Wednesday, August 11, 2010

And no, we're not done here

Among the latest indications that nobody cares about data collection and any controversy will blow over without the Cons having to offer anything even remotely approaching a reasonable explanation for gutting the census, here's Roy Romanow:
Policy shapers and government decision makers have underscored that the absence of reliable data will make it harder to set priorities and allocate government spending and develop, monitor and evaluate policy changes. The United Way of Toronto has said that it will lose its most reliable tool for understanding neighbourhoods, weakening its ability to target root causes. Marketers and business are wondering how they will tailor their products and services to specific communities. More than a few Canadians have noted the irony of a country reducing its information flow in the midst of an information age.

Let’s consider the gap in our knowledge that might have existed if the last long-form census in 2006 had been voluntary. How would we have known with unimpeachable certainty that the top 20 per cent of Canadian families earned 10 times more that the bottom 20 per cent? That for every dollar earned by a native-born Canadian, a recent immigrant male earned just 63 cents and female 56 cents? That 20 per cent fewer farmers worked at home on a family farm, or that the numbers of commuters rose by more than 9 per cent?

Census data are more than just a compendium of numbers. They enable us to view the changing face of our country and those who live in it. They allow us to prepare for the future by understanding the past and present.
Information must be the bedrock on which we build public policy in areas that matter to Canadians. Trying to get a snapshot of our country with inaccurate and unreliable data is like using a camera without enough pixels. The blurrier the picture gets, the harder it becomes to recognize the face of our nation.
Mind you, Romanow's examples of the type of information we'd lose in the absence of an accurate census are probably exactly what the Cons are eager to suppress.

But that doesn't mean that anybody who isn't under Harper's thumb has any particular sympathy for the argument. And Mel Cappe, Pierre Fortin, Michael Mendelson and John Richards aren't under Harper's thumb:
If there is one overriding shared value among Canadians, it is a desire for good government. This does not mean we are indifferent to the Americans’ concern for “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It does mean we are prepared to incur certain obligations to enable good government. Among them is a willingness to accept mandatory participation in a census able to generate reliable information about Canadian social conditions. Information provided is confidential, and this confidentiality has never been violated.
This is an occasion for MPs to stand up and be counted. We call for the three opposition leaders to agree on the text of a resolution in defence of census integrity and preservation of the mandatory long form, and to state publicly their intent to move it upon reopening of the House of Commons. In the spirit of democracy and non-partisanship, the vote should be open, unconstrained by party whips. Parliamentary endorsement of the integrity of the census would be a powerful affirmation of a core Canadian value.
Then there's Alec Bruce:
(T)he controversy over Ottawa's decision to eliminate the mandatory requirement that a fraction of Canadians fill out the long census form next year is not, as the Harperites would have us believe, an inconsequential salvo launched by malcontents. It cuts to the very heart of democratic meaning and responsibility in a tolerant, pluralistic and informed society.

More than 200 organizations -- representing teachers, economists, businesses, activists, progressives, moderates, conservatives, and liberals - have implored the federal government to reverse its tack. Without this periodic statistical evaluation, they argue, fiscal, monetary, social, industrial, education, and health policies will suffer.

But just as recently as yesterday, Mr. Harper and Industry Minister Tony Clement - pointing to the support they've received from a grand total of three rabidly reactionary think tanks - clung to their entirely discreditable claim that Canadians don't want their government to insist they do anything under penalty of law.

This specious argument conveniently fails to acknowledge that no resident of this country has ever served time for failing to answer any portion of the census. It also makes light work of the actual, numerous and eminently enforceable obligations of citizenship, which are already installed.
And David Campbell, acknowledging he was wrong to have given the Cons the benefit of the doubt when they were elected:
I was one of those people back in 2006 who chuckled when we were told that Stephen Harper was "scary" and had a hidden agenda to transform Canada into a totalitarian, right-wing state. My view was that if he was elected prime minister, national politics would tilt more conservative - but the election cycle every few years ensures that no political party can take the government too far to the edges of the ideological spectrum.
In the end, I think the Conservatives have corrupted the census process - maybe for good. Even if they reverse the decision, there may just be enough Canadians who either decide to not fill it out or who fill it out with inaccurate information because of all the scaremongering.

There is just about zero chance any personal information from filling out the long form will ever be leaked.

I feel like we are in an especially strange episode of The Twilight Zone. Scary is back.
All of which is in addition to the document dump which has already confirmed that Tony Clement and the rest of the Cons have lied through their teeth. And since the Cons have helpfully released those documents only in part, we can look forward to plenty more revelations to come (since nobody's going to buy "national security" as an excuse for keeping the redacted parts secret from the Industry Committee).

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