Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Modest Proposal for Statistics Canada

I have a problem with Statistics Canada. I’ve been known to curse the awful labyrinth that is CANSIM but nothing fills the swear jar quite like having to PAY for data.

Now, I know that some readers of this blog will have old grad school friends who work at Stats Can, and I don’t mean to insult them. I know StatsCan has a great reputation internationally, and I’ve worked enough with international data enough to attest to the quality of StatsCan’s work.

My firm doesn’t use enough data to justify paying Haver Analytics or the Conference Board or another data provider for an annual subscription. Therefore, when I need data, not only do I have to go through roughly 6000 confirmation screens before getting it, I have to pay the ridiculous sum of $3 per series. That is, if I want a time-series of the unemployment rate by province and the national rate, I have to pay $33. If I want to add employment numbers, the participation rate or any other series – it quickly adds up. Sure I can expense these costs, and yes I could build my own database and update it each month as data comes out, but I shouldn’t have to. If I want the same data from the US – it’s free. If I want it from the EU – it’s free. UK – free. Australia – free. Get the idea?

So, a modest proposal for StatsCan – Carve out a core set of macroeconomic data and post it free of charge. Use the FRED II database as a guide. I don’t know how expensive this would be, and I know that an organization that hasn’t laid anyone off since Joe Clark was Prime Minister isn’t especially adept at cutting cots – but please find a way.

End rant – back to economics a little later.


Marc said...

Totally agree. I face the same situation you do.

But to be fair, they are getting better. For example, you can now download the latest national accounts data (including historical) as an excel spreadsheet for free.

geoff said...

I completely agree with you that data should be free from statcan. It was under Sinclair Stevens, Mulroney's Minister of Industry Trade and Commerce, that the nutty idea of charging Canadians or anyone for data. Stevens the slashers idea of frugality I think.

Anyway it isn't only small firms that have to pay to access data. Provinces and territories also need to pay or in most of their cases go through the Conference Board as I remember. So, just for example, if you are an Equalization receiving province you need to have access to lots of data some or most of which has been provided by you or your fellow provinces in order to forecast and verify your federal transfer. Neither StatCan nor the Finance department provide you with your data but they do send you off to a private contractor to purchase it.

This use to be a matter of concern and debate at fed-pro meetings. I'm not sure now what the status of the issue maybe - I think provinces and territories have simply learned to live with the foolish federal policy.

For interest sake here's a link to one old paper on the matter:

Shock Minus Control said...

I have friends at Industry Canada and Finance and even they have to pay StatsCan for data. Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

To get some free data from StatCan try going here: