Share the CLA Statement on Cuts to Statistics Canada

CLA: Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians (October 23, 2014)
CLA: Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians (October 23, 2014)

This week, in the middle of Open Access Week, the Canadian Library Association issued a statement criticizing the government cuts that have been made to Statistics Canada in recent years. This critique is strongly worded and it packs a punch; I expect it to gain traction beyond our regular librarian circles.

But getting the word out cannot happen without your help. Read the statement and share it with your colleagues and friends, especially with people outside of your typical library and archives networks.  To make the case that StatCan is not just a numbers factory but a social barometer for the nation, we must extend our voice. We must be on point, and we must persuade.

I have copied the text of the statement from the original PDF in order to help circulate this statement. When you share, please link to the original document or to www.cla.ca.

-Michael

Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians
October 23, 2014

The Canadian Library Association / Association canadienne des bibliothèques (CLA/ACB) is the national voice for Canada’s library communities.

Canadians know that access to reliable and high quality information, from the widest variety of points of view, is critical to a prosperous, functioning and democratic society. The decisions that citizens, communities, and governments make are better informed and have the ability to be more innovative when there is a free exchange of ideas facilitated by open and equal access to information. It is with these values in mind that CLA responds to recent and ongoing changes at Statistics Canada.

Recent programme cuts and policy changes at Statistics Canada have made it more difficult than ever for Canadians to track changes to critical issues that affect their communities, such as unemployment rates or the education of our children. The replacement of the mandatory long-form census with the National Household Survey, at a significantly greater cost, and the cancellation of many social surveys has made it increasingly challenging, if not impossible, for municipalities, hospitals, schools, and government agencies to administer social programmes and to track their success. In some cases, municipalities are financing their own surveys to gather the critical data they once had access to through StatCan. StatCan cuts and changes are continuing to impede effective planning for all agencies, making future programming a costly gamble. Additionally, with all levels of government focused on social and economic innovation, it is imperative that municipalities have the ability to look back on trends in order to plan for the future with reliable data.

Statistics Canada withering on the vine
Budget cuts have affected Statistics Canada enormously, which in turn affects all Canadians and all levels of government. While StatCan extended a lifeline to surveys and tools that tracked the nation’s economy through these cuts, it did so at the great expense of its social surveys, where significant budget reductions to the agency and ill-advised policy changes to its census program created major gaps that cannot be filled.
Canadians have forever lost valuable research that affects their communities as a result of cancellations of and cuts to surveys such as:

  • The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, which followed the development and well-being of Canadian children from birth to early childhood
  • The Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, which provided valuable insight into the financial situation of Canadian families
  • The Workplace and Employment Survey, which examined employer and employee issues affecting the Canadian work place, such as competitiveness, technology, training, and job stability.

Canadians and their communities are now suffering the consequences of budget cuts and policy changes at Statistics Canada. Major, long-standing surveys that paint a dynamic picture of Canadian society have been eliminated, making it nearly impossible to do year-over-year comparisons and to track the changes in social data and programs over time. It is hard to imagine less responsible measures in the age of open data, open government, and evidence-based policy-making than limiting the supply of data or replacing it with inferior products.

In the context of fiscal responsibility, CLA believes that the government can be much more effective at planning and supporting sound planning. The current government is determined to balance the books and bring Canada into an environment of economic prosperity and growth. In order to plan for these outcomes, careful public spending is dependent on correct information to inform decisions. Statistics Canada has long been the core agency for Canada’s ability to plan and spend carefully at all levels of government, and within the business and not-for-profit sectors. CLA believes that without consistent and reliable data, this ability will be lost.

The CLA urges the government to return Statistics Canada to its status as one of the world’s most respected National Statistical agencies by restoring its funding and the long-form census. The CLA urges the government to provide Statistics Canada with the support it needs to collect, analyze, and publish data that has proven, longstanding value for decision-makers, communities, and Canadians alike.

The Canadian Library Association/Association canadienne des bibliothèques (CLA/ACB) is the national voice for Canada’s library communities, representing the interests of libraries, library workers, and all those concerned about enhancing the quality of life of Canadians through information and literacy. CLA/ACB represents 1410 library workers, libraries and library supporters; and Canadian libraries serve in excess of 34 million Canadians through the nation’s public, school, academic, government and special libraries.

