Thursday, July 29, 2010

More reviews are in

Might the Cons be hoping for their gutting of the census to simply fade into the background as an issue? If so, they may want to read...

Haroon Siddiqui:
Instead of Munir Sheikh resigning as head of Statistics Canada, Tony Clement should have quit the cabinet. It was his dishonest suggestion — that he had the agency’s support in replacing the compulsory long census form with a voluntary one — that prompted Sheikh to depart.
It was heartening to hear such principled civil servants.

By contrast, Tory politicians have been reprehensible. Harper has been mute, while his minions put up lame defences.
It is a measure of Harper’s intransigence that he has dug in his heels despite the four-week-long non-partisan national uproar during the summer holiday season when Canadians normally have better things to do than pay much attention to politics.

The forms for the census in May next year must go to the printers within days. Yet Harper is holding the census hostage to his ideology, while also leaving Statistics Canada leaderless and rudderless.
James Travers:
Behind closed doors and without meaningful consultation, Harper and his cabinet rubber-stamped a pre-conceived conclusion. They are now characteristically defending it by grotesquely distorting facts.

Tony Clement’s fear-mongering about census scofflaws dragged away in chains and Stockwell Day’s bizarre suggestion that it’s really about discovering if your neighbour is Jewish would be funny if not so frightening. After making the wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons, Conservatives are resorting to the Big Lie in hopes of being mistaken for defenders of the little people.
Harper’s government climbs opinion polls when Canadians are content that the country is being competently managed. It slides down them when ideology and incompetence disturb the national reverie of political indifference.

Jarred into wakefulness by the sound of summer gunfire, Canadians are confronted by the spectacle of a wounded prime minister leading a gang that can’t shoot straight.
Lawrence Martin, albeit with the inevitable "blame Giorno" attempt to salvage Harper's personal reputation as a strategist:
In addition to several other control-freak eruptions, social conservatism came to the fore with abortion funding left out of the maternal health initiative, funding cuts for Toronto’s Gay Pride day, a planned employment equity review and, most important, the decision on ending the long-form census.

The upshot has been no change in the government’s image and zero improvement in its popularity numbers. Unable to score through these times, Tories must be wondering whether they can ever score.

When he became PM, Mr. Harper wanted to gradually enlarge the Conservative tent. That required his having a team that could curb his raw appetites and fashion an appeal to the mainstream. He had people like that initially. But then the yes chorus came, the ideological shackles tightened, and the tent got smaller.
And the Chronicle-Herald editorial board:
(T)o anyone with a sense of proportion, the Tories’ heroic self-image of saving Canadians from oppression by making the "intrusive" long-form census voluntary just doesn’t square with reality.

But Industry Minister Tony Clement isn’t conceding the non-existence of incarcerated census objectors. Testifying at a Commons committee Tuesday, Mr. Clement repeatedly evaded the question when asked if anyone has been jailed. Retired chief statistician Ivan Fellegi later did supply a factual answer: No.
The Tories’ indulgence in this melodrama shows we have more cause to worry about the ninny state than the nanny state.

Mr. Clement wants to spend $30 million to convince people to voluntarily answer questions that he and other ministers have spent weeks trashing as silly and invasive, often in misleading terms.
So let’s take the advice of the cool heads on this issue. Scrap the unused and over-the-top jail sanction, set reasonable fines, ensure every question has a valid purpose (and tell people what it is). But protect the quality of the data by keeping the long form mandatory.

And spare us the melodrama. The Bastille is empty and the emperor has no clothes.
Update: Scott rightly notes that C.E.S. Franks should be added to the list:
In his letter announcing his resignation as Canada’s chief statistician, Munir Sheikh said he wanted to take the opportunity to comment on “a technical statistical issue” that had become a subject of media discussion. The question was whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census. The answer: “It can not.”

Five days earlier, Mr. Sheikh’s minister, Tony Clement, had told the press that he asked Statistics Canada if they were confident they could do their job with a voluntary survey, and their answer had been that, provided extra steps were taken in advertising and enlarging the sample size, “Yes, we can do our job.”

These two statements fundamentally contradict each other. There are only two possibilities for explaining the difference: Either someone is not telling the truth, or Mr. Sheikh’s and Statistics Canada’s views on the usefulness of a voluntary survey have changed.

Mr. Sheikh’s and Statistics Canada’s views and advice to the government on the usefulness of a voluntary survey did not change.
Quite likely, Mr. Sheikh discussed his resignation and the contents of his public letter with the clerk. Perhaps they agreed on his description of a major policy change as a technical issue in order to allow Statistics Canada’s views to be made public. But if a deputy minister is compelled to resign every time a minister misrepresents the advice given by the public service, Canada would soon run out of competent and independent-thinking senior public servants. Something stinks in this entire affair, and it is not Mr. Sheikh or Statistics Canada.

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