Journalists have different ways of taking the measure of a society: reading official documents, interviewing people, getting out of the newsroom.
In many cases, though, what we want more than anything is boring old numbers. Numbers can say, with a unique authority: This is how things are today in Canada; here is where the problems lie. Nowadays we tend to call these numbers “data.”
At The Globe and Mail, reporters looking for data have gotten used to being disappointed. Most journalists in the newsroom have had the experience of trying to look up numbers for a story, or interviewing an expert who has done the same, and finding out that the answer is: “In Canada, we don’t know.” Either the government doesn’t collect the numbers, or it doesn’t make them easily accessible to the public. Or they’re kept hidden away entirely. The topography of Canadian society is left with another uncharted valley or shrouded peak.
Last summer, The Globe embarked on an effort to understand the scale of the problem and what it means for society. We started calling people up: dozens of social scientists, business executives, non-profit organizations, ordinary citizens, medical patients and activists, along with past and present insiders at Statistics Canada, the country’s main data-gathering agency. We studied the public-data regimes of countries from the United States to Germany to New Zealand. We pored over Canadian government reports on federal data policy and over scores of Statscan data sets – many of which include the acknowledgment that they were discontinued years ago.
What we found out became our series, Canada in the dark. We learned that Canadian society has no way of answering key questions about itself, in fields ranging from energy and the environment to the condition of seniors in nursing homes. Often these are basic questions – about such things as gasoline sales or mortality rates – that our peer countries can answer with ease. We learned that these gaps are costing the Canadian economy money, and have very likely cost people their lives.
In the coming months, we will be publishing more than a dozen stories by Globe reporters looking at dangerous and expensive data gaps in health, housing, domestic violence, the labour force, organized crime and more.
And we are still finding more gaps all the time. You can help us add to the tally by using our interactive tool.
How you can help: Is there a data gap you would like filled?
The data gaps so far
The Globe and Mail has uncovered myriad data deficits, culled from dozens of interviews, research reports, government documents, international searches and feedback from our own newsroom. Here’s a list of what we found, which we’ll be adding to as the investigation continues.