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Friday, July 23, 2010

Harper the Tyrant

Liberal MP Joyce Murray had an interesting take on the census debate:

A Liberal MP from Vancouver has said the Conservative government’s move to scrap the mandatory long-form census and make it voluntary is “definitely part of a pattern that is very bad for democracy and bad for Canada”.

“This is also part of the pattern of trying to control the independent agencies and offices of Parliament that are the oversight to government and are a very important part of our democracy,” Joyce Murray, the MP for Vancouver Quadra, told the Straight by phone today (July 22). “Having those neutral agencies and voices to be able to speak to Canadians is a very important [part of] governance. And that is what separates a government from a tyranny.” 

Independent agencies are what fundamentally separate a good government from a tyrannical government, really? It isn’t civil liberties, free speech, or property rights. The most important feature of good government is independent agencies? Are you kidding me?

Oh don’t get me wrong, there is certainly merit to having certain functions of government out of reach of a politician’s control. Offices of Parliament are also most important when they are able to operate independently of any influence of a political party. Yet to say that these are features that distinguish Canada from a North Korea is an exaggeration that does nothing but make Ms. Murray look absurd.

Ms. Murray looks even more ridiculous when you consider that Stats Canada is not an independent agency of Parliament or any other government body. It is part of the portfolio of Minister Tony Clement and the Minister has responsibility for the actions and policy of Stats Canada. Mr. Clement made a policy decision that was completely within his rights to make. To argue that the census reform is undue interference with Stats Canada would be like arguing that ordering a deployment is undue interference with the military.

The very basis of Westminster democracy is Ministerial responsibility, but apparently for Joyce Murray this is tyranny.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on July 23, 2010 in Census | Permalink


You have to be a Liberal or NDP to connect democracy with mandatory, for the leap is just too great for the rest of us.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-07-23 10:57:34 AM

So then we don't have to follow laws and standards because they are undemocratic...

Posted by: Bob Peloquin | 2010-07-23 12:42:05 PM

The government has backslid so far into an autocracy and tyranny that it has stooped to not throwing people in jail for not divulging private information!

The tyranny of not being forced against your will to do shit!

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-07-23 1:03:28 PM

The tradeoff, however, is that the Minister has to assume full responsibility for decisions that are at odds with that of his or her Department and Clement wasn't inclined to do that. He should have stated flatly that the views of the Chief Statistician or StatsCan generally are irrelevant because he assumes full responsibility for the decision. Instead Clement tried to downplay StatsCan's opposition and thereby get StatsCan to share some responsibility for the move. The Chief Statistician resigned at this point and rightly so.

The real problem here is that Harper's populism is trying the patience of conservative intellectuals to the breaking point. The country's problems are not going to be solved by engaging in class warfare against the supposed "elites".

Posted by: Brian Dell | 2010-07-23 1:36:40 PM

There are far too many "arms-length" agencies in the federal government.

How often do we hear ministers say things like, "hey, I agree with you. But I don't have jurisdiction because the decision was make by an arms-length agency."

All these "arms-length" agencies merely promotes unaccountability in the federal government. Sure, they all have to submit an annual report, but who actually reads them? And if they did find something objectionable, how on earth could they fix the problem if the agency is free from ministerial oversight?

Every agency of the federal government should be accountable to a minister, with the very limited exception of those agencies which are charged with keeping ministers accountable, like the Auditor General and the Privacy Commissioner.

Statistics Canada does not meet this criterion, so it should be accountable to the Industry Minister.

Posted by: Anonymouse | 2010-07-23 2:06:41 PM

Don't underestimate the patience of intellectuals for politicians of their own political stripe, Brian. Liberal intellectuals cheerfully stomached far worse under Trudeau, Chretien, and Martin. Harper has proven himself a much better administrator, if perhaps not a much better politician, than any of them.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-23 2:19:17 PM

I fail to see the importance of the whole issue of the Census. Sure its an infringement on one's liberties, a whole ten minutes worth. Where is the outrage for the 24/7 socialized health care system where the state essentially owns every one's bodily person and in so doing can justify every conceivable and incremental infringement on lifestyle choices, where one is forced to leave the country to experience timely state monopoly-free service. Or a tax system where a modest income is rewarded by at least 50% confiscation by all levels of government. The Census? WTF!

Posted by: John Chittick | 2010-07-23 4:25:23 PM

It's very Glen Beckian for MacIntyre to focus on an Opposition's exaggerated rhetorical criticism of this right wing government's lies, rather than on the actual issue.
And this does seem to be a tyrannical move by Harper because Clement does not even believe what he's being forced to say. He said he'd fill out the long form census so he can't be concerned about any matters of privacy.

Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe makes the point:
His is a government in which most ministers are reduced to silence, except for those kept on short leashes, and in which everything, down to astonishingly small details, are decided by the Prime Minister, and only by him. His mind can be changed, but only occasionally and usually only after the passage of time between his initial decision and a new one. In this instance, despite internal discussion, his initial decision has stuck.

Mr. Clement, accordingly, has been reduced to a pathetic excuse for a minister, peddling arguments he knows are false, having failed to convince the Boss of why the long-form census made sense. He says privacy concerns drive the decision, when he knows there are provisions in the legislation preventing answers from being linked to the person giving them. He knows, too, that neither the privacy commissioner nor the committee that crossed the country studying what should be in the census heard complaints about long-form privacy concerns.

Mr. Clement, therefore, is driven to making up arguments that claim people are concerned about their privacy, but they don’t say so publicly. This shows the depths that a minister, himself a career politician, has to go to abase himself in order to keep his job and remain on the good side of the Boss.

Posted by: Binary Logic | 2010-07-23 8:59:53 PM

Binary offers what I think to be a mistaken understanding about the government's concerns about "privacy". "Clement ... said he'd fill out the long form census so he can't be concerned about any matters of privacy." I'm certain that many Canadians are generally unconcerned about matters of privacy. Others are prepared to accept the assurances of StatsCan and a variety of "experts" that the secrets of those who fill out the long-form are safe with them. Tony Clement may well fall into one of those two categories.

The issue, however, is the government's power to prosecute (and ultimately jail) those who, for whatever reason, don't wish to answer questions that they find intrusive. They find it even more intrusive when some otherwise-unemployable university student arrives on their porch to "help" them fill out the long-form. Neither does it surprise me that those who resent the intrusion of the the long-form may not "say so publicly", particularly if the definition of "say so publicly" is equated to writing a letter to the Minister or to StatsCan or to the Globe and Mail.

Binary, who now has a greater chance of receiving the long-form census than in the past, should do his duty and join Minister Clement in filling it out, as should the literally hundreds of people who are ardent defenders of the long-form. The results obtained for those pages of questions that some bureaucrat thought worth adding will be comparable to those obtained from a variety of other polls and surveys that government and interest groups are free to spin and manipulate as they have done previous census data.

If Minister Clement has erred, it has been in failing to address the myth of the accuracy and value of the census data collected through use of the long-form.

Posted by: Roseberry | 2010-07-24 12:08:58 PM

Well said Roseberry.

Posted by: TM | 2010-07-24 12:42:12 PM

Speaking of our Prime Minister, how come his wife has an affair with an RCMP officer assigned to her security detail, and no one in the press reports it? If the Prime Minister is getting "high with a little helps from his friends" like cocaine party-boy Rahim Jaffer. How about the 37-years-married Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews? He impregnated his 18-year old assistant, and Mrs. Harper is boinking an RCMP officer and not living with her husband, what is all this talk of Conservative party family values? Go figure!

Posted by: Billy The Bunny | 2010-07-25 4:55:32 PM

Billy the Bunny, I guess you expect policitians to be different than other humans? Maybe you expect the liberals to be any different?

Politicians are not rewarded for their virtue, but getting votes. Whether they do that by hook or by crook does not matter, in the end.

So we are wise to get past the belief that any of them can be trusted. That also means you getting past the notion that the consvative voters all believe they can be trusted.

Posted by: TM | 2010-07-26 4:06:59 PM

Trust ye not in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.

His spirit shall go forth and he shall return unto his earth.

On that day all his thoughts shall perish.

Posted by: set you free | 2010-07-26 10:57:57 PM

Set You Free:

Is that what Rush Limbaugh 'sees' post Oxycontin 80mg?

Posted by: jeff franklin | 2010-07-27 6:17:55 AM


You'd have to ask Rush Limbaugh.

Posted by: set you free | 2010-07-27 10:04:18 AM

Hard data obtained from the anonymous census long-form clearly helps in setting public policy and planning. This hard data provides the public with vital information that helps them make the case for many government-financed initiatives. Do some initiatives go against the Harper conservatives vision of what the public should be entitled to? In the absence of hard census data, the conservatives can ignore well-supported arguments and implement their view of what public policy and planning should be. No wonder they have dug in their heals on this issue, and keep spouting off their silly talking points that the government will put you in jail if you fail to fill in the unanimous census long-form questionnaire.

Posted by: Rory Rickwood | 2010-07-28 11:09:46 AM

"I guess you expect policitians to be different than other humans? Maybe you expect the liberals to be any different?"

Speaking for myself: No, I don't. But if someone keeps harping on about how they are making "moral choices" and are guided by "moral principles" then I have little to no problem to throw them under the bus when they betray their own words.

Posted by: Snowrunner | 2010-07-30 8:34:23 PM

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