Statistics Canada building and signs are pictured in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

A year after jobs data leak, StatCan resumes sharing advance numbers with officials

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada has resumed its practice of giving key federal officials an advance look at its jobs report ahead of its official release.

The agency says two people each in the Finance Department and Privy Council Office, which aids the prime minister and cabinet, were authorized for a sneak preview of the April jobs number on Friday.

The officials were allowed to access the jobs report through a secure digital portal that tracked when each of them read the online report.

Statistics Canada said in an online notice about the change that it is a pilot project that will run through the summer and it will decide afterwards whether to expand to other federal organizations.

For years, the agency provided in advance key economic indicators like jobs numbers to select federal officials who oversee programs that could be directly affected by the figures.

But that changed after last May when the April 2020 figures were leaked to the media before their official release.

Just over 40 minutes before Statistics Canada officially released the April 2020 jobs numbers, Bloomberg News cited a “person familiar with the matter” saying the country had lost about two million jobs in that month.

It was a historic drop, but not nearly as bad as many anticipated, but caused some “unusual market volatility” around the time of the leak, according to a Globe and Mail analysis that agency officials noted in their probe of how the numbers got out.

A final investigation report from the agency said Statistics Canada wasn’t the source, confirming early suspicions from agency officials that the unauthorized release came from elsewhere.

On Friday, information was being shared as early as 6:30 a.m. local Ottawa time, a change from the practice up to May 2020, when details were shared early Thursday afternoon with select officials who could then brief ministers after markets closed for the day.

The officials who viewed the information Friday could then prepare briefings for senior officials and ministers only after their public release at 8:30 a.m.

“Enhanced security and governance protocols provide stricter controls and greater transparency to ensure that the advance release of sensitive information is handled in a secure manner and with the utmost integrity so that the data are kept safe,” the agency said in a statement.

“Statistics Canada takes seriously its duty to maintain the trust of Canadians by protecting market-sensitive data until their official release.”

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