Ivan P. Fellegi

Ivan Peter Fellegi, OC, statistician (born 22 June 1935 in Szeged, Hungary). Ivan Fellegi served as Statistics Canada’s chief statistician for 23 years. In this role, he introduced new methods for collecting and compiling national statistics. He has also vocally defended the agency’s independence from politics.

Photo of Ivan P. Fellegi

Ivan P. Fellegi was chief statistician of Canada from 1985 to 2008.

(Source: Statistics Canada)

Early Life and Education

Ivan Fellegi received primary and secondary schooling in Hungary. He was interested in literature as a youth. At 14, he became the youngest member of the Hungarian Writers’ Association. He nevertheless decided to study mathematics at university because he had obtained one of the top scores in math on the national exams.

Fellegi was a third-year undergraduate at Eötvös Loránd University when the Hungarian revolt against Soviet rule began in 1956. Like many other young Hungarians, Fellegi decided that he needed to flee the Russians’ severe control over the country. At age 21, he and his cousin crossed the border to Austria with the help of smugglers. They then travelled to Canada, where his older sister had settled several years earlier. (See also Hungarian Canadians.)

Early Career and Graduate Studies

After arriving in Ottawa, Ivan Fellegi began working at the Dominion Bureau of Statistics (see Statistics Canada) as a statistician. He also took courses at Carleton University. He received his MSc in 1958 and his PhD in mathematical statistics in 1961, both from Carleton. The year he earned his PhD, the statistics bureau promoted him to lead its section on sampling research.

Career Highlights

Ivan Fellegi became director of the Dominion Bureau of Statistics’ methodology and systems branch in 1971. The next year, he became assistant chief statistician of Statistics Canada, the new agency formed to replace the bureau. Promotions to deputy chief statistician (1984) and chief statistician (1985) followed. Fellegi continued as chief statistician for 23 years. He retired from Statistics Canada in 2008. The Canadian government named him chief statistician emeritus upon retirement.

Fellegi has had a great impact on Canadian statistics. He has pioneered new methods for collecting and compiling data. As chief statistician, one of his first actions was to make the agency’s public communications more accessible. He has also warned against the politicization of statistical research. Like his predecessor, Robert H. Coats, Fellegi believes that Statistics Canada can best serve Canadians if it is free to make its own choices.

In Fellegi’s citation for the 2016 Lise Manchester Award, the Statistical Society of Canada called him a champion of the integrity of official statistics. It also praised his successful campaign to bring back the long form census. (The Conservative government of Stephen Harper had cancelled the long form in 2010.)

Honours and Awards

  • Fellow, American Statistical Association (1965)
  • Member, Order of Canada (1992)
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws, Simon Fraser University (1995)
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws, McMaster University (1997)
  • Officer, Order of Canada (1998)
  • Honorary Doctor of Science, Carleton University (1999)
  • Honorary degree, Université de Montréal (2002)
  • Honorary degree, Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Université du Québec (2002)
  • Order of Merit of Hungary (2004)
  • Lise Manchester Award, Statistical Society of Canada (2016)
  • Honorary Member, International Statistical Institute
  • Honorary Fellow, Royal Statistical Society

Further Reading