into the terrain of these other departments. This "apparent intrusion" was and remains a necessary element of a centralized statistical agency, and was something that the agency was particularly aware of as it grew its research and development program.

Greater collaboration and outreach

The agency entered a new era of outreach and interdepartmental cooperation during the early 1980s. A number of joint projects were initiated with other departments, and there was increased consultation with users on data needs, including various interdepartmental and federal–provincial consultations and task forces. Bilateral steering committees were put in place to manage interfaces with many key government departments, complementing existing federal–provincial coordinating committees. For example, at the request of the Yukon territorial government, Statistics Canada was testing the feasibility of extending the Labour Force Survey to the Yukon Territory, as it was undergoing a sample redesign, scheduled for completion in late 1984. The agency's network of expert advisors was bolstered through the creation of many professional advisory committees, including for the prices program, labour market statistics, and for the System of National Accounts. Such external advisory committees met regularly to monitor statistical programs and recommend improvements in their scope or content.

The agency also established a program of fellowships and internships in an attempt to close the gap between academic statisticians and government statisticians. Dr. Wilk gave a notable address to the Statistical Society of Canada in June 1985 to this effect entitled "the relationship between statisticians and statisticians." He discussed how government statisticians had not learned to maintain an ongoing dialog with academic statisticians (he referred to them as blue collar and white collar statisticians), and, as a result, risked underutilizing a rich and fundamentally important resource. This address was subsequently published in the Journal of Survey Methodology in December 1985, and was later discussed at the Conference of European Statisticians.

In a widespread effort toward greater outreach, the agency produced Statistical Highlights, a weekly bulletin that went to all Ministers, as well as to all senior officials of federal departments. In addition, Dr. Wilk participated in weekly Deputy Minister "Mirror Committees" on social development and on economic and regional development. These committees met to discuss policy initiatives, share information about government policy and support interdepartmental coordination. Such meetings ensured that Deputy Ministers were aware of where other departments and ministries stood on policy proposals to ensure Ministers were fully prepared prior to Cabinet committee meetings.

Methodology hits a new stride

Since being dispersed across the subject-matter fields in 1978, the methodology divisions had continued in their important service role, but without the benefit of a "central concern for methodology," to use Moser's words. One positive aspect of that period was the continuation of the Survey Methodology journal. Founded in 1975, the journal published papers from methodology staff and others and was freely distributed within and outside the agency. It developed a constituency, and garnered professional recognition and international stature. It became an official Statistics Canada publication in 1984.

Dr. Wilk's arrival signaled a rebalancing of methodology, with a renewed focus on both current and future needs through greater research and development. He emphasized the absolutely fundamental priorities of relevance, innovation and development of statistical programs. In 1982, the Methods Development Branch was created in the social statistics field, bringing two of the three methodology divisions together with Geography and Administrative Data Development functions. Full centralization occurred in 1984, with the creation of the Methodology Branch within the Informatics and Methodology field.

A new course on survey methodology was offered to employees. The Advisory Committee on Statistical Methods was established as a panel of international experts, and held its inaugural meeting in May 1985. It has met twice a year since that time to provide expert advice and review of methodological developments for the agency. It has been chaired by a series of eminent statisticians including Morris Hansen, Wayne Fuller, Graham Kalton and Michael Brick. Important professional relationships were also developing with the U.S. Census Bureau and with the statistical organizations of Sweden and Great Britain.

International relationships expand

Chief Statistician Martin B. Wilk signing the Memorandum of Understanding on future cooperation with the State Statistical Bureau of the People's Republic of China, 1985

Under Mr. Duffett, the international co-ordinating function was performed by Mr. Duffett himself and Simon Goldberg. Dr. Ostry seconded a resource to her office to take care of such matters—and it was from this that the Office of International Relations, reporting directly to the Chief Statistician, was born in 1973. Three years later, the International Relations Division was created at the agency. During the 1970s and 1980s, the division was active in the Commonwealth Statisticians Committee, the Inter-American Statistical Institute, and the International Statistical Institute and its sections.

Dr. Wilk continued to foster relations within Canada and internationally, through collaboration in international meetings and professional exchanges, and by welcoming visitors from other countries. This resulted in the bolstering of Canada's international statistical reputation. For example, in 1982, Simon Goldberg was invited back to Statistics Canada to give a keynote address at a seminar on "the role of technical cooperation in the further development of the international statistical system." He also gave a briefing to the Policy Committee to generate interest in the United Nations' Household Survey Capability Programme—a major international technical co-operation effort in statistics that was co-sponsored by the United Nations (UN), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank. The programme was designed to help provide a statistical framework for the planning purposes of developing nations and assist them in achieving self-sustaining national statistical programs. Simon Goldberg became coordinator of the programme at the UN in 1979 after retiring from as Director of the UN Statistical Office.

Beginning in 1980, Statistics Canada was also leading an international task force on broadcasting, television and film industry statistics. The task force was established not only to develop a standard system of cultural statistics, but also to assist developing countries in organizing culture statistics programs and to ensure that international comparisons of such statistics were valid. Such collaborative endeavours contributed to the continuing development of internationally comparable statistics and improved the Canadian statistical system.

The dawn of a valuable connection with China's National Bureau of Statistics

The year 1984 marked the beginning of a reciprocal relationship with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of China, when Dr. Wilk approached the Chinese delegation at a meeting in New York to suggest regular exchanges between the two statistical organizations. He travelled to China in 1984 to meet with central and provincial statistical bureau representatives, and the Chinese delegation reciprocated in 1985, at which time a Memorandum of Understanding was signed. It was agreed that the two agencies would endeavour to develop and maintain a program to facilitate the exchange of sample questionnaires, released publications, the results of statistical research and analysis undertaken as considered appropriate by both parties, as well as joint research and development projects whenever such initiatives would be mutually beneficial and feasible.

Strategic and responsive communications

One of Dr. Wilk's first initiatives was to establish effective media relations, which included routine monitoring of media coverage. Recall that previously the agency did not have a clear policy on media relations and the approach had been to sit tight and hope that the negative attention would soon pass; they were only to engage with the media if absolutely necessary. Dr. Wilk instituted the protocol of acting quickly to correct erroneous statements or unwarranted criticisms. This protocol resulted in positive outcomes not only on employee morale, but it also positively affected the agency's relationship with the public. A firm policy of full interaction with the media was established, including being entirely open to their inquiries and keeping them closely informed of the agency's work. Senior officers were encouraged to communicate openly with the news media and participate actively in outside professional and public activities. A training program was also being developed in collaboration with Carleton University to improve the communications skills of researchers as well as the statistical knowledge of communicators.

Overall, the agency was becoming more strategic with its communications, and to this end, a marketing and information branch was established in 1981/1982 under the Assistant Chief Statistician (ACS) responsible for the newly created Communications and Operations field. While the Marketing Services Branch had been created under an ACS almost 10 years earlier, efforts were being made to improve and centralize the agency's publishing policy and operations, and focus more on the agency's role as a service provider. The agency needed to develop expertise in sales and service as well as public affairs to ensure it was maintaining good relations with the public. The new branch was organized in such a way that it was "constituency oriented" or specifically tailored to the needs of its various clients, including federal, municipal and provincial governments; the business community; professional groups; the general public; news media; and the international statistical community.

The year 1985 marked over half a century of Statistics Canada's The Daily, which was first published in 1932 as the Daily Bulletin. In January 1985, The Daily's official release time was moved from 1:00 pm to 10:00 am to improve its timeliness, and advance notification of the next day's major releases was introduced for the media via the Canada News Wire service.

One of the concerted efforts underway was to improve the availability of "information about information." To this end, in 1980/1981, a statistical data documentation system was developed to provide users with detailed information about each of the agency's surveys, the data they collected, and where the data could be found. In addition, the first comprehensive collection of metadata for the full range of the agency's data collection activities was published as The Inventory of Statistics Canada Questionnaires on Microfiche, 1980. It provided survey designers with insights into the kinds of questions asked by Statistics Canada, and provided analysts and data users with information about the questions and related material used to generate data. A new publication, The Social Concepts Dictionary 1980, was also launched as a reference work to help with the interpretation of social survey results. The intention of such initiatives was to help data users evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their data sources, and help survey designers frame their own questions. Teaching materials were also developed over a four-year period to make agency publications more useful in classrooms. This was done in response to comments from teachers' associations to the effect that the agency's statistical materials were difficult to use for teaching purposes. The agency even participated in the 1981 Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, along with other federal departments and agencies. Statistics Canada's display consisted of written and graphic material, audiovisual material, a CANSIM terminal and Telidon equipment. A computerized quiz challenging people's knowledge of their local community was very popular, as was a daily draw for a copy of the Canada Handbook.

