NB poised to be research leader

Author: NB-IRDT Staff

 Posted on 05 Nov 2019

With the passage of Bill 29 during the most recent sitting of the Legislature, New Brunswick is now positioned to be one of the leading jurisdictions for health and population research in the country says one of Canada’s leading data researchers.

Dr. Ted McDonald, the founder of the New Brunswick Institute for Data, Research and Training (NB-IRDT) and the Atlantic Canada StatCan Research Data Centre, says Bill 29 expands the 2017 Act Respecting Research to include a wider range of government data that can be shared with researchers.

University of New Brunswick colleague and fellow economics researcher Dr. Herb Emery says the depth of the research opportunities available through NB-IRDT sets New Brunswick apart.

“With the addition and linkage of these new datasets, New Brunswick will be among the leading provinces in terms of having a rich data research environment, which is an extraordinary accomplishment,” says Dr. Emery.

“We’re entering a new era of evidence-based policy and decision making,” says Dr. Emery. “Governments have always collected a lot of data from citizens but haven’t really been able to harness it to anyone’s benefit. The NB-IRDT has changed that. Leveraging the information from these data will allow the government to spend better, make tax dollars purchase more for citizens, and alleviate some of the fiscal challenges of an ageing population.”

Many parties have been involved in setting up New Brunswick’s data infrastructure, not least of which was the Province of New Brunswick, says Dr. McDonald. “Aligning dozens of pieces of legislation so you can lawfully share research data from multiple agencies and still protect the privacy of citizens is a monumental task. Most provinces in Canada simply haven’t been able to do it.”

“This has been a truly bipartisan effort, with the 2017 Act introduced by a Liberal government and the 2019 Act introduced by a Conservative one,” says Dr. McDonald. “Everyone across the board sees the business case for evidence-based policy decisions, whether it’s in healthcare, education, or finance.”

Once the legal framework for data sharing is in place, the datasets must be prepared for the NB-IRDT by stripping all personally identifiable information. Individual datasets are “linked” in the background using unique numerical identifiers, which cannot be used by researchers to discover the real identity of an individual citizen.

“It’s a necessarily complex process because our first order of business is to protect the privacy of New Brunswickers,” explains Dr. McDonald. “But it’s been worth it because today we have an incredibly rich source of linked data that helps researchers determine how people’s interactions with government and healthcare ultimately shape our province. And how we might do better.”

“Our vision for evidence-based research and decision-making was shared by the province from the beginning. says Dr. McDonald.

Since its inception in 2015, the NB-IRDT has carried out more than 25 research studies of interest to governments, healthcare clinicians, and economists. “We’ve been able to provide data to inform decisions about the aging population, health service provision, health and the environment, the impact of labour market initiatives, population growth in rural areas, and keeping immigrants in NB,” says Dr. McDonald.

“It should give the people of New Brunswick a level of comfort that decision-makers are relying on evidence to make policy decisions. And New Brunswick is poised to be a North American model jurisdiction for evidence-based decision-making.”