For more information, please visit
www.cla.ca
Valoree McKay, CAE
Executive Director
vmckay@cla.ca
613-232-9625 x 306

Budget cuts to libraries, archives, and information centres jeopardize access to Canadian government information

This has not been a good spring for Canadian librarians and archivists, especially those who work at federal libraries and archives, which are being de-funded and dismantled by federal budget cuts. These information centres sustain government and public research capacity. Their ability to create, preserve, and provide access to public information in our country is at risk.

These cuts, and the centres and programmes in jeopardy, include:

I’m missing some announcements since I was away when so many of these cuts were announced, but this list nonetheless clarifies the seriousness of the situation. In the space of a few weeks, the federal government has severely hampered the nation’s ability to gather, document, use, and disseminate government and cultural information.

You can learn what many of these cuts mean in clear, practical terms by reading this post written by my archivist friend, Creighton Barrett, at Dalhousie University’s Archives and Special Collections.  Creighton explains how these cuts negatively affect the university’s ability to collect and maintain the records used by scholars and citizens in one community alone, and rightly notes that they are a “devastating” blow to information access in Canada. Now, consider how Creighton’s list grows when you add to it the ways in which these same cuts affect the libraries and archives in your own community, and then all other libraries and archives in Canada. And we haven’t even touched what these broader cuts mean for LAC’s programming and resources, StatCan programming, and the research capacity of federal departments and agencies. “Devastating,” may well be an understatement in the long run.

These budget cuts are a knock-out punch to how public information is accessed and used across the country. The cuts not only affect the library community and possibly your civil-service-friend who lives down the road. They will affect the manner in which our society is able to find and use public information.  If public data is no longer collected (see StatCan), preserved (see LAC, NADP, CCA), disseminated and used (see PDS/DSP and cuts at departmental libraries), then does the information even exist in the first place? There will be less government and public information, fewer means to access this information, and fewer opportunities to do so.

Take a moment and recall the freedom you have been afforded to speak freely in this nation.  The utility of that freedom is dependent on your ability to access the information you use to learn, to criticize, to praise, or to condemn.  If knowledge is power, then a public whose national information centres and access points are ill-funded is a weakling. Libraries and archives provide Canadians with direct access to key government information, and for that very reason, they should be funded to the hilt.

This is where I get to my point: We are now facing a situation in Canada where government information has suddenly become far more difficult to collect, to access, and to use. The funding cuts that Canada’s libraries and archives face is an affront to the proper functioning of a contemporary democratic society. These cuts will impede the country’s ability to access public and government information, which will make it difficult for Canadians to criticize government practices, past and present.

I mentioned on Twitter that these cuts show us that the work of librarians and archivists are crucial to the nation’s interest. We are not mere record keepers, and neither do we spend our days merely dusting cobwebs off of old books. We are the people who maintain collections of public information, and we are the people who provide and nurture access to information. Many of us see ourselves as guardians of the public’s right to access information.  If we take on that guardianship, then we must defend and protect these collections and access points. I’m not talking about a Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 job. I’m talking about advocacy, which doesn’t have an on/off switch. Either you do it or you don’t.

So, what should you do? Get informed, speak up, and act.  Write letters to the editor. Write to your professional associations and other like-minded organizations; lend them your support, and when needed, tell them to add force to their own statements. Write to your MPs, to other MPs (especially to MPs who sit on government benches), to cabinet members, and to the PMO. When you’re socializing with friends who aren’t librarians and archivists, mention how our work affects their work and their personal lives. Massive cuts to the nation’s libraries and archives do not serve the public good. These cuts may help balance the financial books, but they create an information deficit that inhibits research, stymies dialogue and criticism, and makes government more distant from the people.

On Tories, Politics, and the StatCan Crisis

I’m not going to speak much about the Long-Form StatCan fiasco that the Tories have created this summer because so many other people and news organizations are covering it so well. David Eaves and Datalibre.ca have strong commentary and lists of organizations against it.  The Globe and Mail and The National Post have both kept their attention on the issue, too.   Aside from the fact that great resources already exist on this file, I haven’t offered my thoughts on it yet because so much of the issue lies in rhetoric, ideology, and politics.

Munir Sheikh, speaking truth to power. Click for details.

The Conservative Party of Canada, in its role as government, can if it so desires tell Statistics Canada to ditch the long form.  And Munir Sheikh, as the former director of StatCan, protests the only way he could by tendering his resignation.  Sheikh, like a proper civil servant, spoke truth to power and should be commended for it.  On these points, most people will agree.

