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July 28, 2010

Senseless Harper guts census

Ever since Stephen Harper came to power, he has had a difficult relationship with Statistics Canada. He has ordered the gutting or changing of several surveys, such as The Annual Workplace and Employee Survey, The Survey of Financial Security, and The Annual Survey of Household Spending.

So his decision to gut the national census by making compliance voluntary rather than mandatory is just another example of fiddling with the machinery of government to fit his government’s mindset.

Since Harper came to power, Stats Can employees have privately confessed that the agency has shifted focus away from social issues towards more economic subjects.

The official reason for the decision came from Industry Minister Tony Clement, who called the census “coercive and intrusive,” and said the policy was changed to protect the privacy of Canadians, but that line is a hard sell.

Many veterans in the Canadian “statistics community” are baffled by this decision.

The head of Statistics Canada, Munir Sheikh, arguably the country’s top statistician, has resigned over the matter, and rebuked the Harper administration in a highly publicized letter, stating that a voluntary census wouldn’t work. 

This conclusion should seem self-evident since a voluntary census would yield selectively disclosed data, thus making it incompatible with previously collected statistics. Ivan Fellegi, Sheikh’s predecessor, also rebuked the government’s decision.

Other upset parties include the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Atlantic Provinces Economics Council, City of Toronto,  Canadian Association for Business Economics, Canadian Economics Association, Canadian Association of University Teachers, Canadian Institute of Planners, Canadian Council of Social Development, and the consultative agency the National Statistical Council.

In a democratic state like Canada, the census is a vital communiqué between the people and their elected officials.

Taken every five years, it is, as Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says “The mothership of all surveys.”

Given that Harper has gutted numerous NGOs; prorogued parliament (twice); and spent $1 billion plus on the G8/G20 summits among other self-serving deeds, the elimination of a key pillar of Canadian democracy is hardly surprising, and almost seems to make sense.

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M. Elmasry

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