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The freeloaders/free ride defence of Tony Clement et. al. over the census

So we have a new line of attack by Tony Clement (and I saw Gordon O’Connor use it yesterday as well) over those groups/provinces/cities etc. that oppose the ditching of the mandatory longform census: the organizations/provinces/cities were all freeloaders/getting a free ride from Ottawa in getting this data.

That at first blush doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense; StatsCan charges all groups for access to that census data; and does quite well from it. In fact, it’s where a large portion of the budget for their department comes from. If Clement and company were trying to take that approach as a line of defence, they either could be charged of being ignorant about what StatsCan actually does with the data it gets, or worse, trying to purposely mislead the public on it.

However, it appears they’re taking a different tack: it isn’t the “free ride” in the financial sense, but in the sense that Tony is suggesting the federal government has to enforce the Statistics Act in order to get these stats for them, and that’s just too darn coercive.

In other words, how dare everyone make the Conservatives go against their libertarian instincts to force people to give them facts/statistics, so they can charge other organizations/provinces/cities to use them. The provinces/cities/organizations etc. should coerce those people themselves, if they want ‘good quality data” (a Freudian slip perhaps on Tony’s part – he’s admitted StatsCan was getting good quality data. They wont be from now on as long as the Census longform remains voluntary). So apparently, in this specific case, enforcement of the Canada Criminal Code is a “free ride”.

Silly sounding argument, but not much I’ve heard from the government on this issue makes sense. They apparently think that the “freeloader” argument will somehow resonate with the public. I’m not so sure – there are many many folks out there who believe in good government. Collecting stats for the benefit of all would be one of those things people support. Tony and the Conservatives seem to be hoping they can smear everyone else with the freeloader argument (another old Mike Harris tactic from Ontario that Tony and the PMO’s Guy Giorno should be well familiar with) to try and make people think differently.

Good luck with that argument. I don’t think it will fly beyond the Tea Party wing of the Conservative Party.

UPDATE @ 11:20am: Good point over here:

All these provincial governments and these social institutions and private businesses – we’ll get them some data that will be useful and reliable,” (Clement) said. “If they don’t want to use that data, it’s up to them. They can pay for it another way. … You don’t have to rely on the government of Canada.”

Hands up everyone who would like to substitute private interests like business as the gatherers of intimate details of your daily life?

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8 comments to The freeloaders/free ride defence of Tony Clement et. al. over the census

  • Redrum

    Oops: brain fart in my mental arithmetic, re: the update response (to appear) above now that it’s confirmed that the “21,000 Jedi’s” was actually the 0.07%, weighted response. The StatCan document informing Uncle Tony of this indicated that the actual no. of respondents would have been about one-fifth of that (as per it being a 20%) sample, so: just 4,196 scalliwags made merry with their response, on a dare. (Now if only the same slass of idiots would try some of those “Darwin Award” class YouTube / Jackass stunts, they’ll die off in time to spare us their attempt to spoil the data on the next Census…)

  • Redrum

    @Chantal: since you went to the trouble of making a reasonably serious, reasoned response I’ll give you the courtesy of a serious, point by point reply:

    1) re: “opponents of this decision talk about everything except fines and jail time …[and]
    not even the most ardent mandatory census supporter, actually supports the actual, real prosecution and jailing of offenders who fail to fill out the census properly”:

    – not true: several pro-mandatory long form census witnesses at the Parliamentary Committee hearings, and in a number of follow-up interviews (e.g., by Bob Rae) all agreed that the (never used, but still used by the Cons. govt for the short form census, long form agricultural census, _and_ the monthly Labour Force Survey) jail time penalty should be removed. But they want to keep the fine. The reason? W/o a penalty attached, it couldn’t be perceived as mandatory. But it’s not that they want to levy the fines as a cash cow or anything (like a speed trap on an open road): they really don’t want the money; it’s because they need the threat of a fine attached to the mandatory status to enable them to keep following up / haranguing the refuseniks as bill collectors do, to try to wear them down to get them to reply. If it’s not mandatory (which it wouldn’t be w/o some sort of theoretical penalty attached), they’ll have to take “no” for an answer straight off, and so lost the data & the reliability of it no longer being a random sample (but just a self-selected subset of the randomly selected one-third) of the population.

