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A sign is pictured outside the Bank of Canada building in Ottawa September 7, 2011. (© Chris Wattie / Reuters/REUTERS)
A sign is pictured outside the Bank of Canada building in Ottawa September 7, 2011. (© Chris Wattie / Reuters/REUTERS)

Bank of Canada’s economists write poorly, need help, audit finds Add to ...

An internal report card says the Bank of Canada’s economists don’t write too good.

“Economists’ writing skills were identified by many as an area for improvement,” says an audit ordered by the central bank.

“This includes difficulties being succinct, grammatically correct, and prioritizing the data into useful information.”

Auditors examined an elite group of bank economists, most of them with graduate degrees, who regularly dissect the current state of the Canadian and international economies.

The group’s advice is in high demand by Stephen Poloz, the governor, and his five deputies, who together must set Canada’s monetary policy in a volatile financial climate.

The workload of the group has grown tremendously since the global meltdown of 2008, the audit notes.

“The number of requests for analysis coming from the Governing Council members has increased as they seek to understand the impact of a growing number of factors impacting the economy, respond to questions concerning short-term forecasting, and prepare for public appearances,” says the internal report.

Ad-hoc demands by the governor and others for quick analysis, which now absorb up to half the time of these economists, also appear to have created a paper jam as managers must then edit the below-standard English or French.

“The cause for lengthy review was in part attributed to writing skills, both in terms of basic communication, as well as how to convey an appropriate level of detail in telling ‘the story,“’ says the audit.

The group clearly needs training in writing skills, the report concludes, and the bank’s management agreed to provide it.

The Canadian Press recently obtained a largely uncensored copy of the audit under the Access to Information Act.

Last year, the central bank provided only a redacted copy, in which all references to the economists’ weak writing were deleted.

But after a complaint to the information commissioner of Canada and a subsequent year-long investigation, the Bank of Canada relented and delivered a mostly intact copy of the March 2012 document.

The audit otherwise praises the work of the so-called “Current Analysis” section of the central bank.

Spokeswoman Jill Vardy declined to respond immediately to questions, saying the Bank of Canada was currently in a communications “blackout” ahead of Wednesday’s key policy announcement, when the bank announces the overnight rate that influences general interest rates.

The “blackout” policy in the days leading to the announcement forbids senior bank officials from “speaking to the news media or other outside parties about the economic outlook and the direction of monetary policy, or about anything else that could be considered relevant to economic outlook and their interest rate decision.”

Vardy said the economists who were reviewed by the auditors take part in the process by which the bank determines its monetary policy.

“Given that your questions pertain to the economic staff and departments that are involved in formulating the economic outlook, we consider the (blackout) guidelines to apply,” she said in an email.

Economics, by its very nature, is a discipline dense in jargon.

The last monetary policy report, issued by the central bank in July, for example, offered sentences such as: “Financial fragmentation continues to impair the transmission of monetary policy, however, as reflected in the divergence between lending rates in the peripheral and core economies.”

Federal government policy requires bureaucrats to speak plainly to the public.

“Messages should convey information relevant to public needs, use plain language and be expressed in a clear and consistent style,” says a policy document from the Treasury Board.

Public servants are also urged to speak to one another using plain language.

Over the years, various departments have launched plain-language initiatives for the benefit of bureaucrats or the public, including the Canada Revenue Agency, Public Works, and Human Resources and Skills Development.

Health Canada is the latest, with a project to compel drug manufacturers and health products firms to use plain language in labelling.

New regulations were announced in June aimed at requiring “health product labels to be more clear, accurate and easier to understand.”

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