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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Lady Humphrey on the census reform

The Globe & Mail has dragged out of obscurity yet another opponent of the government’s plan to make the long-form census voluntary. Dr, Sylvia Ostry is a retired senior civil servant and she has this to say about the proposal:

“I think it’s ridiculous the government would intervene and tell Statistics Canada how to collect its information,” Dr. Sylvia Ostry told the Couchiching Conference on public affairs after being presented with an award for public policy leadership.

She thinks it is ridiculous that the Minister of the Crown would be the one to set policy? The census issue is not one of pure science; it is a moral issue and a question of the proper relationship between government and its citizenry. That is exactly the area that elected officials, not unelected bureaucrats, should be in charge of. I am not surprised that Lady Humphrey Appleby here thinks that civil servants should rule the world, but the fact that she would say it so bluntly is shameful to her former profession.

I am a bit perplexed by the closing remarks of this news article:

Jail terms have never been imposed, and Dr. Ostry said that, when she was chief statistician, she instructed her officials to be flexible and sensitive with people who refused to fill out the form.

What exactly does flexible and sensitive mean? Is this civil servant speak for not enforcing the law?

I recall from my own experience as a census data collector that we were told to ‘warn’ people that they could be jailed or fined. We were also told that realistically practically no one was fined and absolutely no one was jailed. So the threat of jail is merely used as an intimidation tool to get more people to fill out the census. And this sort of intimidation, no matter how flexible or sensitive, is not acceptable coming from the government of Canada.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 8, 2010 | Permalink


These people would fit right in to 1930/40 Germany. To me, the fewer government interventions
the better.

Posted by: Agha Ali Arkhan | 2010-08-08 10:23:25 AM

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