    2) re: “Any political science professor or law professor or historian will tell you that people and governments and the courts follow and support good laws.”

    — maybe so; tho’ I have serious doubts that any & all the profs. of the subjects you mention would heartily endorse that statement (there is a lot of crime, no, even tho’ it would cost too much in both money & civil liberties to enforce the laws to the max.? And since when do 100% of the profs. in _any_ subject agree to _any_ non-tautological assertion in that field?)

    But in this context, it should be noted, as the two ex-Chief Statisticians did, that by that measure, in their opinion, this was a good law, since in the last (couple of?) mandatory censuses 95% of Canadians complied with the law by filling out (or volunteered answers to, for that 2% or so of the population that is still enumerated in person) the long forms willingly, w/o needing to be strong armed with those nagging follow-up calls & threats. And, again, the fact that no one in living memory has been imprisoned for a die-hard refusal doesn’t show that it’s a bad law in the government’s or court’s view, since the point of the penalties isn’t really for retribution or deterrence or the protection of society, as with other penalties, but just to leverage compliance and enable the follow-ups (which would otherwise be contestable as unwarranted harassment).

    3) Re: the whole Jedi thing, & your concl’n, “So you have a law which the government and courts are unwilling to enforce, and which large numbers of the population did not obey. You should seriously question if this is not a bad law.”

    – i) w. respect, I think you were disingenuous about why you picked New Zealand on this e.g. rather than Canada. It’s not because people have already made their mind up about Canada; it’s because, a) there were a lot more scofflaws there: as the Western Standard & other sources reported on this, NZ had the most ‘Jedi’s’ on a per capita basis: enough to exceed 1% of the population when the sample was projected to the whole (in contrast, the 21,000 Cndn. Jedi’s was either less than half a percent (i.e.,, 0.35%) or even less than one-tenth of one percent (i.e., .07%) of the 29,639,030 Canadians in 2001 who were classified by religion, depending on whether that “21k” figure was itself the projected no. or was the absolute no. of the 1/5th sample at the time; I think it was the former (i.e., less than .1%), because StatCan doesn’t release the raw numbers, probably not even to the PMO.

    and b) because there was so little religious
    diversity in NZ & so little in the way of breakdowns(i.e., just Christian or “none”), that that no. stands out so much, there, to actually make it as the 2nd highest. In contrast, even if they counted (rather than discounting it as “none given”) here, all of these would exceed or tie “Jedi” in Canada, which would obvioulsly be drowned out in all the noise [In descending order, and hopefully with the indent still preserved if they're a subtype of some larger type]:
    Catholic
    Roman Catholic
    Protestant
    No religious affiliation
    No religion
    United Church
    Anglican
    Christian, n.i.e.
    Baptist
    Lutheran
    Muslim
    Protestant, n.o.s.
    Christian Orthodox
    Presbyterian
    Pentecostal
    Jewish
    Buddhist
    Hindu
    Sikh
    Greek Orthodox
    Mennonite
    Orthodox, n.i.e.
    Jehovah’s Witnesses
    Ukrainian Catholic
    Reformed Bodies
    Methodist Bodies
    Latter-day Saints (Mormons)
    Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    Salvation Army
    Christian Reformed Church
    Evangelical Missionary Church
    Christian and Missionary Alliance
    Other, n.i.e.
    Adventist
    Non-denominational
    Eastern religions
    Ukrainian Orthodox
    Aboriginal spirituality
    Hutterite
    Methodist, n.i.e.
    Pagan
    Brethren in Christ
    Serbian Orthodox

    ii) The fact that no one got put in jail or fined for that cheeky reponse (which, of course, people all over the world had been dared to make), doesn’t show that the gov’t prosecutors & courts don’t think this is a valid or important law, both for the reasons given above (the penalties were just the means to the end, of compliance, and not one they’re much interested in pursuing if the people will absolutely refuse no longer what the penalty or how much harassment), and because, in this case, the gov’t really doesn’t care which non- or whacky non-mainstream religion the respondents give. It seems that at this stage, the religion question is largely still being done as a favour to the various denominations for their marketing purposes, altho’ as this history prof. pts. out, the gov’t still needs to know it for certain legislation or programs, like on how much Catholic education they need to fund.

