OPINION12 August 2010

Why changes to Canada’s census make no sense

Government ministers have railed against “personal and intrusive questions” in the long-form census, hence their call for it to be made voluntary. But, bizarrely, the questions they cited in the press were added on their watch.

Wading through the committee hearing evidence for today’s story on the Canadian census change, I came across a wonderful exchange between Liberal MP Marc Garneau and industry minister Tony Clement.

Clement has argued that it is not right to force Canadians to divulge detailed personal information with the threat of prosecution, hence plans to drop the mandatory long-form census in favour of a voluntary survey.

“Personal information like what?”, you may ask. Thankfully, Clement and ministerial and Conservative party colleagues have been on hand to offer some examples.

But are they good examples? Garneau is not so sure. Speaking to Clement, and having reviewed the contents of the long-form questionnaire from the 2006 census, he said:

“I’ve heard you, up until very recently, state that, you know, Canadians shouldn’t have to tell people how long it takes them to get to work and what time they go to work. But those questions are not actually on the census.

“I’ve heard Minister [John] Baird talk about how many bathrooms. That question is not on the census. I’ve heard Mr. [Maxime] Bernier [MP] make similar inventions. I’ve even heard Mr. [Steven] Blaney [MP], on the radio, talking about how people have no business knowing what you have for breakfast.

“If you’re going to speak about these kinds of supposedly intrusive questions, I would recommend to all of you who are going to make these statements that you actually know what questions are on the long-form census.”

Clement, of course, wanted to set Garneau straight. He said:

“Obviously I was speaking with knowledge of the 2011 National Household Survey, which has been released and is found online at StatsCan.

“Question 48 asks, ‘What time did this person usually leave home to go to work?’ Question 50 asks you to give the total number of weeks worked for pay, including how much time was taken for vacation, or sick leave with pay, wages, salaries, tips, or commission. Question 53 asks, ‘In 2010, did this person pay child or spousal support payments to a former spouse or partner?’ Dwelling repairs are found in question E6, which asks about ‘loose floor tiles, bricks or shingles, defective steps, railing or siding’. Question E8 asks what the yearly payments are for electricity.”

And here’s the kicker:

“These questionswould have been found in the mandatory long-form census were not the decision made to go to a voluntary form, and they’re still found in the voluntary form.” (Emphasis added)

So these “personal and intrusive questions” (Clement’s words) are the product of the current administration. And, perhaps knowing they’d be a tough sell from a privacy standpoint, the government decided to soften the blow by making the questions voluntary?


1 Comment

10 years ago

The mandatory long form census contains vital information that is of great interest to social scientists, business, politicians and the public in general. They will still require the information but may be placed in the position of paying for it. Strangling Stats-Canada would certainly be doing a favour to privately held information gathering companies who may not be committed to quality information and will most certainly lead to influence being directed by unknown agents with a dubious product. Perhaps a further closing of the Canadian mind. It's a continued bad pattern of music from the Harper Valley orchestra. Roy Berger Cornwall

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