StatsCan debuts new way to gather, explain data
'More relevant product,' StatsCan says
The Canadian Press
Posted: Sep 30, 2012 1:24 PM ET
Last Updated: Sep 30, 2012 4:44 PM ET
Statistics Canada on Monday will unveil a new approach to how it presents data, introducing new measures and changing the definition of others.
The federal data agency will issue a comprehensive revision to economic data of the past 30 years, an exercise that was two years in the making and that was designed to comply with revised international standards of economic measurements.
Some gross domestic product numbers will likely move up marginally, in part because research and development will be capitalized and some services will be added to the export tally.
But in broad terms, Statistics Canada is not rewriting the past. The new data will still dutifully record the slumps of the early 80s and 90s, the growth spurts that followed, and the great recession of 2008-09 and tepid recovery since.
"There's no real change in the economic history of Canada," says Jim Tebrake, Statistics Canada's director of the income and expenditure accounts division.
"There are changes from quarter to quarter, but nothing of significance," he said.
More precise picture of data
The value of the exercise is to give economic policy-makers and analysts a more precise picture of the ebb and flow of economic movements, says Paul Jacobson, a Toronto-based consulting economist who has followed the process closely.
"I've been warning people for months this is going to be a biggie, but not everybody's been paying attention." he says.
"Every single identifier people are using is changing, all the matrices change."
Jacobson, who has arranged for a four-hour seminar on the subject later in the month, believes the exercise will be worth it.
"It's going to make things clearer about what the devil is going on."
CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld has compared it to the transition from Fahrenheit to Celsius.
The comparison is somewhat apt because one of the benefits will be that countries, once they've followed suit, will more easily be able to stack their economies and component parts against each other.
'A more relevant product'
The new standards will be a bonanza for "data wonks," Tebrake agrees. That's because they will have so many more data points to follow.
For instance, total exports is currently broken down into seven groupings, now it will be 35. For personal expenditures, StatsCan will issue 100 sub-groupings for analysts to ponder, instead of the previous 38.
The business sector will be split between financial and non-financial corporations, and household income will become more precise after jettisoning tribal government activity, non-profit institutions, and other sectors that really had little relevance to households. Now they will have their own category.
"It's a much purer and clear measure," Teblake explains.
"I think at the end of the day it's a more relevant product. Anyone who does forecasts has much better data at their disposal."
The changes also include re-definitions of categories and new terminology. For instance, terms such as corporate profits, labour income and personal expenditures will be no more.
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