Various statistical projects on display, circa 1980
Employee working, circa 1980


The agency had its own radio spot, "Inklings," a statistical information program produced monthly and distributed without cost to 200 FM radio stations across the country. Inklings provided Canadians with short soundbites on topics of interest, interspersed with relevant facts and figures, which helped humanize the agency's statistics and make them more user-friendly for Canadians. The program promoted awareness among the Canadian public about the agency's activities, products and services, and was an important tool in the 1986 Census public communications project. Each monthly series featured up to 10 Inklings, and each was estimated to have been broadcast about 2,000 times. Examples of the topics covered include automobile expenses, Christmas trees, moving expenses, the Consumer Price Index, and the tin can industry. The success of the inexpensive, proactive program, which was in place from 1982 until the early 1990s, reflected positively on the agency. It was discontinued in the early 1990s, primarily as a result of an inability to measure the effectiveness of the program.

This wasn't the first radio spot for the agency. In 1933, as an offshoot of the first The Daily and Daily Bulletin, which first appeared the previous year, material was supplied to the Radio Commission of Canada for a two-minute broadcast called "A fact a day about Canada," which was subsequently reprinted each month in a bulletin popular among teachers.

A new information age

Computerization of statistical work had gone through the worst of its growing pains, and the use of computers was finally growing beyond number processing into word processing—which translated into significant benefits when processing the agency's unending stream of publications. Equally important, new staff who were comfortable with and ready to embrace technology were emerging. By 1981, there were approximately 70 word processors (called MICOM) at Statistics Canada, many in the Publications and Text Processing Section of the Administrative Services Division. The machines were operated by 75 text processing operators, all of whom had undergone retraining to make the switch from typewriters.

Work was underway to develop and improve the efficiency of communication by taking full advantage of modern information technology, such as expanding the capacity of CANSIM and making data more accessible and useful through the use of visualization tools, of which Telidon is one example. Statistics Canada was also working on something called "Telechart," which combined the colour graphics of Telidon with the retrieval functionality of CANSIM to create a dynamic graphic display system. The principal medium of dissemination for the agency at the time was still print media, but the use of other media such as CANSIM, microfiche and computer tapes was progressively increasing. The quarterly national accounts, for example, were released on floppy disks in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

These were the years of the "Telidon trials." Telidon (a combination of Greek words meaning "seeing at a distance") was the brainchild of the Canadian Communications Research Centre, which refined a two-way technology first introduced in Europe to create an interactive information delivery system that used the family television. It was more or less a combination of the telephone (communication over distance), the television (displaying letters and images on a screen) and the computer (manipulating and retrieving information). It was truly an exciting time for communications, with Telidon making international headlines with predictions of great success. The 1981 Yearbook made reference to Telidon: "Two-way TV will render possible in the 1980s the general use of such hitherto futuristic services as electronic mail, teleshopping, electronic banking, remote sensing and security services, teleconferencing, computer-conferencing and information-retrieval from data banks all over Canada and the world."

The federal Department of Communications funded the development of the Canadian system, which was undergoing a year of extensive testing, while the Telidon trials were organized by Supply and Services Canada's task force on service to the public. This new technology was seen as a way to improve direct contact with the general public, and Statistics Canada jumped on board to become the first information provider to all field trials. In fact, the agency was the largest information supplier among all government agencies.

A Telidon task force led by David Worton developed an extensive collection of information in English and French for viewing in trial cities. The packages developed for the field trials included "the Wise Old Owl Quiz," "Statistics Canada at your Service," "Fast Facts on Canadians," "Energy in the Home," as well as a current indicator report, a CPI feature, a current economic feature, and a local area feature. Some trials were underway in 1980, and all were in motion by 1981. Each field trial was sponsored by different organizations, including the federal government, CBC, TVO, a cable TV company, and a number of telephone companies.

The new technology ultimately did not catch on, as Telidon sets were much more expensive than televisions, and they also came with additional telephone charges for their use. Consumers and businesses lost interest by about 1981, and government support ended in the mid-1980s when widespread adoption failed to materialize. Telidon was, however, important to the ongoing development of information technology in Canada, and the inventors received several awards for their contributions.

