Not any more

Does French concession prove folly of Tory census approach?

In Canada on August 12, 2010 at 20:32

An employee makes his way to work at Statistics Canada in Ottawa on on July 21, 2010.

Thursday, August 12, 2010 3:59 PM

Does French concession prove folly
of Tory census approach?

Steven Chase

The Harper government has admitted that an optional survey won’t accurately measure the francophone population – so how can it say its voluntary census approach will properly capture other small demographic groups?

That’s the point made Thursday by the National Statistics Council, which is appointed by Ottawa to advise Canada’s chief statistician.

The council is commenting on the Conservative government’s rewrite of its census plans this week: the about-face decision to move language questions to the mandatory short-form 2011 census – which all Canadians must fill out – from the now-optional long-form survey.

It came just hours after the Federal Court of Canada agreed to expedite hearings on a request by a francophone group for an injunction against Conservative plans to scrap the mandatory version of the long-form census.

Without an obligatory census of this magnitude and depth – previously sent to one-third of households – it will be harder to measure our presence, francophones argued. They charged it contravened the Official Languages Act, which dictates how government services must be provided in both English and French.

It’s unclear whether the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities would have won its injunction, but the spectacle of Ottawa battling over such a politically sensitive question risked hurting Conservative political fortunes among French-speakers.

The National Statistics Council noted that the Harper government’s decision recognizes the “voluntary National Household Survey will not meet the requirements for robust and accurate small-area data that can only be provided through a mandatory instrument.”

Before Wednesday, the language questions Mr. Clement is adding to the short-form census were going to be asked only in the 40-page long-form survey. The Conservatives are making the questionnaire voluntary over the objections of economists, researchers and premiers, who warn that it will undermine the reliability of Statistics Canada data.

The National Statistics Council is making another plea to reconsider some sort of mandatory long-form survey – although it is clearly falling on deaf ears in Ottawa.

“While the initial census decision was taken without public consultation, the ensuing debate and discussion have brought to light facts about the importance of the long-form census that the government may not have known given the previous lack of consultation,” the council said Thursday.

“The government’s announcement now affords an opportunity to take a fresh and rapid look at the issue and reach a shared solution that protects the Canadian statistical system, ensures privacy, serves the Canadian public better, and reduces costs.”

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