Not any more

Liberals plan to take census issue to Commons

In Canada on August 26, 2010 at 16:22

The Liberals are vowing to bring the census battle to the House of Commons in September by tabling a bill to reinstate the long-form census and remove the threat of jail time for not completing a questionnaire.

“It will restore a vital tool that helps inform policy decisions at all levels of government and business and civil society,” finance critic John McCallum said at a news conference on Thursday morning. “Second, it will ensure that any future government which can’t handle the truth or doesn’t like fact-based decision making will not be able to eliminate the long-form census through a simple cabinet order. Instead, a future government would have to bring forward a bill to eliminate the long form, allowing Canadians a chance to share their views before the final decision is made.”

Private member’s bills are introduced by any member of Parliament who is not a cabinet member. Limited time is allotted to discussing them, and they rarely become law.

Mr. McCallum said he hopes they ultimately won’t need the bill and that his party’s move will spur the government to back down.

“This is the best instrument we as opposition parties have, but we are hoping before April or May that the government will come to its senses and cave,” he said, “because the amount of pressure and groups in Canadian society who are pushing hard to have this mandatory census is rising.

“It’s a triumph of ignorance over knowledge, it’s a triumph of ideology over science.”

The bill calls for a long-form census questionnaire to be sent to 20% of households — as it was previously — but removes the threat of jail time for not completing a form. No one has ever been jailed for failing to complete a census form in Canada, and the Conservatives have also said they will abolish that threat of potential jail terms for not filling out the short-form questionnaire and the agricultural census, which remain mandatory. A fine of up to $500 remains.

“It is outrageous that a spokesman for Michael Ignatieff asserts that Canadians who choose not to provide personal and private information to the government in a 40-page long-form census should be threatened with criminal fines and compelled to fill out the long-form census,” said Erik Waddell, spokesman for Industry Minister Tony Clement, who oversees Statistics Canada.

In late June, the Conservatives announced they were scrapping Canada’s mandatory long-form census, which gathered information on ethnicity, language, income, housing and disability. In 2011, it will be replaced with the voluntary National Household Survey — a decision the government says strikes a fair balance between citizen privacy and data needs.

“Stephen Harper doesn’t like to let facts or the truth get in the way of his ideological agenda,” Mr. McCallum said. “He will stop at nothing to dumb down debate to a catchphrase or eliminate anyone who disagrees with him.”

Opposition to the government’s decision has been widespread, with critics charging that certain groups such as minorities, low-income households and immigrants will be less likely to complete a voluntary questionnaire and the data will be skewed and unreliable.

“As one business person put it recently, ‘The first rule of business is you cannot manage what you cannot measure,’” Mr. McCallum said. “It’s also the first rule of government, and yet the Conservatives have chosen to blindfold themselves and all other sectors of Canadians society by gutting the census.”

On Friday, a Parliamentary industry committee will hold its second full day of hearings on the census issue, though the government has remained firm in its decision.

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