Evidence-based policy: so close, and yet so far.

Date01 February 2020
AuthorCirtwill, Charles

I received an early Christmas present on Dec. 20, 2019. Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced that day that they were launching two new data initiatives. With all the exciting policy changes at the federal and provincial levels in relation to immigration, more and better data is essential to understanding if any of this stuff is working.

The first initiative is a new Immigration Portal on the Statistics Canada website. This new tool makes it easier to access and use much of the data that IRCC makes available through their own Open Data portal. If you are making or implementing policy around attracting newcomers, you should at least be glancing at this data every now and then.

The second is a pilot project combining administrative data about settlement services across the country with information on outcomes for newcomers: employment, income, home ownership, that type of thing. For data nerds like me, this micro data (as it is called) is the gold standard --individual level data protected by multiple layers of security and privacy rules and accessible only in select locations under very strict conditions.

You can see how significant this information could be in the context of Ontario's northern regions. If provincial or federal entrepreneur streams are used almost exclusively in southern Ontario, we have identified a problem that can then be solved. If immigrants from certain regions or backgrounds consistently leave our communities after only a few years here, we need to know. Only then can we figure out why they are leaving and explore what to do about it.

Problem is, I live in Thunder Bay. So, my Christmas present is a remarkably convenient eight hours away (in one direction) or 12 hours in the other. Oh, and if I choose the 12-hour option, I can only use it on Monday or Tuesday, between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

The micro data I just described is being released through what are called Research Data Centres (RDCs). There is a network of 30 of them across the country. I bet you have already guessed where they can be found. Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, a few in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and St. John's, to name a few. And, yes, one in North Bay that is open twice a week for...

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