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.