02 March 2011

Long Form Census - Why Should I Care?

I joined an evening of political conversation earlier this week hosted by the nice people at "Why Should I Care". The subject was the decision of Stephen Harper's Conservatives to end the mandatory long-form census and replace it with an optional one.

Much of the discussion revolved around the ways in which census data have been used - by businesses and community groups, in particular - and how this decision will reduce the quality of information available for those users, who are really all Canadians. Of course, since the government will send out more copies of the optional long form than the mandatory version, this program will actually increase costs in exchange for decreased  quality of information. 

This discussion of details, however, misses the fundamental point: The ending of the mandatory long form census is an attack on information, carried out for ideological purposes by a party for whom information is frequently an obstacle to partisan policy-making.

This is no more visible than in the way the legislation was introduced: Conservatives claimed that thousands of Canadians complained about being 'forced' to answer the mandatory long-form - in fact one MP alone said his office had received thousands of complaints (but, conveniently, all those complaints were from 2007 and lost). When pressed in the House, it turned out that there were "many, many" complaints, not thousands. An access to  information request by the Star revealed less than 100 total complaints since the 2006 Census, even though the mandatory form was received by millions of Canadian households; the Privacy Commissioner has received 50 Census-based complaints in 20 years, none about the long form.

The only way the government can stand up and lie to Canadians in the face is if they believe they will not be challenged on those lies. Independent oversight and good quality information is poisonous to a government that prefers ideology to facts. Statistics Canada, the Auditor-General, the Parliamentary Budget officer - it's not about small government, it's about small-mindedness.

Having been caught lying to Canadians, Tony Clement conjured a remarkable response: a small minority of voters can require the government to address their concerns through legislation.

He should have added: 'but only if they vote Conservative.'


Blogger boyari2 said...

All I know for sure is that ignorance is a terrible abdication of responsibility and accountability:

And just in case you think that I am just full of hot air, I PROVIDE THE PROOF HERE.

I would love to hear from you.

March 20, 2011  

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