Using Starlight and Statistics to Reclaim our Humanity

The Harper government dimmed the lights at Statistics Canada and the National Council of Welfare in 2012.  Into that darkness stepped the Caledon Institute, who committed to continue collecting, analyzing and publishing data related to poverty and welfare in Canada.

The lights have now gone out at Caledon, a non partisan, independent social policy think tank. After 25 years the principals involved have decided to retire. Good news for Sherri Torjman, Michael Mendelson, Anne Makhoul, and Melanie Burston. They’ve earned a break. Sad news for us. We still need a resource like theirs. To celebrate their achievements, which includes the The Canada Child Tax Benefit, a book of tributes was prepared. Here is my contribution:

There’s no doubt about it, the folks at Caledon are policy wonks. Their tools are data, statistics and research. The result – a social policy scaffold that spans Canada. The country has benefitted from their facts, analysis, and recommendations. Even when it got lonely, they steadied the scaffold with their bare hands. They were an activist’s dream. They were indispensable to my own work, particularly in the creation of the Registered Disability Savings Plan.

Despite their policy successes I will remember Caledon most for this phrase, “The wellbeing of nations has become a numbers game.” The quote is  from Reclaiming Our Humanity, written in 2001 by Sherri Torjman who, I have a sneaking suspicion, prefers stardust to statistics. She wrote, “A new vision is needed because the unrelenting pressure to use more, produce more and consume more cannot be sustained. We want to counter the heavy weight of the almighty dollar. We want to build a world in which caring for and about people is a priority.”

There is a design flaw in most contemporary governments. We watch with alarm as every bold vision of every party gets whittled down and rounded off once in office. In response we work to elect a new government or become cynical. The reality is that politicians can’t lead if they have no constituency.

The flaw is actually an opportunity. Fundamental government reform starts by declaring those beliefs and values that citizens hold in common. That’s the constituency Caledon served with distinction.

Reclaiming Our Humanity illuminates the body of Caledon’s work. It inspires us to pay attention to the goodness in people’s hearts. And to remember that data and statistics are more than a numbers game when they are in the hands of good people.


  1. Caledon’s collection of social policy research is now available on the Maytree Foundation’s website
  2. You can access the book of tributes, 25 Years of informing the Debate here. You’ll be surprised by some of the contributors.


We are stardust. We are golden. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. ~ Joni Mitchell

Musical accompaniment this post is Hey Rosetta’s version of Stand By Me. Sadly, Hey Rosetta are turning out their lights too. Support their music.


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