Notable milestones in the statistical program

In 1980/1981, satellite remote sensing technology was making inroads at the agency via an experimental project conducted jointly by Statistics Canada and the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing. The successful estimation of the New Brunswick potato crop acreage by satellite remote sensing broke new ground by demonstrating that satellite imagery combined with more traditional area estimation procedures could lower respondent burden, produce timely crop distribution maps, and produce reliable estimates for sub-regions. By the summer of 1983, crop area information was being gathered by remote sensing to estimate potato area in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, canola area in certain parts of Alberta and Manitoba, and grains and summerfallow areas in southwestern Manitoba. Plans were also being laid to extend the use of this technological endeavour throughout the province of Manitoba.

The Science and Technology Statistics Division was created in 1983 to reflect the growing importance of scientific research and development to Canadian economic development, international competitiveness, and the well-being of Canadian society. The division encompassed the existing Science Statistics Centre, with personnel and budget transferred from the Ministry of State for Science and Technology. It provided information to help analyze such issues as the adequacy of resources devoted to research and development, the availability of scientists, engineers and technicians, the accessibility of advanced technology to Canadian businesses, and the impact of new technology on international competitiveness and future requirements for skills. In addition, a program of science and technology indicators to help effectively develop Canadian technology was being created, guided by an interdepartmental advisory committee.

In the early 1980s, concerns about Canadian productivity were eliciting questions about the quality and level of capital stock estimates, which had previously been compiled using existing administrative records. As such, an interdepartmental research group was formed in 1984/1985, with representation from the Bank of Canada, the Economic Council of Canada, the Department of Finance and Statistics Canada, to examine the feasibility of a capital stock survey. The survey was being considered as a means to provide insight into the renewal process of technology, technological obsolescence and structural changes in the economy, which could help determine the causes of productivity decline in Canada. A trial capital stock survey proved feasible and investment surveys were revised to include details on types of machinery, the nature of fixed assets and anticipate lifespan, technical obsolescence and other information. A new accounting of capital spending for 1985 was set for release the following fiscal year.

In 1981/1982, the agency was beginning to conduct developmental work to allow for the inclusion in the estimates of non-market activities such as household or volunteer work and the "underground" or "unmeasured" economy. In 1983/1984, the agency released the first national balance sheet accounts for Canada. The agency was also looking at potentially adding a regional dimension to the accounts, and that same year released its first estimates of provincial income and expenditure accounts for 1979. The national accounts also undertook a study in the mid-1980s for the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada, which showed that the inflationary process since 1961 had shifted the economic resources of the country from the personal and non-residential sectors to the government and business sectors. It is worth mentioning that, over the preceding decade, Statistics Canada had lost its place in the international community in the area of the national accounts, but regained it under Dr. Fellegi's tenure with his strong stance on international engagement.

Time use studies

Time use is said to be the currency of the social system. In fact, interest in time use grew from early studies of the living conditions of the working class in response to pressures brought about by increasing industrialization. The importance of quality of life and economic and social well-being were increasingly being recognized throughout the 1970s and 1980s. While the Gross National Product had traditionally been used to measure well-being, it was becoming evident that measurement of market activity was but one facet of social and economic well-being. Non-market activities such as household production, volunteer work and other factors including natural resources and environmental impact also needed to be taken into account. The forerunner of large time use studies was the Szalai Multinational Time Budget Study in 1965, which was conducted as an international collaborative effort in 12 countries (Canada was not one of them). Many countries, including Canada, went on to conduct their own time use studies according to the standards set by the multinational project. The Institute of Public Affairs at Dalhousie University conducted one of Canada's first major time use studies in the cities of Toronto and Halifax in 1971.

Statistics Canada's interest in conducting a national time use study culminated in a time use pilot survey in the fall of 1981. In fact, an oversample was drawn in Halifax as part of the pilot to allow for comparison with the Halifax study 10 years earlier. The study was conducted by a consulting company, with sponsorship and funding from Statistics Canada, the Department of Communications, Canada Employment and Immigration Commission, and the Department of Supply and Services. The goals of the project included determining whether a time use study could be conducted by telephone and whether such a study could work in the Canadian context. While telephone interviewing had been used for a portion of the sample of the Labour Force Survey since the 1970s, its potential for more extensive use was being investigated. The feasibility of sampling households by telephone by random digit dialing was also being tested, and, in fact, the early eighties were also the years of the development of the first computer-assisted telephone interviewing system at the agency, for the Traveller Accommodation Survey.

The time use pilot proved successful, allowing for national-level data on the time use of Canadians to start being collected on a regular basis in 1986, in the second cycle of the General Social Survey. It was subsequently collected at regular intervals by this new survey.

