An Industry Canada employee questioned Conservative MP Maxime Bernier’s claims in July that as minister he received about 1,000 complaints a day about the mandatory long-form census, internal documents obtained by CBC News show.
Maxime Bernier said in July his office received about 1,000 complaints a day about the mandatory long-form census when he oversaw it in 2006 as industry minister. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)Former industry minister Bernier, now a Conservative backbencher, said in July of this year that he was blitzed by complaints when he oversaw the 2006 census as minister.
However, in a July 18 email found among documents obtained by CBC News through an access-to-information request, ministry employee Paul Halucha sent an email asking a high-ranking official at Statistics Canada whether the agency had any numbers to back up Bernier’s statement.
Industry Canada’s “internal survey of correspondence did not show anything close to a thousand a day,” he wrote to Statistics Canada’s Connie Graziadei, adding in brackets “we got a standard 25-30 a year.”
The documents suggest officials inside the ministry responsible for the census were themselves caught flat-footed by Bernier’s contention that the government was inundated with complaints over the 2006 survey.
According to the documents, Graziadei replied with a breakdown of the 882 complaints Statistics Canada received for the 2006 short- and long-form census, which included 332 complaints about a contract the agency awarded to Lockheed-Martin for census data collection.
In her email, she said Statistics Canada received 22 complaints about the “intrusiveness of the questions.” There were also 116 about the “subject matter” of the questions.
Industry Minister Tony Clement, who will oversee the 2011 census next spring, has said the government received too many complaints from citizens who said the mandatory long-form census is intrusive and they don’t want to feel forced to file.
Clement told the industry committee in July that a census-taker told him about how people “were in tears, absolutely terrified of being deported” if they didn’t fill out the long-form census.
But nowhere in the documents does Statistics Canada list anyone complaining about the long-form census being mandatory, despite numerous Conservative MPs saying they’ve heard an earful from constituents about having to fill out the 40-page form.
For months, opposition parties have been pushing the government to reverse its decision and reinstate the mandatory long-form census, citing an outcry from statisticians, various social, language and religious groups, as well as some provinces and municipalities that the quality of data from a voluntary survey will be lowered.
The Conservatives have said the move to a voluntary long-form survey is a “balanced” approach that weighs the need for data with the concerns of Canadians who feel they shouldn’t be threatened with fines or jail time to divulge personal information to representatives of the state.
Bernier resigned from the cabinet in 2008 after he admitted to having left NATO briefing documents at his ex-girlfriend’s home.
Liar Liar…but no pants on fire