    http://andrewdsmith.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/the-census-flap-illustrates-that-history-professors-are-useful-to-society/

    In contrast, for the areas that the gov’t (as opposed to some of its non-gov. end-users) does genuinely want more than just the general categories of response on, they will follow-up to determine whether they need to correct, clarify, or recategorize the anomolous responses. E.g., I filled out & mailed in the long form once in the 90s, and someone at StatCan called back cuz they didn’t believe the no. of years I said I’d spent in post-secondary education matched the degrees I cited.

    iii) re: “Supporters of the mandatory census law hope no activist is really charged, because the courts would strike down this law as unconstitutional, but isn’t it obvious well before it reaches this stage that this is a bad law?”

    – come on, both the mandatory Census (incl. both the short forms, the long form, & it’s incredibly long form agricultural v’s) and the mandatory & equally intrusive Labour Force Survey have continued to be mandatory since the Charter was enacted in 1981, and they’re continually being reviewed for privacy reg’s & other considerations by various gov’t dep’ts, so it’s NOT AT ALL CLEAR that they won’t survive a charter challenge. I daresay they would have been hit with one & lost it decades ago if that were the case, that they’re unconstitutional. The Charter does not confer absolute rights, incl. privacy rights.

    iv) re: the Jedi thing showing that census data is inaccurate & so not up to making important policy decisions: come on, StatCan is continually testing & developing processes to check the validity of the data & clean up anomolous data & correct for some biases. It’s no accident that “Jedi” doesn’t appear among the religiouns of Canadians in its results: they knew what was going on & they corrected the data accordingly. Just cuz they don’t advertise what they do behind the scenes (so as not to encourage more shenanigans) doesn’t mean people are succeeding in wrecking the data by putting one over on them.

  • Lorraine

    Chantel: “All the conservatives talk about is fines and jail time, and opponents of this decision talk about everything except fines and jail time.”

    How did you possibly miss the wording “voluntary national household survey” when the conservatives talk about this issue.?

    If the CPC was truly concerned about the implication of fines and jail time they would have made the short form census and agricultural census volunatary as well. Best go back to the drawing board on your argument.

    Chantel: “So you have a law which the government and courts are unwilling to enforce”

    Actually, the government spends time getting people to fill out the form rather than having to impose the penalty. Now the government will just spend MORE money telling people they still face a fine or jail time if they don’t fill out the short form census.

  • Chantal James

    So the Conservatives want to abolish fines and jail time for offenders who don’t answer the long form census properly, and we have a huge backlash with everyone telling us why this is a mistake. All the conservatives talk about is fines and jail time, and opponents of this decision talk about everything except fines and jail time.

    Proponents of a mandatory census support the prosecution and jailing of offenders in theory, but no one, not even the most ardent mandatory census supporter, actually supports the actual, real prosecution and jailing ofoffenders who fail to fill out the census properly.

    Any political science professor or law professor or historian will tell you that people and governments and the courts follow and support good laws. Governments and the courts will fine and jail people for breaking the law if its a good and neccesary law.
    People and governments and the courts will not prosecute or support bad laws. When you have a law which the government and courts are unwilling to enforce, and which large numbers of a population do not obey, you must seriously question if this is because it is a bad law.

    This is not an academic, hypothetical argument. All democratic governments have had to deal with this issue as it has come up over the years.

    Consider the following;

    Over 53,000 people listed themselves as Jedi in New Zealand’s 2001 census. New Zealand had the highest per capita population of reported Jedi in the world that year, with 1.5% marking “Jedi” as their religion. Statistics New Zealand treated Jedi responses as “Answer understood, but will not be counted”. If Jedi were counted it would have been the second largest religion in New Zealand. The percentages of religious affiliations were:

    Christian: 58.9%
    No religion: 29.6%
    Object to answering: 6.9%
    Jedi: 1.5%
    Buddhism: 1.2%
    Hindu: 1.2%

    If you look at the above data, you see that at least 8.4% of the respondents to this mandatory census broke the law. (Object to answering 6.9% plus Jedi 1.5%) .

