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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The moderate Census 2011 reform

The census debate has been raging for more than a month now. My first post on the government decision to make the mandatory long-form voluntary was on June 30th. Re-reading that post I am struck by how much this debate has spun out of control. The opponents are jumping up and down in outrage for what they call a radical ideological agenda. The reality is that the reform is a very moderate one.

The important thing that has to be kept in mind, and I feel like so many people are losing sight of this, is that the government is not proposing to cut the census. The short-form will still be mandatory and refusal to fill in this form could still lead to fines or jail time.

The short-form is not as intrusive but it is still intrusive. It asks you questions about your age, your family, your ethnicity, and other basic demographic questions. The 2011 Census will then still be a ‘snap shot’ of Canada’s demographics.

I keep getting the impression that the opponents of the reform are confused. They keep defending the ‘vital’ demographic data that the census collects. We can debate how ‘vital’ this data really is, but such a debate would be abstract because that ‘vital’ data is not really being threatened.

The sort of information that won’t be gathered by coercive means in the new census is: how many rooms you have in your house, what time you get up to go to work, and which parent spends more time with their children. These are all examples presented by the government, and I have yet to hear any critic try to defend any of that as vital to the operation of government.

That is because there is no legitimate argument that any of that data is anything but of academic interest.

Some like the Western Standard have used this opportunity to engage in a debate over the legitimacy of using force to collect statistical data. This debate should not be confused with the debate over the government reform. Despite the libertarian language used by Minister Tony Clement, there is no proposal on the table to end the use of force in census collection.

Opponents of the government’s census reform should take a deep breath and tackle the issue more honestly.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 3, 2010 in Census | Permalink


I don't quite follow, Hugh. I thought the reform was to make the long form voluntary. By "force," I therefore presume you mean the short form (if there is one)?

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-08-03 6:14:27 AM

Yes there is a short-form and it is the one that most Canadians get. There is no change in how the short-form will be collected. So force will still be used in the 2011 Census, just not on one aspect of the census.

Posted by: Hugh MacIntyre | 2010-08-03 10:38:11 AM

You are absolutely correct and this has been clear from the start, which is why I call it yet another of our manufactured crises. It has never been a debate, for in a debate opinions differ but truth remains truth. I also agree that the "short form" (not all that short) is far too intrusive and that it should be voluntary not mandatory. Not only is it too intrusive but it continues the divisive role of identity politics, an area which now has a whole industry built upon its existence. The only thing that any government may "need" to know is the age, sex and region of residence of people and possibly if they are citizens or not.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-08-03 11:05:18 AM

The Libs and Lefties are grasping at straws because the controversy barrel is almost empty. The "Hate Harper" proponents don't seem to have much traction on any cause and nothing seems to move the public into the Liberal or NDP camp. Dumping the punitive aspects of the census is not something the voting public would see as detrimental to good governance. It's a big yawn to most people endowed with even a hint of common sense. The majority of activists trying to turn this mole hill into a mountain would all be Iggy or Layton/May supporters desperate for a cause and frustrated for lack of same.

Posted by: peterj | 2010-08-04 12:27:49 AM

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