Fun with Taxpayer Dollars: Purchasing Census Data Many Times

What is the cost to taxpayers of public institutions purchasing public data? As citizens we do not like to pay for the same thing many times. So here is a real scenario and an estimated best guess of the #s on the cost to taxpayers for public data which they pay for many times via their public institutions whose job it is to work for the public interest and re-purchase data citizens have already paid for once in taxation:

a) Each Canadian municipality, city or town purchases demographic data from Statistics Canada. Lets suggest there are approximately 2000 of these entities. Lets say they each purchase a subset of the Census at varying scales, with a specialized geography to match their boundaries, so lets say they each spend conservatively $ 10 000 each (factoring that some small towns will buy less and others more).

2000 Towns/municipalities/cities * $ 10 000 = $ 20 000 000

b) Since many cities/towns/municipalities do not have efficient data infrastructures to manage their data assets, sometimes different departments purchase the same data twice or three times. So you may get planning, health and social welfare departments each purchasing the same data and not sharing as they are unaware and there is no central accessible repository they can mutually search. So lets pretend that the top 100 (conservative #) cities in Canada purchase the same/similar data 3 times each. We already included one purchase once above but we will keep to 3 as potentially some have purchased 4 times while the other 2900 units may have done so at least once.

100 Towns/municipalities/cities * 3 (duplicate copies of the same data) * $ 10 000 = $3 000 000

c) The best part, often each of these Towns/municipalities/cities are purchasing data for their entire respective provinces as they wish to do some cross comparisons. This means that each of these entities is paying each for the exact same/similar data set each time! Dam! Talk about a non-rivalrous good and how smart is StatCan? Dam we thought the public service did not have a corporate mindset!

d) The Provinces and Territories also each purchase Census data. They do not necessarily have a centralized data infrastructure either, they have bigger bureacracies, more departments, more specialized needs and bigger data requirements. So lets suggest that each Province and Territory spends $ 15 000 * 5 duplicate/similar sets, and an additional each $ 10 000 on multiple special orders between censuses.

13 Provinces/Territories * $ 15 000 * 5 = $ 975 000

13 Provinces/Territories * $ 10 000 = $ 130 000

d) Again many of the Provinces and Territories will purchase National scale datasets for comparison purposes, which like Towns/municipalities/cities are purchasing the exact same/similar copy of the exact same/similar data sets for the exact same geography numerous time. Recall the great part about information is its non-rivalrousness! We can each consume the same entity many times and none will suffer as a result. Unless of course you are a Canadian Tax Payer.

e) Then we have the Federal Government with approximately 350 departments and agencies and lets say each purchases some city data, some provincial data and a whole bunch of national data for $ 17 000 each. Then many, lets say 175 of these departments and agencies are purchasing special ordered data set to meet their particular needs, each at $ 7 500.

350 Federal Departments and Agencies * $ 17 000 = $ 5 950 000

175 Federal Departments and Agencies * $ 7 500 = $ 1 312 500


  1. 2000 Towns/municipalities/cities * $ 10 000 = $ 20 000 000
  2. 100 Towns/municipalities/cities * 3 (duplicate copies of the same data) * $ 10 000 = $3 000 000
  3. 13 Provinces/Territories * $ 15 000 * 5 = $ 975 000
  4. 13 Provinces/Territories * $ 10 000 = $ 130 000
  5. 350 Federal Departments and Agencies * $ 17 000 = $ 5 950 000
  6. 175 Federal Departments and Agencies * $ 7 500 = $ 1 312 500

Grand Total of Census Data Expenditures by Taxpayers via Public Institutions in Canada: $ 31 367 500

The above is conservative number as it does not include the human resource expenditures like the following:

  1. Person hours associated for each public servant to negotiate and discuss their data needs
  2. Person hours for the StatCan officials to fill in the orders
  3. Person hours of the public servant lawyers to take care of licensing
  4. Person hours associated with all of the purchasing and accounting work to pay for, acquire and account for this money
  5. Person hours for each official who has to work the data in the same way to meet their needs
  6. Dunno if public agencies pay taxes on these! That would add insult to injury would it not?

It is also important to note, that hospitals, school boards, universities, crown corporations and a host of other quasi public institutions are doing the same thing. And that these numbers are only for census data, these do not include the cost of other datasets like road networks, water quality, maps, environment data and so on.

Would seem to me that we could spend a fraction of that cost to deliver the data online to all of these institutions, private sector, NGOs, and Citizens and we would all be better off financially. We would waive all the administration costs, and the license management costs, and we would all be smarter to! Further, we could reinvest that money into more research, air quality infrastructure, healthcare, waive recreation fees in municipalities etc. We could reinvest wisely in quality of life and know more how to do so at the same time.

PS-If anyone has:

  • come across any type of cost analysis reports etc.
  • has a better way to calculate this
  • knows of some real costs

Please pass them along! The more we have on this the better.


Richard Smith

Richard Smith’s avatar

Interesting analysis. You might be able to do a cross reference/cross check by looking up the *revenues* for Statistics Canada (presumably that is a public number, or if not subject to Access to Information request.

Great Idea Richard!