Government Junk Mail

Statistics Canada sent me a letter today. I thought it must be some kind of survey. I opened it to discover junk mail on government letterhead:

Dear Business Professional,

You know it takes more than luck to come up with the right decisions. You must equip yourself and your staff with trustworthy information to guide your choices. Statistics Canadas’ Canadian Economic Observer (CEO), Canada’s monthly report card on the economy, delivers the essential information you need to take the guesswork out of making decisions. Economists, policy-makers and business executives of companies of all sizes have discovered that CEO is a key resource when it comes to support for their planning, forecasting, and modeling activities. Read on and find out what CEO can do for you. [emphasis in original]

The cost for CEO (“Not the usual hype”) is $243 per year; the online version is offered for 25% less.

Statistics Canada is a federal agency with the power to fine and/or imprison people who refuse to fill out their census forms. Funded by the government, it collects that data in the name of the citizens of the country. The information is online, but it is not freely available. Now Statscan is turning around and selling that information right back to us1.

Although it may seem sensible to charge the chief beneficiaries, this information is useful to others also. The high cost of access converts a government service that would mostly benefit businesses and turns it into a service that almost exclusively benefits businesses. It simultaneously turns a respected public service with an important role into a business operation issuing cheap junk mail.

Notes

1 Well, only to “business professionals” I expect. I am incorporated, which raises the question of how Statscan got my address. Is it my Economist subscription, or did they dig it out of their GST registration records? How can I trust a government that operates like this?

2005-11-10