If the Conservatives really do believe that the Long Form issue is about compelling citizens to offer information to the government under threat of a prison term (as PMO spokesman Dmitri Soudas keeps saying, as wannabe PM Maxime Bernier keeps suggesting, and as Tony Clement, I suspect, has been ordered to continually argued), then all the government must do to rectify this is change the StatCan Act so that individuals would be rewarded instead of punished for filing the long form.   I won’t take credit for this idea, since I’ve heard it several times in the media in the past week: Offer a $20 tax credit upon completion and submission of the long form. Anyone who has filed income taxes will appreciate the idea of a tax credit, and anyone who has filed income taxes also knows that a $20 credit does not equal $20 in tax savings, either.  This incentive could be a win-win for all parties.

As for the second-most argued point of contention about the long-form – whether or not the government should collect what might be privileged, personal data, e.g., what time you go to work in the morning, how many bedrooms are in the house, I think the CPC is making political hay.  What’s important is not how many bedrooms I, Michael Steeleworthy, possess (2), whether I rent or own (rent), or what time I go to work in the morning (between 8 and 830, depending on the time I wake up).  What matters is the aggregate data that comes of it.  No one is ever going to look at my own data to compromise my privacy – the government has not enough time on its hands to snoop into such arcane matters and has more important things to do.  And frankly, StatCan data is closely guarde  Its data is not freely available to the public, and its original files are kept under lock and key; not even Misters Harper, Soudas, Clement or Bernier could access my census form.  Really, if the government is keen on turning themselves into libertarian ideologues instead being the administrators of representative governance when it comes to the issue of data collection, then it should also stop collecting income taxes at CRA, and as Dan Gardner noted in the Ottawa Citizen, it better bow out of FINTRAC as soon as possible, since if there was ever an Orwellian “spy-on-your-neighbour organization out there”, this is the one.

What’s more, if the CPC is bothered by the collection of information, it may as well shred its own database of party members, which is a storehouse of information that their grassroots base would presumably disagree with (if the current CPC rhetoric about data collection is to be believed) in the first place.  Dear Stephen Harper, I’ve heard that teaching by example is the best way to give a lesson, so let’s start this Data Collection Disruption at home and send the CPC’s own files to the great Shredder in the sky.

Former Ontario Minister Snobelin, famous for wanting to create a "useful crisis" to promote political aims. Click for details.

Snarky comments aside, the long form issue is a political issue, and I don’t see the CPC moving back from it.  I may be wrong – I’m not a seasoned political observer, I’m only a fairly bright fellow living on the east coast.  But one thing is clear: in the tradition of one-time Ontario PC Minister of Education John Snobelin (cf. Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution; Snobelin served alongside Ministers Clement and Flaherty, I might note), the best way to create change in government is to create a crisis.  And that’s what’s happened with the Long Form.  The CPC has created a crisis.  Even if Stephen Harper, through Tony Clement, were to suddenly make peace and reach for consensus, they will have shifted the status quo closer toward their own political ideology.

Canadian Library Month and the Informed Society

While the surfing the internet to learn more about the beginning of national library weeks / library months in Canada after reading about Jack McLelland’s opposition to them, I discovered a digitized copy of the Shawinigan Standard from Wed., 1 April 1959 in the Google News Archive.  The paper’s editorial (ostensibly written by Doug R. Wilson, publisher, editor, and advertising manager), speaks on the topic of Canadian Library Week, but interestingly doesn’t mention culture.  To Wilson, Canadian Library Week is an important and necessary cause that will help to develop and maintain an informed citizenry since:

“The key to our democratic government is an informed public . . . The Canadian Library Week program should remind us of the relationship between reading and knowledge and our traditions of freedom (source)

I’ve transcribed the entire editorial below since it touches on the subject of democratic values and the informed society.  The progressive librarian in me believes that libraries, although being creatures of the state (or sorts), are strong defenders of the individual’s right to speak freely as well as the individual’s right to privacy.  Wilson’s editorial refers to traditions of ‘freedom’ – a slippery word, I know – but it’s still nice to see reading and civil liberties entwined together in the public eye, as it is here in 1959.

Canadian Library Week

Less than one Canadian in every three was reading a book at the time of the last survey by the Gallup organization

This is not a situation of which we can be proud; nor is the fact that only 61 per cent of our citizens have ready access to public library service, according to the most recent government survey.

Our reading record, by almost any yardstick seems to be about the worst among western nations, save for the United States.

