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Sham(wow) arguments on the Census from the Conservatives

The Conservatives are doing two main talking points trying to defend their decision to scrap the mandatory longform census. It’s wrong to send people to jail if they don’t want to answer the mandatory longform, and the questions are too intrusive.

Putting aside that it appears no one in the history of Canada’s census has anyone ever been put in jail for not answering the questions, let’s remind folks of the holes in those arguments:

– the shortform census still has those penalties, yet I’ve not seen them mention anything about the oppressiveness of that. Other forms like the Agricultural Census are still mandatory. When asked about that, Tony Clement seemed to slough it off on Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, saying he takes direction from him. So apparently, it’s Ritz’s fault if farmers get thrown in jail for failing to answer.

– If the Conservative government doesn’t like the fact that the “threat” of jail is on the laws, it has the power to simply remove that and leave it as a fine.

– The Conservative government also has the power to remove questions it feels are too “intrusive” on Canadians. Yet, it decides to kill the whole mandatory longform. A commentator elsewhere at Macleans fittingly described this as akin to not liking the floor tiles in your home and proceeding to demolish the entire house – overkill.

That point leads to the one raised by Jane Taber this morning:

Mr. Clement and the PMO argue that their new voluntary survey – the National Household Survey, which is now available online – will ask questions “identical to the questions that would be asked in the mandatory long-term census.” Which leads one to wonder why the government is so intent on emphasizing the “intrusive nature” of the census questions. For now, Mr. Clement is not commenting.

The sheer weakness of these arguments the Conservatives use, as well as their obstinacy in refusing to back down after a large outcry from business groups and organizations across the spectrum (as well as the embarrassment of having the Chief Statistician resigning so that Clement and the government couldnt hide behind StatsCan for making this decision) leads me to reinforce my belief that the privacy argument and defending Canadians from Census tyranny is a big sham. They’re using that as a cover story, and if it excites their libertarian Tea Party base, that’s a side benefit, but I suspect the real reason, as others have suspected (and some in the Conservative movement are feverishly hoping is the reason/result) is an attempt to muck up future data and stats so that it’s harder for government to target problems with legislation (or conversely, make it easier to justify cutting programs because accurate data isnt out there to say the programs are still needed).

One of the first things that will need to be done in the Fall Session of Parliament is to try and force the government to reinstate the mandatory longform – be that through a private members bill in the H of C, or a more forceful daring legislative route. That still may not be in time to save the 2011 census, so a special mandatory longform census filing may also be needed to be sent out (say in 2012) to make sure the data points from prior census’s are preserved and not rendered useless.

FURTHER THOUGHT: I also restate that this action was done without public notice, without public consultations, without consultations with the organizations that have used census data, and without a Parliamentary debate/vote. It was done with an attempted secret “Order-In-Council” cabinet order that the government hoped no one would notice or wouldn’t care about.


7 comments to Sham(wow) arguments on the Census from the Conservatives

  • foottothefire

    As I pointed out yesterday elsewhere Stinky Day told the world that 21,000 Canadians claimed they were Jedi Knights on a recent census. However the obvious contradiction failed to register with Stinky; not one charge was laid.

  • Timothy

    I see no reason other than to hide lies. There are easier ways to cut social programs.

    Lies among know verifiable truths cannot be hidden, but lies among a foggy unknowns are easy hidden.

    The only question is why allow ourselves to be rule by such a argent fool.

    The cost of endless lies and deception is uncountable. And even more uncountable without effective tools to measure the cost.

    Green Party candidate Richmond Delta

  • Brammer

    the Statistics Act. 1970-71-72, c. 15, s. 1.

    False or unlawful information
    31. Every person who, without lawful excuse,

    (a) refuses or neglects to answer, or wilfully answers falsely, any question requisite for obtaining any information sought in respect of the objects of this Act or pertinent thereto that has been asked of him by any person employed or deemed to be employed under this Act, or

    (b) refuses or neglects to furnish any information or to fill in to the best of his knowledge and belief any schedule or form that the person has been required to fill in, and to return the same when and as required of him pursuant to this Act, or knowingly gives false or misleading information or practises any other deception thereunder

    is, for every refusal or neglect, or false answer or deception, guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to both. 1970-71-72, c. 15, s. 29

  • Anon ABC

    For those who have not seen this before ( ), it might be worthwhile to take a quick look. Pay attention to #4’s (there are two of them) and #5 as they relate to the census issue.

    Hence the claim that StatsCan itself had approved the changes, the stories about senior citizens who are afraid to be thrown into jail, the immigrants in tears afraid of being deported if they do not fill in their census, your neighbour who is afraid of letting you know that he/she is Jewish, and so on.

    And, oh yeah, twittering about how you dove into the water because a person was allegedly drowning: isn’t this an application of #4, emphasizing emotions (i.e. heroics) over facts (person in alleged trouble was too far away to be reached)? And #5 could easily explain why the Harper and his govt want to do away with scientifically-reliable census data (the mandatory form) by imposing a scientifically-unreliable substitute (voluntary version).

  • William M

    “the shortform census still has those penalties, yet I’ve not seen them mention anything about the oppressiveness of that.”

    Can you direct me to that Scott?


  • I heard a Stats Can. Representative say they do not make laws…..the Government does. and if they want jail taken out , the Government just has to use “the stroke of a pen” and it will be done..and also take out what they think is intrusive.
    What I cannot understand is why didn’t do his in the 2006 census, or before now and then shut up about he census.

    It is a great deal deeper than that!

  • Con-sistent

    And let’s not forget that participation in the Labour Force Survey is also mandatory, which is also painfully longs & has tons ‘o the same intrusive q’s*, & which runs every blessed month. And as Don Drummond or one of the other Stat. Board advisors ptd. out in the hearings yesterday, they’re probably gonna have to greatly increase the size of the LFS sample once the mandatory long form gets kiboshed to try to make sure it still accurately represents the whole pop.

    * LFS Q’s:

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