StatsCan scraps the annual Canada Year Book after 145 years of publication

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

If you've ever researched a school essay on a Canadian topic or compiled data for business plan, chances are you've cracked open a copy of the Canada Year Book.

The Statistics Canada annual publication has been going strong in one form or another since Confederation, gracing the shelves of school and public libraries, business and government offices and research centres.

But after 145 years, this year's edition will be the last, the Globe and Mail reports.

StatsCan says year book, which retails for $24.95,  is its "most popular publication." The promotional page on its web site even includes gushing blurbs from users calling it "an invaluable asset," and "an indispensable desktop resource."

In it you'll find information like the fact Canadian motor-vehicle registration increased by 12 per cent from 2004 to 2009, reaching 21 million vehicles, and that Canadians drove a total of 333.3 billion kilometres in 2009, up 2.4 per cent from the previous year.

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Or how about Canadians spent $5.9 billion to take in live entertainment, 44 per cent of that to watch sporting events.

In its synopsis of the 2012 edition, StatsCan says it "will continue through other means to keep Canadians informed about their social and economic life."

The Globe says the year book won't be available online either.

So why kill such a useful tool?

It's a combination of factors. The Conservative government's deficit-reduction policy has forced the agency to make deep budget cuts, some of them controversial. The Tories scrapped the long-form census in 2010, triggering the resignation of StatsCan's director Munir Sheikh. Other research considered important to businesses, economists and government agencies is also not being done.

StatsCan also says demand for the year book has been declining, its main reason for ending publication. Communications director Gabrielle Beaudoin told the Globe it printed only 3,000 copies of the 2012 edition, down from 12,000 copies 15 years go. In recent years some have gone unsold as people turn to the Internet for more StatsCan data. (That doesn't explain why StatsCan is also canning the online edition.)

Beaudoin told the Globe several staff members working on the year book have retired and might not be replaced.

The first year book was published in 1867. It included descriptions of the growing shipbuilding industry and detailed trade ties with Jamaica, Barbados and Brazil, the Globe noted. The 1955 edition chronicled the baby boom, soaring telephone use and the impact of the Cold War.

Beaudoin says the facts found in the year book will still be available and actually be more current.

"In the future, we will have summary tables that have the exact same information as in the Canada Year Book, but it's up to date every month or every three months," she told the Globe. "The new way of accessing information is online so we're just moving to that."

Reaction to the cancellation of the year book seems mixed.

"I for one accept that this is just part of the new reality and that the Internet provides us with a better interface to the data," said Eduardo Franco, professor of epidemiology and oncology at McGill University.

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But Jerry Fawcett, the Calgary Public Library's reference librarian, said he's sorry to see it go. Such almanacs are still used as a central source of historical information, especially by people who prefer poring over hard copy to squinting at a computer monitor.

"There is an assumption that is everyone is computer literate or if you got to a library you can just access this electronically," Fawcett told the Globe. "You can — but there are still many people who need a great deal of assistance."