Whatever the reasons for this dismal picture, we are fortunate that a move is understand to change it.  Our first Canadian Library Week is to be observed from April 12 to 18. The Week is actually the finishing touch to a two-month, nationwide, “Wake Up and Read” campaign to encourage more reading of all kinds by Canadians.

It is good to see public-spirited men and women from many fields tackling this problem in a practical way.  For the question of reading should not be left entirely to librarians and educators.  It is something with which every one of us should be concerned.

The key to our democratic method of government is an informed public.  Such a state will remain but a dream if only 15 per cent of Canadians over six years borrow books from their public library (another government survey finding).

This is not nearly good enough for a country that is more than 95 per cent literate, has more leisure time and a lager national income than ever before.

The Canadian Library Week program should remind us of the relationship between reading and knowledge and our traditions of freedom.  It should help re-kindle an interest in those of us who have lost touch with books; to open the way to new, worth while experience for others who have neglected the reading habit.

Canadian Library Week is drawing support from leading citizens in business and industry, libraries and publishing houses, newspapers, radio-tv, the educational and other fields.

But it deserves – and needs – the full support and active interest of all of us.

The Semantics of Subversive Librarianship

Let’s get political.

A large number of librarians, myself included, identify with left-leaning, progressive politics.  Whether we actively oppose GATS meetings, actively write against and criticize GATS negotiations, work to help the disadvantaged get the information that need to get a fair shake in life, or simply believe that public information access and dissemination is at the core of librarianship, these librarians are willing to merge their personal ethos with their professional lives.

Some of us revel in being labeled “subversive” for these politics.  The word’s connotations of public protests and discrete or grand actions to disrupt the status quo comfort us.  We’re the kind of people who want to make a difference in the world in our time, so being called subversive reminds us that we are in fact doing our part to fight social ills and defend civil liberties.    And we love the words spoken by Michael Moore (even if we don’t like the man – there are subversives who don’t appreciate all his work) on subversive librarianship.  Moore, a touchstone of progressive politics, praised the librarians of the Social Responsibilities Round Table who protested loudly against HarperCollins and ultimately ensured that Stupid White Men went to press after 9/11 with its criticisms of the Bush administration intact.  Humbled by the work of the librarian profession, Moore said:

I really didn’t realize the librarians were, you know, such a dangerous group.  They are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them. You know, they’ve had their budgets cut. They’re paid nothing. Books are falling apart. The libraries are just like the ass end of everything, right?

And there we are: praise from on high.  Affirmation that we are doing our part in the fight to protect civil liberties.  And we really are! Socially responsible librarians every day defend an individual’s personal freedoms, such free speech or a right to privacy.  It’s no surprise then, that I love the SRRT, the BCLA, Library Juice and other like-minded associations and endeavors.

I strongly believe that my personal moral code cannot be tossed out the window when on the job.  My professional code of ethics marries the ALA’s Code and the CLA’s Code, the guidelines of my employers, and my personal ethical behaviour. And to put it bluntly, I work only for organizations that encourage learning, information access and information rights, a freedom to read and a freedom to speak, and an open discourse with the community on the issues affecting it daily.   That’s not to say I’m marching with fists raised whenever I shuffle along from one building to another when on campus – I packed away my Doc Martens long ago – but I do ask on a regular basis if the actions in my daily life, let alone working life, are for the greater good of society, and I work to answer in the affirmative.

But I’m bothered by the fact that these actions and values are often considered “subversive.”  I largely agree with and understand that subversive actions can never come to an end because the very nature of subversiveness implies continued action as a watchdog of state and corporate interests, but I don’t appreciate the negative connotations that are brought to bear with the use of the term.  The word, “subversive,” has physical, if not violent connotations attached to it.  To subvert something is not to upset the balance or undermine an imperfect authority.  Rather, “to subvert” is simply “to overthrow.”  And to institute regime change is not the ends our endeavour to protect civil liberties.  In protecting civil liberties we aim to defend individual freedoms.  We aim to be openly critical of government and corporate interests of all political stripes in order to defend the interests of the individual and to protect the interests of those who can’t defend themselves.