Employee working, circa 1980
Advisory Services employee, circa 1980

New approaches for business statistics

The year 1984 also marked the launch of the Business Survey Redesign Project (BSRP), a major six-year project to redesign the entire spectrum of business surveys, based on a revitalized Business Register and intensive exploitation of tax data. The project was launched in response to concerns about possible weaknesses in Statistics Canada's infrastructure, which were the result of a number of recent developments, including computerization of data; allowing data confrontation at the microdata level; growing concerns about response burden; and the development, but not yet ubiquitous use, of a central business register. Over the preceding three decades, the Business Survey Program had been built up by the gradual addition of individual surveys meeting various information needs. Each of the approximately 200 business surveys were managed by the various divisions, which were all responsible for devising and maintaining their own methodology and clerical staff, including compiling a detailed list of the businesses in their area of interest. The BSRP combined all these lists into a single corporate database, which could be used by all surveys. This was anticipated to be more cost effective and more effective overall, and greatly improved through a closer relationship with the Canada Revenue Agency. It was also expected to improve the quality of business statistics and make it easier to compare data from business and economic surveys.

The project was seen as a trailblazer as it took a large number of seemingly different problems from across the agency and provided an integrated approach to their solution. Many smaller businesses saw their requirement to respond to surveys eliminated altogether. Next to the census, it was the agency's largest Bureau-wide initiative. While some divisions were previously using the Business Register as a source of information, they first had to be convinced that was a good idea. A corporate Business Register was indeed successfully established, but maintaining the list of 2 million or more businesses was certainly challenging. While some divisions continued to use their own lists, the Business Survey Redesign Project was instrumental in converting some divisions to the Register, such as the new monthly Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours. The agency saw further initiatives in the next two decades that continued to convert business surveys into using a corporate register.

The new Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours was created to improve quarterly labour-income statistics. After a 12-month parallel run, it replaced four longstanding employment surveys in the spring of 1983. It was developed with respondent record-keeping practices in mind and, as a result of new sampling techniques, 30,000 fewer businesses were being surveyed on employment, earnings and hours.

One of the research and development projects undertaken by the agency was a new approach to collecting statistics on small businesses. Small businesses were being recognized as important creators of jobs and economic wealth, which resulted in demands for more information on their contributions to the national economy and for data that would be useful in their day-to-day operations. The strategy removed the burden of annual statistical reporting from most of these small businesses by making use of the information they provided on tax returns. This initiative also paid dividends by fostering the development of a comprehensive database exclusive to small businesses. The Small Business Statistics Group was established in June 1985 following consultations with the federal, provincial and territorial governments, as well as with representatives of the small business community. A list of the most urgent data needs was drawn up and agreement was reached for joint funding by federal, provincial and territorial Ministers responsible for small business.

Non-resident control in the Canadian economy

The agency started collecting information on the extent of foreign participation in Canadian corporations and unions in 1962 under the Corporations and Labour Unions Returns Act, for which the Dominion Statistician was given specific responsibility. The information was used to evaluate the extent of non-resident control in the Canadian economy, with the Act prescribing revenue thresholds above which corporations were obliged to complete an ownership return. However, the reporting thresholds were static and, with inflation, the number of corporations required to file a return under the Act grew. It was found that this increased volume added no value for attaining the goal of measuring foreign control in the Canadian economy and it imposed a considerable burden on a significant number of businesses. Amendments to the Act received royal assent in July 1981 and brought about a reduction in paperwork burden on small businesses, exempting more than 96,000 small business from filing returns. This was achieved by combining a series of questionnaires into one single integrated questionnaire on financial accounts and international transactions for other businesses. It also permitted better and fuller coverage of financial data on labour unions, increased the usefulness of the information and improved access to the data by federal departments and agencies, eliminating duplication.

New approaches for social statistics

The enactment of the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1977/1978 increased awareness of the protection of individual privacy, and the legislated ability of Statistics Canada to compel survey response came under public scrutiny. With the growing use of computing, the agency was also making greater use of administrative data for statistical purposes, and beginning to link data to increase their power and utility. Consequently, the Statistics Act was amended in 1981 to permit surveys to be conducted on a voluntary basis, while maintaining the mandatory nature of the censuses. Statistics Canada undertook making all of its household surveys voluntary, with the exception of the Labour Force Survey. Business surveys, including all agricultural surveys, remained mandatory collection instruments, mostly as the issue of individual privacy was not as applicable to businesses, and because the impact of voluntary response on the quality of business data was considerably more important, especially given that some businesses are more important to estimates than others.

Two new acts took effect in 1983 in the move toward a more open Government in Canada: the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. The first established the legal right of access to information under the control of a government institution; the second protected the privacy of individuals and their right to access their personal information held by federal organizations. The agency created the necessary infrastructure to handle such requests, including responding to requests for information on its "workings" such as internal administration and planning, providing individuals with access to their own personal documentation.

In the early 1980s, legislation was introduced to establish the Civilian Security Intelligence Agency, which was at first to have right of access to all government databases, regardless of existing legislation. Dr. Wilk managed to successfully communicate the justification of an exception for the agency based on confidentiality. He explained the concept of confidentiality as "not a claim of the moral superiority of statisticians. Rather this is a consequence of the reality that 'reliability, objectivity and confidentiality' are all essential, and mutually supportive, in the functioning of the profession of statistics and the operation of a statistical agency."

In 1984/1985, the National Task Force on Tourism Data was established by federal, provincial and territorial tourism Ministers consisting of senior executives from the public and private sectors, under the chairmanship of Dr. Wilk. While tourism had long been recognized as important, its economic contribution had never been accurately measured. The goal of the task force was to create a reliable database through which the performance of the sector could be measured and monitored. The task force engaged more than 50 organizations in business, government, trade associations, and universities, and presented its final report to tourism Ministers in November 1986.

Demand for data on subpopulations including disabled persons, women, the Indigenous population and the elderly continued to increase, and the agency responded with special studies and data packages. In response to a 1981 recommendation by the Special Parliamentary Committee on the Disabled and Handicapped, the agency was developing a database on disabled persons in Canada to provide a factual basis for planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs helping the disabled participate more fully in society. To move forward with building the database, the agency carried out two supplements to the Labour Force Survey on Canada's disabled population in 1983 and 1984. The survey was the first attempt at the collection of national data on the prevalence of disability according to functional definitions accepted by the World Health Organization. The survey inquired into the size and characteristics of the disabled population and the impact of the disability on lifestyle. A major compendium on disability was produced based on the survey and released in early 1986, and the 1986 Census later included a question designed to identify the disabled population across the country to allow for a richer post-censal survey addressing much more detailed information relating to the nature of disabilities and their impact on employment, education, transportation and leisure activities.

In 1982, the agency carried out the National Urban Victimization Survey in seven cities. Pre-tests had been carried out in Edmonton in 1977 and in Hamilton in 1978, and the first full scale survey in Vancouver in 1979. Although the frequency of crime was previously available from administrative records, comprehensive information was not available on the risks, impact or extent of victimization. Sponsored by the Department of the Solicitor General of Canada, the survey covered the extent and distribution of selected personal and household crimes, the risk of being a victim of crime, the impact of selected crimes in terms of financial cost and physical injury, public perceptions of the criminal justice system, and victims' needs.

Martin B. Wilk and the some members of the National Task Force on Tourism Data, 1987
Employee working with CANSIM, Statistics Canada's key socioeconomic database, 1985

The origins of the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics

The problem of mixed jurisdiction in the administration of justice in Canada made it difficult to produce or obtain standardized and timely information. A key historical challenge to compiling national justice statistics had been a history of difficulty obtaining justice data from all of the provinces, largely owing to the need to negotiate bilaterally with each province for the provision of provincial statistics. The Justice Statistics Program's effectiveness relied completely on provincial support, and these bilateral relationships had been progressively declining. After repeated attempts at remedial action, the provinces eventually set up their own organization to compile national justice statistics, but its long-term cost and effectiveness were questionable. As such, a federal–provincial task force, the National Project on Resource Co-ordination for Justice Information and Statistics, chaired by the Ontario Deputy Provincial Secretary for Justice, was established in 1979 to examine the state of national justice statistics and to develop a formal plan for their improvement.

The task force presented its report to all federal and provincial Deputy Ministers responsible for justice in June 1980. It recommended the creation of a quasi-independent justice statistics satellite (the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and Information) within Statistics Canada, and a Justice Information Council (consisting of the provincial and federal Deputy Attorneys-General and Deputy Ministers of Justice and the Chief Statistician) to set priorities, ensure resources, and give direction to the satellite through its Executive Committee. The report also recommended a national user advisory committee of non-governmental users of national justice statistics. While all federal and provincial Deputy Ministers responsible for justice eventually endorsed the satellite model, there was some lingering apprehension on the part of the provinces as to the quasi-independent status of the satellite, with many preferring a fully independent centre. It was accepted in principle, and mechanisms were put in place to develop program proposals, establish guidelines and outline principles for operation. The compromise was that, after three years, if the operation was not proving successful, there would be a move toward a more independent centre. The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics commenced operation in 1981, with the official opening announced at the federal–provincial meeting of justice Ministers in December 1981. The model proved immensely successful, with the original three-year term being extended for an additional five years in 1984, and it continues to operate to this day.

