Canada’s MPs still cannot reach a consensus on the census, just as they couldn’t five years ago. Two bills are on their way to the House of Commons: one by Liberal MP Ted Hsu, which calls for a return to the long form census and cans the provision that jails individuals for not completing the census; the other from Conservative benches, which simply cancels the aforementioned provision.
No one has ever been prosecuted for that particular offence, but it seems to make the voluntary census less voluntary. Since that article of legislation has not yet been removed, many Canadians could go to jail because of their negligence.
A brief refresher: way back when, Harper decided Canada doesn’t need a long-form census. Critics argued that abolishing the census would deprive both the government and independent organizations of crucial information required to comprehend the makeup of the country. The list of opponents to the scrapping of the census included the governments of five of Canada’s provinces, the Canadian Medical Association, various economic institutes and Chambers of Commerce, Canadian Nurses Association, the Chief Statistician of Canada and his predecessors, and the Canadian Labour Congress. Proponents of the change argued that the census intruded on the privacy of Canadians; by abolishing the census, the Conservative government would continue its efforts to curtail government intrusion into the private lives of Canadians.
This defence of privacy came from the same government that is slowly trying to strip away the privacy rights (such as they are) of all Canadians, teenagers, opposition MPs, radicals, or all three.
Conservative MP John Carmichael actually said, “This government has already taken numerous steps to ensure that we collect necessary, reliable data, while reducing the undue burden on Canadians and protecting their privacy.” However, the data from the voluntary census was so unreliable that Stats Canada couldn’t even publish it! More importantly, particularly with their new terror legislation, the government needs to clearly define reliable and necessary data—two terms which have been vaguely defined in legislation as of late.
The mandatory long form census had a 93.5% response rate. It provided data that allowed for the repositioning of electoral boundaries. This census was then replaced with a voluntary one, which had a 68.6% response rate. Considering that only 60% of Canadians vote, the census turnout is actually pretty good. The 31% who didn’t answer probably don’t believe that the government is responsive to their needs in the first place.
According to the former Chief Statistician Ivan Fellegi, Canada is an oddity. Fellegi has studied census taking around the world and can’t find a single instance (from the past or the present) where a census is voluntary. With an election coming up, our political parties have no idea who is middle class or how many students who could be potential radicals. It’s going to make the Battle of 2015 even more interesting, since no one is going to know what to do!