Politics - Federal

The Real Reason to Eliminate the Long Form Census

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 27, 2010

In an opinion piece for the National Post, conservative policy analyst Stephen Taylor reveals the real reason the Conservative Party has announced they will be eliminating the long form census:

The conservative/libertarian Fraser Institute think tank's motto is "if it matters, measure it." The untruth of the inverse of this statement is at the centre of why this government should follow through. "If you measure it, it matters" is the motto of those net tax-receiving organizations who only matter if they can make their case. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tried the ideological argument against these groups for years. But ideology is by its nature debatable; removing the framework of debate is his shortcut to victory.

If Stephen Harper succeeds in moving in this direction, he will be in the initial stages of dealing a huge blow to the welfare state. If one day we have no idea how many divorced Hindu public transit users there are in East Vancouver, government policy will not be concocted to address them specifically. Indeed if this group were organized (the DHPTUEV?) and looking for government intervention, they'd be against the census change.

In other words: if social policy advocates (and university researchers, and journalists, and municipal planning staffers, etc.) no longer have access to the demographic data that comes from the long form census, they will no longer be able to make evidence-based arguments for a particular public policy.

I've been arguing for years that Harper is following an incremental approach in his long strategy to transform Canada into his more socially conservative, more economically libertarian vision. In Taylor's conclusion, he confirms this:

I believe that this Prime Minister has a few objectives in mind as he integrates seemingly transactional initiatives into something transformative. First, he merged the Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance to challenge what seemed to be entrenched Liberal electoral domination. Through initiatives such as financial starvation via election finance reform and ideological force-feeding on the policy front, Stephen Harper seeks to diminish or destroy the Liberal Party to replace them with the Conservatives as Canada's default choice for government. His greatest challenge is to dismantle the modern welfare state. If it can't be measured, future governments can't pander.

So for Canadians on the sidelines wondering what the big deal is about, understand that by eliminating the clear, statistical picture Canadians have of our own country and its citizens, Harper is hoping to eliminate our capacity to decide what, if any, social policy we should be trying to follow.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Ancopa (registered) | Posted July 27, 2010 at 19:06:23

In an opinion piece for the National Post....

So for Canadians on the sidelines wondering what the big deal is about, understand that by eliminating the clear, statistical picture Canadians have of our own country and its citizens, Harper is hoping to eliminate our capacity to decide what, if any, social policy we should be trying to follow.

I can't help but feel that you're trying to validate this opinion piece as fact... Is this part of that whole hidden agenda argument again?

Comment edited by Ancopa on 2010-07-27 18:07:05

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 27, 2010 at 19:36:30

We keep talking as though the government was going to eliminate the long form - unless I've misread things completely, the plan is simply to make it voluntary. Not the same thing.

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By Mark D Hughes (anonymous) | Posted July 27, 2010 at 20:00:12

A Modest Proposal - for the census

If all the talking heads, editorialists and statistics boffins are correct and the census long-form information is vital to the domestic tranquility of our great country then I say the long form census should be imposed of on 100% of the population. And for those who refuse to comply...well, we should give them a second chance and if they still don't comply then we should kick-em-out of the country ...forget about jail time or fines. After all, like the income tax, it is a "condition" of living in Canada, part of the social compact that were magically sign at birth. Indeed, as many commentators have reminded us, complying with the census it is our civic duty. We simply don't want openly anti-state/social compact nuts running around questioning the authority and good sense of politicians and life-long bureaucrats.

And while we are at it, lets collect some really useful information. None of this "what time do you leave for work?" silliness. I think out first question should be about blood type and DNA. To be sure, one of the most pressing problems in Canada today is the shocking lack of potential organ/bone marrow donors. (Well, there really isn't a lack of them--there are after all some 34 million of us--we just lack the means to hunt them down and compel their cooperation). If we had a good searchable cross-referenced blood type/DNA database it would make public policy on organ donning so much more efficient. But wait, what about all that privacy nonsense? No fear, all that delicate private information will be aggregated by the good boffins at Statistics Canada. Unfortunately, this anonymizing will, admittedly, complicate any hunt for doner matches. However, being able to narrow down our hunt for suitable donors to regions or, better still postal codes, will make our national organ-donor policy so much better than it is today. And better organ-donor policy is such a vital component of or national health care identity. Quite literally, unless we can collect this important policy-making information, we are dooming our great country to the fate of a rudderless oil tanker in the St.Laurence.

