A different type of crisis demands a different type of data

Opinion: We need to quickly begin monitoring not just the public health aspects of the pandemic, but also the the economic and social fallout The post A different type of crisis demands a different type of data appeared first on Macleans.ca.

A different type of crisis demands a different type of data

Armine Yalnizyan is an economist and the Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers. Danielle Goldfarb is head of global research at RIWI.

Covid-19 is a health crisis that has triggered an economic crisis which threatens an insolvency crisis. The pace and targeting of public health measures and emergency economic response policies, as well as the impact of re-starting normal activity, will determine whether the fall-out feels like a shorter-lived natural disaster or a cascade of catastrophes, with long-lasting effects.

In the face of so much uncertainty, Canadian policy makers are grappling with a subtle but critical dilemma: they are not armed with the best arsenal of data to help navigate disaster and avoid collapse. But it is possible to gather better data and do so immediately.

The policy-making of the past several weeks has largely occurred in the absence of timely official statistical measures. The data we do have is old by the time the decision-makers see it. How do we know if we’ve got the right information to deal with what changes so swiftly? And will stale-dated data jeopardize optimal timing of critical policy course corrections?

The latest releases from Statistics Canada in the past days show a massive GDP contraction rivalled only by the Great Depression, and breath-taking job losses in March alone. Those early  statistics are likely just the tip of the iceberg.

READ: A heat map of coronavirus cases in Canada

While official sources must be our information anchors, they inevitably provide insights through the rear-view mirror. Just as many big businesses use real-time data to understand and adjust their operations, so the truly enormous business of governing in a pandemic should tap into the timeliest insights to direct swiftly evolving public policy.

We are now heading into the next phase of the outbreak without clarity on whether and when physical distancing measures will intensify or lessen. In order to optimally adjust, improve and target public health and economic policies, we need daily data on Covid-19’s impact on Canadians’ livelihoods, financial well-being, fears and behaviours to watch how each of these subtly evolve, and in turn shape economic and social realities. Behavioural fear is the ‘X-factor’ in any crisis. Its presence or absence is impossible to model in forecasts without real-time data. People behave in unexpected ways when lives and livings hang in the balance. Anxieties can trigger or immobilize action. Concerns can postpone or impede the resumption of “normal” work and leisure. At the same time, lack of concern can compound unintended consequences, too.

We need to quickly begin monitoring not just the public health aspects of the pandemic, but also the mental health dimensions, as well as the economic and social fallout. We must also maintain this scrutiny over the next 12 to 24 months. Our policy-makers require data that goes beyond job loss to include reliable, ongoing measures of income deterioration, especially in the so-called gig economy, as well as trends in the dynamic financial anxiety that shapes consumer behaviour at different phases of the pandemic.

We believe daily tracking is the way to go, something the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has already started. That bank’s wide-ranging data collection exercise uses COVID19 Impact surveys to track physical and mental health, as well as social and financial well-being.

This is a call for more data, which could be supplied in any number of ways. One example (and this is not a sales pitch) is RIWI’s continuous random sampling of the on-line population since mid-March. RIWI’s survey tool, which is able to monitor daily changes in compliance with public health directives during outbreaks as well as labour market and consumer behaviour around the world, reveals that that Canadians have been remarkably hard-hit economically by Covid-19,and slightly moreso, surprisingly, than our American counterparts.

What can more timely data tell us? Since the job market report, RIWI survey responses suggest  Canada’s unemployment rate rose to 22 per cent by April 21 (mirroring a similar outcome in the U.S., where researchers used a similar technique). Worse: by mid-April, 22 per cent of Canadians reported that they had lost all income due to Covid-19, and an additional 12 per cent said they’d lost up to half.

To assess the full scale of the economic fallout, we need to know about income loss as well as job loss, which Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey does not do. This detail is particularly relevant for people working for multiple employers or gig workers who also tend to be younger and worse paid than typical wage-earners. Loss of even a few hours of pay can be devastating for workers barely patching together a living. Official statistics didn’t give us a very clear picture of how many such workers there were before the crisis, nor how Covid-19 was changing things.

