Dan’s article in the Ottawa Citizen deals mostly with the Conservative government’s hypocrisy on the Conservatives rationale for removing the mandatory longform census because it’s too intrusive on people’s privacy, while at the same time leaving other more intrusive measures in place. That segues into his theory as to why the Conservatives are doing this move to the longform, and I think he nails it:
Hard-core conservatives have long seen the census as the foundation of left-wing social engineering. And not without some justification. Programs like employment equity couldn’t function without census data. Stephen Harper would love to scrap such programs but he wouldn’t dare under current circumstances. And so, as he did with the gun registry, he is making an administrative change that he hopes will cripple the program. And slowly strengthen the case for doing away with it entirely.
In otherwards, make the census data less accurate and (hopefully to the Conservatives) meaningless/worthless, as a way of crippling social programs they hate, via an indirect backdoor method. I go along with that theory whole-heartedly. It isn’t just Dan Gardner who thinks that; a solid majority of the provinces have now jumped into the fray, opposing this move because they say the data the mandatory longform census provides them is essential for – you guess it- analysis and administering their social programs.
One other thing related to this: An initial poll from Ipsos-Reid has come out on this (not exactly my favorite pollster, as you would know from reading me in the past, and it’s also an online poll, which is another bugaboo of mine – but thats another story), and the reaction from the Canadian public is very interesting: almost a complete split on whether the Conservatives actions are “good” or “bad”, yet contradictory as well, with 2/3 of Canadians believing the mandatory longform is a reasonable intrusion into privacy. I’ll be very interested to watch other pollsters come out with their poll results on this question (as I am sure they are polling on it) to do a comparison.
I believe defenders of the mandatory longform census should hammer the Conservatives on Dan Gardner’s point; they are not doing away with the mandatory longform as a way of defending privacy, but as a backdoor way of attacking the programs they hate. I believe that more people then not will oppose the government doing this if seen in this vein.
The battle for data integrity and facts, against ideology and feigned concern over privacy has now been joined. The way to win more converts to our side of the argument is to attack the Conservatives on their move by showing their hypocrisy on privacy issues, as Gardner has done, and to show it’s far-rightwing Tea Party-like ideology that is behind this move.
UPDATE @ 12:00 pm: Just wanted to mention one of my blogging colleagues the Tory Tattler has been saying the same things Dan has for over a week now (and has reminded me of that 😉 )- here and here. I do think however, that Dan Gardner is one of the first mainstream news columnists to openly muse that this was the reason why, not the reason they’re stating in public.