StatsCan’s free data costs $2M – a rant

So the other day a reader sent me an email pointing me to a story in iPolitics titled "StatsCan anticipates $2M loss from move to open data" and asked me what I thought.

Frustrated, was my response.

$2M is not a lot of money. Not in a federal budget of almost $200B. And, the number may have been less. The Statscan person quoted in the article called this expected loss of revenue a “maximum net loss.” This may mean that the loss from making the data free does not take into account the fact the StatsCan's expenditures may also go down. For instance, if StatsCan no longer has to handle as many financial transactions or chase down invoices and so forth, the reduction if staff over other overhead (unrelated to its core mission by the way) and so result in lower operating costs not reflected in the $2M cited above.

Moreover it is still unclear to me where the $2M figure comes from. As I noted in a blog post earlier this year, in StatsCan's own reports it outlined that its online database (the one just made free) generated $559,000 in revenue (not profit) in 2007-08 and was estimated to generate $525,000 in revenue in 2010-11. Where does the extra $1.5M come from? I'm open to the fact that I'm reading these reports incorrectly... but it is hard to see how.

But all this is really an aside.

What really, really, really, frustrates me is that the hard number of $2M. It is a pittance.

This is the unbearable cost that's been holding up open statscan data for years? This may be the tiniest golden goose ever killed. Maybe more like a lame duck. Can anyone believe the loss of $2M (or 500K) was going to break the organization?

Give me a break.

What a colossal lack of imagination and sense of economic and social prosperity on the part of every government since Mulroney (who made Statscan engage in cost recovery). In the United States open statistical data has helped businesses, the social sector, local and state governments, as well as researchers and academics. Heck, even Canadian teachers tell me that they've been forced to train students on US data because they couldn't afford to train their students on Canadian data. All this lost innovation, efficiency, jobs and social benefits for a measly $2M dollars (if that). Oh lack of vision, at all levels! Both at the top of the political order, and within StatsCan, which has been reluctant to go down this route for years.

Now that we see the "cost" this battle seems more pathetic than ever.

Sigh. Rant over.

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