Saturday, August 07, 2010


With most of the talk about the census focused on the long form as a whole, there hasn't yet been a lot of discussion about why the specific questions are essential to an accurate picture of Canadian society. But a couple of recent stories highlight the direct impact that eliminating the long-form census - and other choices made by the Cons - will have on the valuation of unpaid work.

First up, there's Jeremy Warren's article following up with Carol Lees, who just a decade and a half ago fought successfully to have unpaid work included in the census:
In 1990, Carol Lees, a mother of three in Saskatoon, began a five-year battle — which eventually brought together Canadian women's groups and feminist icon Gloria Steinem — to get unpaid housework onto the census so that the unrecognized social and economic effects of stay-at-home parents could be measured for future policy decisions.

Lees and a national network of women's groups successfully persuaded the federal government to include unpaid housework in the 1996 census. Fourteen years later, the question is gone, along with the mandatory long-form census the Harper government has dumped in favour of a voluntary National Household Survey.
After the 1996 census, Lees developed diabetes and decided to leave behind her activist work within the loose network that formed around her cause.

But over the next decade she noticed that governments increased support for people providing child and elderly care at home.

Lees believed that an accurate measurement of unpaid housework would have health and social policy implications, perhaps improving childcare programs and pensions

"We were voiceless and invisible," Lees said.

"If you are considered unoccupied and unproductive, which we were in government documents, you do not deserve a voice and nor deserve to have any policies put in place to support you because you aren't doing anything."
Of course, it's not hard to see a connection between the policies which Lees sees as having sprung from the gathering of information about unpaid work, and the exact types of programs which the Cons are seeking to axe in favour of more spending in the fear sector along with tax giveaways to the wealthy. And that means that it shouldn't be much surprise that the damage doesn't stop at gutting the long form as a whole.

While Warren's article seems to focus on the elimination of the long-form census as a whole, Antonia Zerbisias goes into more detail about the Cons' choice to eliminate any recognition of unpaid work even from their voluntary survey:
All but lost in the controversy over the Conservatives’ impending elimination of the mandatory long-form census is how, in the proposed $30 million dollar replacement — the voluntary National Household Survey — Question 33 from the long form has been cut.

Question 33 (let’s call it Q.33) is a three-part query that has been in place since Canada made commitments at the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing. The question gathered data on how much time people spent on unpaid work: domestic chores, child care and attending to the needs of elderly relatives and friends. It helped make Canada a world leader in “time-use” data.
Oddly, Q.33 has nothing to do with the level of “intrusiveness’’ that Industry Minister Tony Clement repeatedly says disturbs Canadians. What’s more, according to Lahey’s analysis, StatsCan’s own documentation shows that, during a 2007 consultation on the 2011 census, there was really no substantial evidence that Canadians want the question eliminated.

Interestingly, the new optional survey maintains queries about unpaid work performed by spouses and partners in family-owned business such as farms. This leads Lahey to conclude that the Harper government is preparing the political ground to introduce income-splitting for farm and small business couples. This would benefit higher income earners more than those who make less.

“From the perspective of women, income splitting is the ultimate incentive to economic dependency,” she wrote in a recent paper on the subject. “At the same time, it would be extremely costly, endanger funding available for existing and future social programs and would also exclude single individuals as well as any couples not falling within the terms of the provision.”
Now, there's an obvious parallel between the Cons' preservation of information about some limited sectors (recognizing unpaid contributions to farms and businesses) and their decision to keep the collection of farm information mandatory while electing not to do so for information from Canadians in general.

But the more significant distinction looks to be that between the treatment of work which contributes to some type of profit motive which the Cons consider to be important, and that based on caring for family or other non-profit-related goals which the Cons consider to be beneath even asking about. And if its track record weren't enough evidence already, that choice as to what information to collect speaks volumes about the Harper government's relative valuation of the two.

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