More on the Canadian Long Form Census

By | October 6, 2010

This is a truly fascinating set of events unfurling in Canada.   I thought I would add a bit (in too many words) for those of you who don’t have the pleasure of Canadian media outlets. J

Parliament recently resumed and there have been a number of significant issues, like abolishing the LONG Gun Registry,  G8/G20 spending and a new Governor General who happens to be a former University President.   Still, the LONG form census continues to make headlines – do you notice a theme around abolishing programs with the word LONG in them? The opposition has been bringing the census issue up in the house, and there is a private members bill to look at adding the requirement for a long form census to the Statistics Act.   There has also been a challenge to the census decision, focused on Francophone language rights.  All very interesting, in and of themselves.

The last two days have seen our National news ( ) once again make the Census the lead story on their evening broadcast.  They have basically called into question the numerous statements from the Government around the massive number of complaints they have received.   The government has continually promoted the notion that Canadians consider the long form an invasion of privacy.   In addition they stress that the public does not  feel it is appropriate to go to jail for not filling out the census.  The favourite line of the current government is that: “… it  does not think it is appropriate that we put people in jail for not telling us how many rooms they have in their house …".  This is a clearly distorted statement, but it might play to a certain part of the community.   

One Minister went as far as to say  that they  received 1000’s of complaints a day about these two issues during the last census  ( ). This has always seemed like a fairly absurd statement, especially when you consider this was the minister who was previously put in the penalty box for leaving classified briefing notes at his girlfriends house, who happened to have biker ties.  Throughout this, the government has never shown evidence of this information and Stats Can says they have not seen these complaints.  There was one small twist, that during the 2006 census there was concern about Stats Can using a US firm to do some of the data entry.  But the issue of intrusiveness is very different.

This gave the opposition some ammunition and they have been determined in their attacks in and out of the house.  This has lead to the government minimizing their statements on the extent of the complaints and saying that even if  ONE person complains they have an obligation to address those concerns.   I can’t wait to tell them that I am concerned that my taxes are too high.  In reality they seem to be moving towards this simply being an ideological issue around the size of government.   There is lots of engaging  discussion on that.

The census issue was also big enough to make Rick Mercers Rant this week ( ) .  I am not sure how I would classify this show to non-Canadians.  It is not comedy, but it is funny.  It is not current affairs, but it touches on news, especially political news.   The segment is not really on the census, but it uses it for the basis of an argument and highlights the dilemma, which is WHY did they do this.    We end up still asking questions, the answers will be less reliable and it will cost more money.

It is the WHY part that is probably more fascinating than just killing the long form.  The further we enter into the mandate of the current government the more difficulty some people are having in understanding what their vision and objectives really are.  Acts, like killing the Long Form, seem to come out of left field and don’t seem to be linked to a bigger picture…. Although, there are people who would argue otherwise it is not generally apparent.

It is fun times here, and if you are into data, then you are in the middle of this one.  I don’t think it is over yet. Could an election be fought on it - it would be a shame if it was, but people are not letting go of the issue.  At the end of the day I am afraid the government has undermined some of the trust in the census process and Stats Can, and we will not get back too the lofty participation rates we enjoyed in the past.   Check out http://datalibre.cafor updates.