Statistics Canada identifies 'human error' in July jobs report

Statistics Canada has identified the error in its July employment numbers, as federal officials say no new employment insurance claims have been processed as they wait for the corrected data to be released.

'There was something that should have been caught, that was not caught,' agency says

Statistics Canada retracted its Labour Force Survey Tuesday after reporting that the Canadian economy had generated only 200 jobs in July. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

Statistics Canada has identified the error in its July employment numbers, as federal officials say no new employment insurance claims are being processed as they wait for the corrected data to be released.

Sylvie Michaud, director of the agency's general, education, labour and income statistics branch, said Statistics Canada has been able to determine where the error occurred, but is waiting until Friday to release new data to allow time to adjust packaging of the report.  

"We've been able to localize where it was in the process. This was a human error. There was something that should have been caught, that was not caught," she said. 

Kathleen Martin, a spokeswoman for Employment and Social Development Canada, confirmed that no one has received EI benefits based on the incorrect data from Statistics Canada, given the two-week waiting period for employment insurance. 

The correction will have no effect on the delivery and processing times of EI claims. 

This is as bad as it gets.— Philip Cross, former chief economic analyst for Statistics Canada

Philip Cross, former chief economic analyst for Statistics Canada, said he thinks the delay in releasing the new employment data reflects the nature of the error. 

"This is as bad as it gets. There is no cost, at this point, in waiting for Friday, because the damage has been done," he said. 

Cross said he thinks the error was likely the employment number, considering that Statistics Canada is delaying the release of the corrected data until Friday. Given the potential effect it could have on the economy if the new data were incorrect, the agency can't afford to get it wrong again, he said. 

"They don't want to have any impact on the markets. The only number that would impact markets is the employment," he said.  

The NDP blamed the Conservatives' cuts to Statistics Canada for the error.

“Conservative cuts are taking a toll on Statistics Canada’s ability to provide reliable data,” said NDP industry critic Peggy Nash in a statement. “We’ve already seen many surveys scrapped and data quality diminished with serious impacts on the ability of government to deliver services across the board.”

But Cross said that cuts to the agency would likely not have had any effect on the labour force survey, since that division has mostly gone untouched. 

"When Stats Can cut back … they were made in things like agriculture statistics. It's really quite banal, when you look at the cuts they've made, they were made in the less important areas," he said. 

"They didn't cut from labour force survey at all, because if you make a mistake with livestock stats or railway statistics,  you're not going to be front page news. It's a whole different thing to make a mistake in employment numbers."

With files from Laura Payton