May 12, 2009

Yet another case of our government delaying the release of important data


Less than a week after BC’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) report raised serious questions about secrecy in government (see Keith’s comments here), The Tyee reporter Andrew MacLeod has uncovered another case of important statistics not being released on time.

The culprit this time is the Housing and Social Development Ministry, which typically provides welfare caseload statistics at the end of each month, but has so far failed to release its April report.

Indeed, when visiting the Ministry’s website today (March 12, 10:30am), it’s quite curious to see the regularity with which reports were posted on the last day of each month as this screenshot demonstrates:

Screenshot showing welfare data release dates on the MHSD website

According to this pattern, the welfare statistics for March 2009 should have been released on April 30 or shortly thereafter. MacLeod reports that his emails and calls to the Ministry inquiring about the apparent delay in the welfare data have not been returned.

Welfare data were showing large increases in previous months (as Marc pointed out here and the Tyee reported here) and political commentator David Schreck speculates that delaying the release of the latest welfare statistics may be a deliberate move to contain likely negative information before the election (as quoted in MacLeod’s article).

For reference, the previous provincial election was on May 17, 2005 and the welfare statistics release for March 2005 is dated May 11 (bottom right-hand-side of each page in the report). This was later than the usual last-day-of-the-month pattern, but it came a whole six days before the election date.

Whether or not this delay is deliberate or the result of oversight, it is nevertheless an affront on the democratic process. Transparency, which includes data being made publicly available promptly, is an essential mechanism that allows citizens to keep their government accountable. This is particularly important in the wake of a general election, which is our main tool to keep governments accountable in democratic societies.

Statistics Canada and the Bank of Canada, both of whom release information that can be politically sensitive, have processes to formally schedule and announce release dates well in advance to prevent any possibility that data be withheld for political purposes. The provincial government should be held to similar standards.

2009 release dates for all of Statistics Canada’s data products can be found here. The 2009 schedule of interest rates announcements from the Bank of Canada is here.

Topics: ,