The RIWI survey shows that, by mid April, two in five Canadians reported they couldn’t last more than a month if they lose their income. Two in five respondents said they didn’t have access to paid sick leave and couldn’t stay home if they got ill. Two-thirds said any cash from the government would go straight to covering basic needs. These data show that support needs to extend far beyond the one million people that the LFS said lost jobs on April 9. They illuminate how the emergency economic response measures that have been frequently adjusted may need to continue to be tweaked to reach the extraordinary number of people who need help, even though the majority of Canadian workers still have their job and income.

READ: The doomed 30-year battle to stop a pandemic

The path to recovery is not obvious. What proportion of unemployed Canadians might be able to return to what they were doing before March 15? Will a prolonged period of uncertainty and fear lead to a more permanent re-shaping of the economy? Will people save more? Go out less? Travel infrequently? How many households and businesses lose everything because of pre-March 15 debt that they cannot repay or extend? Governments, business and the non-profit sector need timely answers to these questions. They could have the means to do it. The combination of official statistics and daily soundings offers a robust tool-kit for decision-makers.

To Statistics Canada’s credit, the agency is putting out new types of surveys to capture social and economic impacts of COVID-19. They are short and easy to understand, which is critically important at a time when many Canadians are contending with information overload. But if we rely only on episodic data collection, we will miss important daily inflection points, or fail to anticipate or observe important psychological shifts related to the pandemic that drive consumer or labour market behaviour.

In a crisis that moves as swiftly and unpredictably as the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to track financial impacts and behavioural changes on a daily basis.

Agile policy demands agile data. Let’s use all the tools we have to steer quickly, with confidence, to the other side of the pandemic.

*Full Disclosure:RIWI has provided results of this methodology to international institutions, central banks and governments. RIWI is not working with Statistics Canada. While RIWI’s methodology is unique, there are other technologies and approaches that are able to provide near real-time, daily information to track and monitor relevant trends and that policy makers could adopt. 


  • ‘I am lonelier than I have ever been. No one has touched me in five weeks.’
  • A heat map of coronavirus cases in Canada
  • Pass/fail grades should be the only option during the coronavirus
  • Trudeau’s daily coronavirus update: New $350 million fund for community groups (Full transcript)

The post A different type of crisis demands a different type of data appeared first on Macleans.ca.

Source : Maclean's More   

What's Your Reaction?


Next Article

What Mackenzie King’s diaries reveal about the day Franklin Delano Roosevelt died

Neville Thompson: Churchill and Roosevelt not only respected King as a 'highly-skilled and dependable head of a vital country but enjoyed his company and confided frankly in him. They had no idea that he was recording it all in his diary.' The post What Mackenzie King’s diaries reveal about the day Franklin Delano Roosevelt died appeared first on Macleans.ca.

What Mackenzie King’s diaries reveal about the day Franklin Delano Roosevelt died

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt died at Warm Springs, Georgia on the afternoon of Thursday, 12 April 1945, Mackenzie King was having a massage. With parliament in its final days and an election in two months, the Prime Minister needed all the relief from tension he could get. His first response was that “there are apt to be all kinds of rumours at any time.” King was well aware of how feeble the president’s was; but on a visit to the White House a month earlier had found him in better form than he had expected. Also, just two days ago, he had also received a letter from Leighton McCarthy, the wealthy lawyer who had been the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. to the end of 1944, saying that Roosevelt was benefitting from his holiday at Warm Springs, the place he enjoyed best after his home at Hyde Park, north of New York City. McCarthy, a great friend of the president since the 1920s and a fellow investor in the treatment and research for polio (from which his son suffered), had gone with Roosevelt in his train to own cottage near the Little White House.