    So you have a law which the government and courts are unwilling to enforce, and which large numbers of the population did not obey. You should seriously question if this is not a bad law.

    So a parent claims on the census their five year old son is a jedi knight, or a single mother objects to answering questions from the state that are unwanted and make her feel uncomfortable. Supporters of the mandatory census law hope no activist is really charged, because the courts would strike down this law as unconstitutional, but isn’t it obvious well before it reaches this stage that this is a bad law?

    Do you really think that this law accomplishes its purpose, and that the above census data from New Zealand is accurate? Are you really going to make important policy decisions based on the above data?

    Statistics New Zealand treated Jedi responses as “Answer understood, but will not be counted”. Why? If its mandatory I thought this was the gold standard. How many other purposely wrong answers were given that were were actually counted as the truth?

    I picked New Zealand because if I picked Canada’s census data, everyone has allready taken a stand, and I don’t think people are looking at the other side of the story on this issue.

    It’s not just New Zealand with this problem. All democratic governments are trying to deal with the same types of problems. (As a matter of fact, all non democratic governments probably also deal with this type of “problem”. So what does that tell you?)

    It’s no surprise this has come up in Canada. Many democratic nations have debated this issue, and have changed their laws on this issue. The only thing that is surprising is how in Canada we’re not capable of having a balanced debate, and it is completely one sided.

  • Redrum

    Quite right, Scott: not only is it a complete falsehood that the private biz’s & nonprofit groups etc. get the data for free (the economist Stephen Gordon,* who’s been the most vocal opponent of this change,** has said StatCan charges users /recovers about $100-M a year,*** and I’ve not seen that contradicted)…

    but it’s also false that the fed’s have been conducting a proper mandatory census principally for those other users’ benefit.

    Theirs is a secondary use. The feds collect that data so that the fed. gov’t can discharge its legislated responsibilities.****

    It’s just StatCan _also_ sells it, to “make a virtue of necessity”: i.e., to recover / defray some costs, which is part of its mandate to get the best possible data for the lowest poss. cost.

    So in no sense are the private & nonprofit groups etc. being freeloaders in taking advantage of the coerced data for free, since
    1) they pay for it; 2) it is supposed to be collected anyway for the feds’ own uses; & 3) unlike the gov’t, they _cannot_ legally coerce/compel people to answer surveys, anyway: anymore than they could, say, legally imprison people.

    So, by parity of reasoning, we private citizens & businesses pretty much all benefit from the gov’t putting actual violent offenders away…. and we do not / cannot forcibly confine them ourselves. Are we to say, then, that we’re all freeloaders on the justice system? Should the gov’t say, if we want good quality justice, we should conduct our own police, justice, & penal system? What a crock.

    **** “there are over 80 pieces of legislation and acts that require census data for the operationalization and implementation of the act’s related programs, services, etc.”

    http://datalibre.ca/2010/07/19/major-federal-legislative-census-requirements/

    http://datalibre.ca/2010/07/19/uses-of-census-long-form-data-question-justification/

    *** http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2010/07/23/full-comment-podcast-the-great-canadian-census-debate/

    ** http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2010/07/why-making-2011-census-long-form-voluntary-is-a-bad-idea.html#more

    * http://www.ecn.ulaval.ca/no_cache/professeurs/fiche_de_professeurs/?tx_fsgprofs_pi1prof=24&tx_fsgprofs_pi1backPid=60

  • Redrum

    Amother Stephen Gordon link on the Census debate; I think this is where he used the StatCan recoups about $100-M a year figure:

    http://www.cbc.ca/politics/insidepolitics/2010/07/ending-the-mandatory-long-census-form—-a-virtual-town-hall.html

  • Funny the way their talking points “evolve” on issues. At first they were pretty respectful of the opposition to the move, which made sense since we’re talking about church groups, city planners, business organizations and universities. Now, as so often happens, they’ve turned to insults. Institutional support is an important thing in politics, apparently the CPC feels they don’t need it.

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