Data in Action 

Speech

Speech by the Honourable Navdeep Bains, PC, MP
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

Toronto, Ontario
July 28, 2017

Check Against Delivery

Thank you very much, Anil [Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada], for that kind introduction.

And I want to thank Environics Analytics for hosting us today.

I want to share with you our government’s vision for a data-driven economy and society.

In particular, I want to talk about how our government can partner with you to seize the opportunities that come with a data-driven world.

At the same time, we need to work together to preserve the freedoms that all Canadians cherish: privacy, fairness and equality of opportunity.

Ladies and gentlemen, we live in a world where data are the raw materials that drive the innovation economy.

We not only live in a world with more data.

We also live in a world where more data come from a wider variety of sources.

Flows of data are moving continuously and in all directions.

They often don’t respect geographical borders.

In fact, data are being collected and analyzed at a speed that is rapidly approaching real time.

That means the time between what we know and when we act on what we know is getting shorter.

And as that lag time from knowledge to action shrinks, businesses are finding opportunities to innovate, serve their customers better and create entirely new jobs and industries that never existed before.

In short, big data analytics has the potential to affect the lives of Canadians more quickly and directly than ever before.

Technology now allows information to be captured, copied, shared and transferred quickly and endlessly.

Volumes of data that were once too expensive to preserve can now be stored affordably on a chip the size of a grain of rice.

That means just about every business, regardless of what it sells, is now a data and software company.

It also means that no one has a monopoly anymore on the collection, storage and analysis of data—not data-service companies, and certainly not government.

Let me illustrate with an example.

I’m wearing a fitness monitor right now.

It’s a gift from my wife—she wants me to be less well-rounded.

This gadget pays attention to my every move.

It keeps track of how many steps I take, how many calories I consume and how many I burn, and where I’m coming and going in real time.

My wearable knows more about my daily habits than my wife or my family doctor.

And while I sometimes overstate how much I exercise, my wearable is unflinchingly honest.

The data that are generated about me on my wearable raise the possibility that second or third parties can amalgamate and analyze those data in unexpected ways.

My wearable sums up the opportunities and challenges that come with living in a big data world.

Powerful software can now extract insights from small, seemingly disconnected pieces of data.

Digital technologies that enable the continuous collection of large datasets have the potential to make companies innovative and valuable.

But large-scale data collection also means that governments, businesses and citizens must continually review privacy and security policies and practices. 

Our government’s goal is to encourage the free flow of data to spark innovation.

But government also has a responsibility to protect the privacy of citizens, promote fairness, foster equality of opportunity for all Canadians and make itself more open and accountable.

This is especially true when markets and existing institutions do not otherwise support progress on those goals.

Let me give you an example.

Our government has committed nearly $40 million over the next five years to collect data about Canada’s hot housing market.

Why?

Because we recognize that middle-class families are struggling to find affordable housing, yet we lack the data to ensure that all Canadians continue to benefit from a stable and well-regulated housing market.

With this funding, Statistics Canada will gather data on the demographics and characteristics of homeowners.

These data will provide our government with insights to make informed decisions.

That’s how we will ensure that all Canadians have housing that is suitable and affordable.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to be the Minister responsible for a world-class organization such as Statistics Canada.

Our national statistical agency is recognized globally as a leader in open data.

In fact, Canada ranks second on the Open Data Barometer.

This annual scorecard is a global measure of how governments use open data for accountability, social impact and innovation.

However, the data revolution is moving so quickly that even Statistics Canada must innovate to remain responsive to the needs of Canadians.

In that way, government is no different than the private sector.

So I want to share with you our government’s vision for a modern and independent statistical agency—one that will support businesses and citizens like you who innovate and who create high-quality jobs for Canadians.

Today I am presenting a bold vision for Canada to become a leader in the big data revolution.

This vision involves working with all sectors of the economy and society—including many of you in this room.

To fulfill this vision, we will focus on five key elements.

First, we will identify new methods of generating and collecting data that move beyond the survey-first approach.

Second, we will find new ways to integrate data from a variety of sources.

Third, we will make our data easier for anyone to find and use.

That includes focused, high-value products, such as microdata sets.

Fourth, we will support the adoption across the economy of high-throughput tools to analyze and visualize data.

Finally, we will ensure that more end-users, whether they are businesses or citizens, can make evidenced-based decisions from data.

How will this vision benefit entrepreneurs, innovators and community builders?

Software developers could use simple tools to automatically access machine-readable datasets.

This means they wouldn’t need specialized knowledge of government agencies or programs to create a new app or develop adaptive and predictive learning systems for everything from self-driving cars to cognitive computers.

Consider also the possibilities for community builders.

They could use government data to more accurately measure our nation’s progress in  meeting the needs of all our communities.

That could result in better health outcomes.

It could mean better ways to deliver programs that reduce inequality in all aspects of our daily lives.

It could result in more efficient uses of energy.

Statistics Canada is already taking steps to develop new techniques for data management.

Ladies and gentlemen, the vision that I’ve sketched out for you today remains a work in progress.

That’s because you also have a role to play.

If we are to make Statistics Canada more responsive to your needs, we need to hear from you.

For the remainder of this summer and through the fall, we will be seeking your input.

We also want to have a candid conversation with you about the social and ethical questions raised by a data-driven world.

Specifically, we want your input on how to adapt our values of privacy, fairness and equality of opportunity in response to the data revolution.

Our government looks forward to working with you.

Thank you.


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