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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Filibuster on the Census


The census is still causing a stir. We've seen Jedis up in arms, a battle between nations over who has the most absolute and per capita Jedis, a curious attempt to figure out whether Jedis are libertarian or socialists, the resignation of our chief statistics bureaucrat, a gathering of interesting witnesses before Committee (including WS blogger Paul McKeever), an online live-blog debate between our associate editor Terrence Watson, CBC Inside Politics blogger Kady O'Malley, CBC national affairs editor Chris Hall, Nanos Research president and pollster Nik Nanos, Roger Gibbins, president and CEO of Canada West Foundation, and Laval University economics professor Stephen Gordon, the libertarian cavalry come riding onto a field with almost no allies, the Green Party issue a strange mandatory and voluntary census proposal, and on and on.

It should come as no surprise that WS cartoonist J.J. would turn his poison pen to this issue, with the above result.

J.J.'s commentary, appearing on his website Filibuster Cartoons, is reproduced below:

As there was in the States some months ago, there has been much controversy in Canada recently regarding the so-called “long form census.” Tony Clement, Stephen Harper’s minister of industry, has said he considers long census questionnaires, which ask all sorts of prying questions about race and religion and occupation and whatnot, excessively intrusive, and plans to phase them out. The government has already phased out punishments for non-completion, and is promoting the idea that the bulk of long form census data should only be submitted voluntarily.

Since most Canadians don’t even receive the long form survey to begin with (the short-to-long ratio is presently about 70-30), a lot of statisticians and demographers are raising a fuss, saying the Clement plan will lead to all sorts of distorted and useless statistical data, which will in turn lead to the poor management of government programs that rely on it.

My pals at the Western Standard’s Shotgun blog recently asked me for my opinion on the census kerfuffle, to which I replied:

A lot of people seem to be clinging to this misguided idea that census data only exists for the benefit of the government. On the contrary, I find thorough demographic statistics a vital tool that ordinary Canadians can use to hold their government to account.

When the government makes claims about jobs, or immigration, or bilingualism, or families, or multiculturalism, or any one of dozens of other topics, it’s always nice to know that the Census website is only a click away to find out if the facts match the rhetoric.

In my more conspiratorial moments, I sometimes wonder if undermining the census is just a very convenient way for politicians to keep the citizenry in the dark about the realities of their own country.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 28, 2010 in Census | Permalink


There is nothing "strange" in the Green Party proposal for the census going forward. The GPC would continue to make the long-form census mandatory but remove the penalty for non-compliance and replace it with a respectful dialogue.

This is the same position just taken by the National Statistics Council whose membership include the following people (see below).

Are you saying they are all "strange" as well? Or is it possible that it is "strange" that you cannot conceive of a citizens relationship to government where a mandatory requirement does not include punishment?

Food for thought.

National Statistics Council Members

Mr. Ian McKinnon
Victoria, B.C.

Chairperson Emeritus/Président émérite:
Dr. Thomas H. B. Symons
Founding President and Vanier Professor Emeritus
Trent University, Peterborough


Dr. Carl G. Amrhein

Provost and Vice-President

University of Alberta

Ms. Elizabeth Beale
Atlantic Provinces Economic Council
Professeur Paul Bernard
Sociologue, Université de Montréal

Dr. Monica Boyd
Canada Research Chair in
Immigration, Inequality and Public Policy
University of Toronto

Mr. David Crane
Journalist, Toronto

Prof. Bev Dahlby
Dep’t of Economics, University of Alberta
Mr. Don Drummond
Visiting Scholar, Queen’s University

Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi
Chief Statistician Emeritus

Mr. Jock A. Finlayson
Executive Vice-President
Business Council of British Columbia

Dr. Vivek Goel
President and CEO
Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion

Prof. John Helliwell
Dep’t of Economics
University of British Columbia
Prof. Derek Hum
Dep’t of Economics
University of Manitoba

Mr. Andrew N. Jackson
National Director, Social and Economic Policy
Canadian Labour Congress, Ottawa
Professor Jane Jenson
Vice-décant, Faculté des Arts et des Sciences
Université de Montréal

Posted by: Eric Walton | 2010-07-28 12:23:48 PM


Yes, they're strange (if they are not being intellectually dishonest).

All of them want to suck while blowing. In law - and I say this as a lawyer - "mandatory" means: if you do not comply, your liberty or property will be taken away to one extent or another. The government is a gun, period. Take away the gun, and someone with a gun will take the government's place. Take away the gun, and the "government" doesn't need laws, because the whole purpose of law is to put the public on notice about when, and under what circumstances, the government will deprive people of liberty or property.

As painful and penalizing as it might be to "dialogue" with Elizabeth May, or with a StatsCan employee - or even to listen to them - such a dialogue cannot even occur without the consent of the person with whom StatsCan seeks to have a dialogue. In other words: what do the Greens, and other double-thinkers, think (!?) should happen were I to hang up the phone on a StatsCan goon who wants to have a "respectful dialogue" with me over my refusal to fill out the census? Double-dog extra dialogue, with no touch-backs?

Posted by: Paul McKeever | 2010-07-28 1:14:57 PM

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