'This issue need not provoke an all-or-nothing allegiance'

In response to last week’s call, the National Citizens Coalition, Stephen Harper’s old haunt, sends along the following from NCC president Peter Coleman.

The long-form census is an antiquated and flawed system that needs to be reformed. While Minister Clement’s actions have stirred up debate, at least he is working to remedy many of the faults in the census system that have received much less fanfare. Great Britain is eliminating its census entirely, stemming from a desire to save money as well as the recognition that governments are able to collect data in more modern ways that avoid extreme redundancy.

It is curious that most of the groups/organizations clamouring to protect the long census rely upon that census data in some form or another. It is nice to receive free statistics at the expense of taxpayers, but our government should not be compelling this cooperation with the threat of jail time nor should we be bankrolling the whole endeavour. If organizations and special interest groups want data, they should pay for it.

In your initial comments, Mr. Wherry, you ask for city planners or statisticians to defend the move to a short census  –  they won’t. This isn’t the point here, though. Such people will always stand up for better, more accurate, more expensive statistics. This debate is really about whether our government should be administering such a system.

It should also be pointed out that the long form census as it stood did not provide true statistical accuracy to begin with. Perhaps put off by the intrusive nature of many questions, or perhaps recognizing the farce that the census has become, upwards of 20,000 Canadians indicated “Jedi” as their religion in the 2001 census.

This issue need not provoke an all-or-nothing allegiance to either Minister Clement or the long form census. It is more important to open the discussion about overcoming the flaws of the census, and Minister Clement’s reforms certainly provide a starting point.

It is necessary to look at all aspects of this debate before succumbing to the knee-jerk reaction to protect a long census that violates privacy and provides little return to the average citizen. As Pierre Trudeau famously said, “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.