A new small area data program

By 1981/1982, the agency was carrying out consultations with federal government departments and other users on the establishment of a comprehensive small area data program to integrate and improve access to currently available small area data and develop additional small area data sources. The small area data program was approved by Cabinet and launched in 1983. The program exploited existing bodies of data, with marginal added resources, to create coherent and consistent social and economic information for small areas. Consultations were carried out with other federal departments and provincial and territorial governments to understand their data needs and any data sources that might be accessed together. The first goal of the program was the publication of federal electoral district profiles, compiled from existing small area data sources. This was the first systematic pooling of data on a geographic basis from multiple subject-matter areas. The agency co-sponsored an international conference on small area statistics in May 1985 to learn from the experiences of other countries.

One of the first products produced as result of the small area data program was the Canada Conversion File, released in 1985, which allowed analysis to obtain census data by postal code areas. The next major product, released a year later, was a five-volume compendium of data on the socioeconomic characteristics of the residents of urban and rural neighbourhoods.

The Census Program

Employes promoting the 1981 Census at a fair in Winnipeg

The 1981 Census again used the theme "Count yourself in" to personalize the census for Canadians. The long-form questionnaire was sent to 1 in 5 Canadians, instead of 1 in 3 as it had been for the previous census. As part of the approval process for the census, the agency was required to investigate the possibility of using administrative and survey sources to replace census data in whole or in part, by 1986. It was concluded that no feasible alternative existed at the time. There were a few new initiatives, such as successful negotiations with Revenue Canada to use the facilities, personnel and computer equipment in its regional centres to capture census data on computer tape. The cost and time savings for data production were considerable. This process was not without controversy, however, as it spawned unsubstantiated allegations that confidential information was being provided to Revenue Canada.

Discussions were also being held with Canada Post for co-operative development of a linkage between postal codes and census data. As a result, data retrieval by postal code was available for 39 urban centres in Canada by the end of 1984. The agency could provide users with custom census information by postal code for user-specified areas, such as traffic zones or planning districts.

As well, a pilot was carried out for the census whereby computerized maps were used for a sample of enumerators, showing street patterns, names, the range of addresses for each block, and other useful features. The computerized maps proved to be valuable collection tools, and the agency subsequently undertook to work on a system to produce maps for 1,200 census tracts in urban areas for use in the next census, which helped enumerators cover their assigned areas. Enumerators were equipped with computer-designed maps of their areas, showing street patterns and names, the range of addresses for each block, as well as other geographical features. For the census publication program, the agency produced a computer-assisted metropolitan atlas portraying the results of the 1981 Census for 12 large urban areas. Maps depicted about 35 themes such as the distribution of population by age, language or income. Public use sample tapes were also produced to help researchers by providing access to a sample of records from non-identifiable respondents.

It was deemed a very successful census, with more than 99% of all Canadian households enumerated in under one month, the final population count delivered two months ahead of schedule, and the census being more than $3 million under budget.

The 1986 Census did not start out quite so well. In September 1984, the government-wide Task Force on Program Review was established by Prime Minister Mulroney to review government programs with the intent to produce programs that were simpler, more understandable, and more accessible to Canadians. Program reviews were carried out by study teams, often referred to as the "Nielsen Task Forces" as the initiative was led by Deputy Prime Minister, the Honourable Erik Nielsen. In fact, Michael Wolfson, who later became an Assistant Chief Statistician at the agency, was loaned to the government to help with the initiative. Assistant Chief Statistician David Worton was on the major surveys study team, which reviewed the major national survey programs and related information dissemination systems.

With the launch of these program reviews, the government was also calling for a variety of expense reduction strategies. While the Census Program had been initially approved by the government under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in April 1984, with content approved in June, it was subsequently cancelled as one of the cost-saving measures announced by the Minister of Finance under the government of Prime Minister Mulroney in a November 1984 economic statement. The agency was instructed to conduct a minimal Census of Population consistent with the requirements of constitutional law, and was therefore preparing to take a population count only, and only in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The 1986 Census of Agriculture was to be cancelled.