You simply have to wonder about the motivations of any politician or government who is unwilling to demand national blood type/DNA database. In my considered opinion, I think they simply hate people who need organ transplants.

Mark D. Hughes
Executive Director
Institute for the Study of Privacy Issues (ISPI)

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted July 27, 2010 at 20:41:14

The privacy commissioner of Canada, whose standards are rigorous, has found no problems with the long census form. It is important to remember precisely how the data is used. Here is a list of census data uses from Datalibre, via Michael Geist's website.

It is also worth pointing out that the federal government countenances other invasions of privacy which the public is not informed about, and the current administration does not appear to be overly concerned about them.

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted July 27, 2010 at 22:42:21

The mandatory thing is a problem for me. 15 or so years ago, I was one of the poor suckers singled out for additional information. This involved meeting in person and then over the phone for several months of follow-up, and believe me, it's mandatory.

When I finally became irritated (after about the third month) and refused to keep participating, I was threatened with being reported (can't remember to whom), fined, or possibly given jail time. I eventually complied and just lied or answered that I didn't know, and was generally completely immature about it.

I don't care how useful the information is, I don't care who needs this information, I don't care how important this information is, I 100% support this mandatory long form being eliminated. No one should be threatened with jail time for refusing to answer these questions.

Comment edited by d.knox on 2010-07-27 21:43:38

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted July 27, 2010 at 23:20:13

There are some duties necessary for us to fulfill in order for our society to function as it needs to, for the benefit of all citizens, to make sure everyone's rights are upheld. Filling out census forms is one of them. Jury duty is another. Jury duty is also something for which the consequences of refusing to participate can be serious. Should it also be eliminated because of this?

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted July 28, 2010 at 07:33:02

Michelle: I did fill out the long census form. I didn't have a problem with it. What I had to do in the follow-up, which was also mandatory, was some study on travel. The questions were about where I went, and when I went there. It was for six months.

There really aren't any serious repercussions that I can think of for not knowing where I went and when. The woman doing the census didn't even know that Windsor is in Canada (one of the exciting places I went).

I don't have a problem with jury duty, and I don't think this is a slippery slope issue. Jail time for refusing to discuss my travel agenda? Does that seem reasonable to you?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2010 at 11:31:20

Ask any statistician and they will tell you that a voluntary census will be completely useless because the people who fill out the census voluntarily will not be random, hence you will not have a true random sample.

Yes, it is an intrusion into your privacy, but it's for the benefit of all citizens of Canada. The information is used by many government agencies, charities, and social agencies, among others. Information that you might think is not relevant, or is an invasion of privacy without a purpose might be more important than you realize.

Statscan is consistently considered one of the best statistics organizations in the world. Why would we want to gut it, especially when here hasn't been any public support requesting the long form be scrapped. It seems like the Harper government had this idea on the agenda, like making the national anthem more "gender neutral", and introduces these ideas despite the fact the majority of Canadians aren't interested, and have no problem with it.

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted July 28, 2010 at 11:48:31

When I looked into the whole census thing, again 20 years ago and pissed-off, I was surprised to learn that private companies contract Statscan to do polling for them. The information is not available to the public on demand because it is sold to private companies in addition to various government organizations.

It's fine to say "for everyone's benefit". I understand that argument. But honestly, jail? Jail. Get rid of it or stop threatening jail. What is this? A gulag?

Yes, gulag is hyperbolic. But so is jail. And really, this "long form" isn't just the paper you fill out and forget about. Mandatory also covers further questioning, for trivial matters. My travel plans or... Jail?

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By mahesh (registered) - website | Posted July 22, 2015 at 02:56:41

Hindu Baby Names can now be easily found as we have sorted Hindu baby girl names and Hindu baby boy names separately in alphabetical order along with their Meanings for the parents to choose easily.Hindu parents can also get information on Hinduism ,Hindu Gods & Goddesses,Mantras & shlokas and Hindu festivals.

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