READ: How Mackenzie King convinced Canada to go to war in 1939

A few minutes later, however, when one of King’s secretaries telephoned, he had a good sense of what it portended. The only other heads of government to whom the American Secretary of State cabled announcements of the death were Churchill and Stalin. It came as no shock to King, who was himself too exhausted for strong emotion: “It all seemed like part of the heavy day’s work.” He grieved the loss of the president as a friend and for his effect on world events but as a spiritualist who believed in the survival of personality and the ability to communicate with the living, he was confident that he and the world would continue to benefit from Roosevelt’s influence on the Other Side.

King immediately ordered the flag on the parliament building lowered to half-mast and the same the next day for federal government buildings throughout the country. He wrote a message by hand to the widowed Eleanor Roosevelt and hastily cobbled together a brief tribute for the House of Commons when it resumed after dinner. He told the subdued assembly that the president was “so great and true a friend of the Canadian people, that the word, when received, was as if one of our own had passed away.” But far more than that, his death was a “loss to the whole of mankind.” Other party leaders echoed the sentiments, the house adjourned as a mark of respect, and MPs from all quarters expressed their personal sympathy to King. In his heart, he was grateful for the privilege of having known Roosevelt so well, “particularly for the last happy days that we had together.” He judged it fitting that the president had died at Warm Springs and would be buried at Hyde Park, “which was dearest of all places to his heart.” Both Roosevelt and his wife disliked large funerals and lyings-in-state but a president could not pass from the scene without some state ceremony. It was immediately announced that the funeral would be at the White House two days hence followed by burial the next morning at Hyde Park. He himself had been at all three places as an intimate of the president, “both in the days of his great powers and when it was clear his strength was failing.”

Mackenzie King had known Roosevelt from the moment he had returned as prime minister in 1935 following five years of Conservative government under R. B. Bennett. He was immediately invited to stay at the White House to conclude a trade agreement with the U.S. King (who was proud of his Harvard Ph.D in economics) made no secret of his disapproval of the president’s New Deal, considering it bad economics, worse morality and sure to ruin the country. Roosevelt urbanely ignored this quibble and by the second day was telling the company at dinner that King was “an old personal friend.” As a prophecy at least this was the truth. In the next 10 years the two met 20 times, in addition to telephone calls, cables and letters. Five of these occasions included Winston Churchill, with whom King had to that point met about the same number of times since their first encounter in Ottawa at Christmas 1900. The lengthiest gatherings of the three were the week-long 1943 and 1944 Quebec conferences. King was not part of the Big Two’s strategy discussions but he had many important talks with the leaders and senior members of their entourages. His deeply-rooted friendships with Roosevelt and Churchill was a crucial element in the effectiveness of the Atlantic alliance during the Second World War. They not only respected him as the highly-skilled and dependable head of a vital country but enjoyed his company and confided frankly in him. They had no idea that he was recording it all in his diary.

What turned out to be King’s last visit to Roosevelt was prompted by alarm as he heard the radio broadcast of president’s report to Congress on the Yalta conference on March first. This was the first time that Roosevelt had addressed the legislature sitting down and publicly acknowledged the paralysis of his legs. (Most people thought he was just lame.) As King listened to the hour-long rambling address, he was “quite sad to notice the change that has come over him. The loss of poise, of consecutive, constructive thought, of natural emphasis and of convincing appeal.” At the end, King told his secretary, Jack Pickersgill: “He is a brave fellow, but he is breaking up.”

Hastening to see Roosevelt while he could, a week later King spent most of three days at the White House interspersed by a two-day holiday at Williamsburg, Virginia. Though the president looked “much older; face much thinner, particularly the lower part,” King was relieved that he was as vigorous as he was. At meals and late into one night he talked with his usual candour about Yalta, Churchill and Stalin, the imminence of the atomic bomb, his high hopes for the United Nations to preserve peace and his determination to go to Britain in June when the European war would be over. (The one against Japan was expected to last another year and a half.) King also attended one of Roosevelt’s breezy press conferences. Their final dinner was more intimate than he realized. With Eleanor away, one of the five people present was Lucy (Mercer) Rutherford, the president’s great love who had come back into his life in a major, clandestine way after the death of her husband a year earlier. King was so smitten that he had a drink, which he had sworn off for the war. At end of the visit he was confident that he and Roosevelt would meet again many times. But no surprise when he suddenly died.