Hear ye! A town crier spreads the news: "The 1986 Census is coming…"

Trade groups, academics and other government departments rallied to oppose the decision, and a committee of Deputy Ministers was established to review the decision. After lengthy discussions, negotiations and analyses, the Census Program was reinstated. As a condition of re-instatement, the agency would identify cost savings of $100 million over five years, equal to the amount that would have been saved further to the cancellation of the census. Dr. Wilk was adamant that while the budget reduction could be imposed on the agency, it would be up to him to decide where to find those savings, and they would not need to necessarily come from the census. A press release dated December 21, 1984, stated, "In keeping with the government's commitment to reduce expenditures, Statistics Canada has developed an alternate plan in order to realize the full $100 million savings." In the end, a total of $26 million was identified from cost savings, $44 million came from recovering costs of products and services, and $30 million came from the use of earmarked funds for a federal government student/youth employment program to hire 25,000 enumerators for the census—a good portion of the total 45,000 temporary jobs required for census operations. The $26 million in cost savings were achieved by relying on and extending the systems and methods from the 1981 Census, curtailing publicity, including the elimination of paid advertising. In fact, the census made use of an alternative public communications campaign, through the voluntary support of more than 1,000 corporations, associations and media organizations, which freely distributed promotional items or provided free radio, television or print publicity. The Census National Advisory Committee was also established to advise the Minister Responsible for Statistics Canada on public communications and other challenges related to the 1986 Census. This group comprised 29 volunteers from business, media, voluntary associations, universities and other institutions across Canada.

The 1986 Census broke new ground: for the first time, the short form was bilingual, and the long form was delivered in the respondent's preferred official language, or delivered in both languages if the respondent's preferred language was unknown. In addition, the census package was revised to include reasons why each question was asked. These reasons, along with other selected materials, were translated into 33 languages to assist with the enumeration of persons who did not speak either official language.

An increased emphasis on cost-recovery

The fallout marked an increased emphasis on cost recovery to increase revenue from the sale of statistical outputs. As a consequence, the agency became revenue-dependent, requiring the sale of its products and services to partially fund the cost of reinstating the 1986 Census. Prices of products and services increased sharply, and licensing was introduced for the redistribution of data.

The agency also obtained full operational responsibility for its publications, including costs and revenues, and set up an organized and integrated management of publications. This allowed for the cost recovery of publication expenditures. The cost-recovery policy then began to be promoted where appropriate by federal government policy in 1984, as part of the government-wide effort to control public spending. Statistics Canada priced its products to recover printing, mailing and handling costs, and charged for computer and staff time required for special tabulations. Methodology, system maintenance and analysis were considered a public good and were not charged to the public. The agency continued to provide a free statistical service by delivering its publications without charge to libraries across Canada, as well as at all regional offices.

By the mid-1990s, the agency was generating about 5% of its budget through the dissemination of print and electronic products, and about 15% of its budget through cost-recovered surveys.

There was a downside. For years, the agency did not recover most of the costs of publication, charging no more than a nominal fee for printed publications. The relatively sudden shift to more fulsome cost-recovery angered many of the agency's clients, who particularly disliked the $3 charge per time series from CANSIM. Cost recovery made the agency and its clients more aware of the expenses involved in providing services, and while it served a purpose at the time, it likely also discouraged more widespread use of official statistics.

The early eighties underpin a new era

Dr. Wilk announced his retirement to the agency on August 14, 1985. Although he had been asked by the Prime Minister to carry on in his position, he declined, indicating that he felt he had substantially achieved the mission he accepted in 1980, and that the agency was on a trajectory that could continue without his continued role. As of September 1, 1985, he served as a special advisor to the Privy Council Office for the remainder of the year, and then retired from the public service in January 1986.

After his retirement as Chief Statistician, Dr. Wilk was invited to give a talk on the previous five years to the agency's offsite Management Conference in October 1985. Among his many positive remarks, one strong indication that the agency had turned a corner was that "…in the most severe recession period that Canada has experienced since the 1930s, when month by month this institution grounds out the bad news of high rates of inflation, of ever-increasing unemployment, of decline in GNP and other sad economic news, during all of that period of time there was not any sustained serious criticism or doubt regarding the quality or the objectivity of the information that this institution produces. I think that this is something to be really proud of."

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