I may be quibbling about semantics and rhetoric, but it’s a strong point that I believe warrants discussion in the wider community.  To use the word “subversive” is to use language which suggests that we are only muckrakers when we are in fact social critics and defenders of the same freedoms that people who often oppose our actions hold dear.  Couldn’t we just embrace the term “subversive” as our own and try to subvert the understanding of its use, you might ask?  I think we’re still trying to do this, but in doing so we find ourselves preaching only to the choir.  Those who have not heard our message or who do not agree with it do not understand any ironic ‘subversion’ of the word “subversive.”  Rather, we must be clear and concise with our message and our terms.  Just as I am pro-choice instead of anti-life (as some abortion opponents would have it), we should pronounce ourselves as pro-civil-liberties, or something to that effect, in order to help the world understand our message.  We’re not here to take down the government, overthrow our national institutions or destroy capitalism and all its vestiges.  Rather, we’re here to promote, defend, and maintain the rights of the individual.  Perhaps a term other than “subversive” would better explain this to others.

On that note happy holidays. And to all the subversive librarians out there, I hope I haven’t offended you.  This isn’t a personal attack.  This is more an attempt to start a dialogue on the words we use to describe ourselves and our actions.

Libraries, West Bend, and Civil Liberties

Going around the internet right now is the case of a local group of citizens in West Bend, WI, who disagree with the inclusion of GLBTQ texts in the local public library’s young adult collection and have therefore successfully petitioned for the removal of four trustees from the Library board. As widely reported in the press, West Bend residents Jim and Ginny Maziarka, who formed a private group called West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries, objected that GLBTQ texts are “pornographic” (para. 11) and that walking into libraries with such texts is akin to browsing a local adult entertainment shop (para. 16). The Maziarkas raised a fuss, contacted their city council, and successfully had a few library trustees rejected from re-appointment.

A number of people and organizations have made note of the blatant discrimination and rights abuses that this action set in motion. On the face of things, this story is a solid example of discrimination against the GLBTQ community or of the imposition of purported “community morals” onto an entire generation of local youth who may be of a different, yet legitimate “moral” persuasion. I worry, however, that this controversy hasn’t struck a stronger chord with the general public. What we’ve read about, and what we’re seeing in West Bend is a potential chilling effect that can pressure a city council and public library board to bend to the will of one community subgroup at the expense of another. The entire controversy, predicated on the vocal pressure of one group, runs the risk of trampling the rights of the entire community to freely associate, inform, and be informed. In short (and as Lisa Chellman has duly noted), the Maziarkas might be toying with the citizens of West Bend’s freedom to speak freely.

The link drawn between the freedom to read and the freedom to speak isn’t always made clear in the public eye. When we talk about freedom of speech, we generally speak about our right to say what we want, when we want. We picture a person ready and willing to give his or her opinion on the subject of the day. Implied in this image but lost in the rhetoric, however, is the concomitant right to listen to what is being said. A right to speak, after all, is worthless if there is no subsequent right to freely listen to the speaker, read the book or to analyze the data for oneself. Demanding the removal of GLBTQ texts from a library (regardless of its categorization as YA or general fiction) is to censure those who care to speak on the subject as well as those who care to read it. It imposes the will of one group over another.

The Maziarkas’ maneuvering to pressure the library board (and ostensibly the library itself) to work only for their groups’ needs and desires negatively affects West Bend’s ability to inform itself on a given topic from the entire spectrum of information/literature available to it. Their group’s actions threatens the rights of not only the city’s youth and GLBTQ communities, but also the rights of the city as whole. Since the West Bend library must serve the community members, one should therefore expect to find books with GLBTQ plots as well as “traditional” relationship storylines.

What can librarians do to protect the interests of the entire community and to protect the free and unfettered flow of information? Having a solid collections and display policy is often a standard answer, and in the West Bend case, it might help to a certain degree. In cases such as these, though, when political pressure threatens to stifle debate and the information flow, it is important to be both political and civil. Remember that we serve the interests of the community. To that end, organize, and integrate. To the former, seek advice from other librarians who have been to the front when it comes to civil liberties. To the latter, become vocal and get involved in the community, and remind it why it needs to see all viewpoints – even the ones it disagrees with. Knowledge and understanding – regardless of one’s opinions and biases – is nurtured only through critique and debate. Remind the community, constantly, why this is so.

Librarians should be neutral about the information they procure. But they shouldn’t be quiet when it comes to civil liberties. Be vocal on civil liberties, especially on the freedom to read. Ours is a profession that has expertise in this basic tenet of our culture, so we shouldn’t shy away from expressing it.

Some more links on the issue:

Paul Everett Nelson, who provides a link to a local group who are protesting and petitioning against the original anti-free-speech action.

The National Coalition Against Censorship‘s original post reporting on the petition, from early April 2009.