Since it would be extremely difficult for King to leave parliamentary business for the funeral, he decided that the governor-general, the Earl of Athlone, would fly to Washington to represent the country. King, after securing Eleanor Roosevelt’s consent through McCarthy, would attend the relatively private burial as a friend of the family. Lord Athlone (the King’s “Uncle Alge”) was not impressed by the 20-minute funeral service in the East Room of the White House, attended by 200 domestic and foreign dignitaries. There were many flowers and Roosevelt’s wooden wheelchair in front of the coffin but no music, no singing and no speeches. The Bishop of Washington, who had himself lost a leg to polio, read the spare Episcopalian (Anglican) liturgy to which he inserted, at Eleanor Roosevelt’s request, the words from her husband’s first inaugural address:: “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

READ: Why Wiliam Lyon Mackenzie King was as great a leader as FDR

On the Saturday evening Mackenzie King set off in his railway car, which at Montreal was attached to the New York train and shunted onto a siding at Poughkeepsie, the station closest to Hyde Park. He took along some of his staff, work, and a niece and namesake of the president’s widow, Eleanor Roosevelt Elliott, who lived in Ottawa and appealed to him for transportation. Looking at the early spring vegetation, King thought it a “nice time of the year for an earthly body to be placed in the ground after the day’s work was done.” Roosevelt’s death had so moved the world because his greatness lay in “his love of his fellow men. Love of the oppressed classes and the gallant fight he made for them regardless of classes and the bitterest kind of enmity and hatreds.” King thought it astonishing that Roosevelt had escaped assassination and been spared to carry on the struggle to the end.

Next morning secret servicemen urged King go to the Roosevelt estate as soon as possible, probably because there were hardly enough cars to convey those arriving by train. King, his secretary Walter Turnbull and Eleanor Elliott were practically the first to arrive. As they walked in the spring sunshine and the crowd of notables, neighbours and friends thickened, King stood out as the only one wearing a top hat. This had been insisted on by his strong-willed valet, “though I kept telling him I felt sure that that the other was correct.” Lacking time to retrieve his homburg from the railway car, King appropriated Turnbull’s hat while he carried the silk one.

The gravesite was in the rose garden beside the presidential library, which Roosevelt had built close to the main house as a sign that he intended to retire at the end of the customary second term as president in 1941. King waited with the Secretary of State, Edward Stettinius and the financier and presidential advisor Bernard Baruch (who had been dining in London with Churchill just before the news of Roosevelt’s death arrived). Stettinius insisted that King, the only member of a foreign government, stand in the front row, between himself and Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War, who at 77 was none too well himself. He also prompted King to repeat placing his bouquet on the massive bank of flowers for filming.

Roosevelt’s coffin arrived on a horse-drawn caisson accompanied by military bands. The brief committal service was read by the elderly rector of the local Episcopal Church. King was deeply moved by the simple ritual and the lack of class distinction in dress between the notables and neighbours: “When clothes come to be a barrier rather than a bond, they have lost part of their usefulness.” Eleanor Roosevelt was supported by her daughter, Anna Boettiger and Elliott Roosevelt who had been brought by air from Britain by Baruch. (The other three sons, serving in the Pacific, did not arrive in time.) Eleanor was veiled but King thought her ashen grey, however self-controlled. Behind the family stood the new President Harry Truman. After the coffin was lowered into the grave, cadets from the nearby West Point Military Academy fired three rifle volleys, Roosevelt’s dog Fala barking each time. Eleanor Roosevelt stood alone at the grave for a few minutes, then joined relatives in the house There was no reception and the crowd quickly dispersed, the president, cabinet and others returning to Washington by train.

Leighton McCarthy, who had come the whole way from Warm Springs in the funeral train and was going back to Canada with King, went with the prime minister and Eleanor Elliott to express their condolences to the family. Eleanor Roosevelt said how happy she was to see King: “That she knew that Franklin would be so glad that I had been there” and that bringing her niece was the sweetest thing he could have done. King told her: “you have both fought the good fight to the very end and have kept the faith to the very end.” He assured her: “There is no such thing as separation. Life goes on. He will be nearer than ever at your side.” King also expressed his sympathy to other members of the family. As the group drove back to the train, it seemed to him that all nature spoke not of loss but of reward and God’s providence. It was as though Roosevelt himself had been in charge of arrangements, from his death at Warm Springs, to the funeral in the capital and the burial in the garden at Hyde Park, “and sunshine all the way.”

As they steamed north to Ottawa, Leighton McCarthy talked about his late friend. He told King of Roosevelt’s stroke as he was signing letters and his death two hours later; their long lunch together two days earlier and the president reproaching McCarthy for not going to church with him on Easter Sunday; and how he was looking forward to a barbeque on the afternoon of his death. He did not mention that Lucy Rutherfurd had been there for the last three days, driving over to stay from her winter estate in South Carolina with a photographer and an artist to paint a portrait of Roosevelt for her daughter. As soon as the president collapsed they hurried away and learned of his death on the road. When King told McCarthy what was no more than the truth, that Roosevelt loved him very much, McCarthy burst into tears, as he had at the funeral. In Ottawa, King dropped McCarthy at the Chateau Laurier hotel, drove Eleanor Elliott home, and at Laurier House fell to his knees in prayer for the great friend that God had given him in Roosevelt and for strength to continue with others the work that he had left.


Roosevelt’s death was a great blow to Winston Churchill, though no more unexpected than it was to Mackenzie King. Why he decided not to go to the funeral, though a plane was standing by, remains a mystery. Six years later he said that it was his biggest mistake in the war. He was instead the most prominent figure in the local tribute to the American leader who had in many ways been Britain’s saviour. The morning after his burial, unconstrained by any wishes of his widow, there was a memorial service in St Paul’s cathedral of a magnificence that would have satisfied even Lord Athlone. The surrounding streets that only three weeks before had been bombed by V-2 rocket attacks were decorated with British and American flags and packed with people observing the great and good, including the British and continental royal families. There was plenty of music, singing and the reverberation of trumpets in the marble dome.

In the afternoon Churchill in parliament delivered a memorable eulogy to “the greatest American friend we have ever known and the greatest champion of freedom who has ever brought help and comfort from the new world to the old.” In terms that he must have hoped would be applied to himself if he fell at the same stage, he said that Roosevelt “died in harness, and we may say in battle harness. . . What an enviable death was his. He had brought his country through the worst of its perils and the heaviest of its toils. Victory had cast its sure and steady beam upon him.” Mackenzie King read the speech the next morning (it was not broadcast). Apart from annoyance that there was no mention of Canada’s contribution to the war, he thought it impossible to say too much about Roosevelt’s part in helping to save the world: “It is only now that he is gone that the people can realize what a tremendous part he has played.”

At least Churchill, who after many ups and downs since the days since when they were both rising young Liberals King now regarded as an even greater figure than Roosevelt, still survived to guide the world into the path of peace. Three months later, however, he was also gone, in a massive election defeat. Mackenzie King who had so feared his own prospects that Churchill at the 1944 Quebec conference had offered to come to Canada to give speeches on his behalf, alone of three survived. So by great good fortune did his detailed diary that endures as a unique record of the close Atlantic alliance and friendships.

This is an excerpt from Neville Thompson’s upcoming book The Third Man: Churchill and Roosevelt as Revealed by Their Ally and Confidant, Mackenzie King. Published by Sutherland House, the book will be released in September and can be pre-ordered here.


  • That time a kooky leader bizarrely killed a Canada-U.S. free trade deal
  • Review: Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders: The True Story of Newfoundland’s Confederation with Canada
  • Thomas Mulcair’s historical challenge

The post What Mackenzie King’s diaries reveal about the day Franklin Delano Roosevelt died appeared first on Macleans.ca.

Source : Maclean's More   

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.