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What's Harper got against the Census anyway?

By now you’ve probably heard that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is axing the mandatory long-form Census questionnaire, supposedly in the name of safeguarding the privacy of Canadians.

It’s remarkable all the fake problems this man finds to “fix” while ignoring very real problems like climate change.

His tough-on-crime legislation is a classic example. He’s spending billions of dollars to expand the prison system, even though crime rates have been falling for decades and there’s a huge body of evidence proving this approach to crime doesn’t work.

I used to work for an organization that made extensive use of Census data. We were part of a coalition of non-profit organizations and municipalities who pooled our resources to purchase this expensive – and valuable – data from Stats Can. We used it to generate statistical profiles of cities and neighbourhoods across Canada. We were essentially mapping social and economic conditions across the country, right down to the FSA geographic level (first three characters of a postal code).

Census data is purchased, shared, mapped, analyzed and used by literally thousands of organizations across Canada. They design policies and programs, allocate resources and base critical decisions on this data. They monitor Canada’s social progress (or lack thereof) with it. It’s used by researchers, urban planners, social scientists, hospitals, school boards, social planning agencies, United Ways, universities, business, and all levels of government itself.

So many people and organizations are calling for this decision to be reversed, because Census data is a crucial tool in their work. But Harper remains steadfast in his refusal to reconsider. He didn’t consult with those who use the data before deciding to axe it, and he’s not going to change his mind now just because they’re unhappy.

So what does Stephen Harper have against the Census anyway?

Privacy concerns, he says.

This is absolutely and obviously not the truth. I’ve seen and worked with this data. It’s made up of huge tables of numbers. There are no names. There is no personally identifying information.

What’s the real reason?

I believe it’s because Prime Minister Harper finds it irritating when people use data to back up their arguments against him and his policies. He has a long history of favouring ideology over evidence. He is notoriously dismissive of experts and facts.

A person could spend their entire career thinking about and studying something, thereby accumulating a wealth of knowledge and insight far greater than Harper could ever hope to possess on the subject, and Harper would simply scoff and implement a policy or eliminate funding to a program based solely on his own opinion.

It’s my opinion that Mr. Harper is now taking his personal contempt of evidence to the next level. Rather than simply ignoring the evidence, he’s literally eliminating it so nobody can use it against him.

The Globe & Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson wrote a terrific column – PM’s Census Policy Senseless, but Great for the Party. It left me feeling weirdly sorry for Tony Clement, the Minister responsible for holding this latest bag of Harper’s steaming excrement.

The Ottawa Citizen’s Dan Gardner wrote this: Statisticians go wild –
When the number-crunchers get angry, government should know it made a mistake

If you want to add your voice to the growing number of Canadians who want the mandatory long form questionnaire reinstated, there’s an online petition here.

Canadian Social Research Links has tons of links on this subject.

28 comments to What’s Harper got against the Census anyway?

  • EK

    That’s an excellent reading list; both of those articles are great.

    This move is one I am finding so hard to deal with because it’s just so DAMNED STUPID. GAH.

    Also, a quote from the top of the release the PMO put out yesterday on the subject:

    “Canadians don’t want the government at their doorstep at 10 o’clock at night while they may be doing something in their bedroom, like reading, because government wants to know how many bedrooms they have.”

    I have to laugh because otherwise, I’d cry.

  • grace

    @EK seriously? I think I’m going to go cry now.

  • I think you have hit the nail on the head. The cons don’t want the data collected because it so often shows their ideology is not working.

  • XUP

    I could understand scrapping the census altogether given that it’s become kind of archaic. It would be great to have a newer, more accurate method of collecting data — and collecting more relevant data. The current census format is very expensive and doesn’t really ask the right questions anymore. However, just scrapping the form and suggesting a shorter, VOLUNTARY census, is just ridiculous. The last census cost $567-million to conduct. I think that’s the reason it’s being scrapped.

  • grace

    @EK Oh Dimitri. Canadians are now reading in every rooom in the house . . .

  • Okay, I have to ask. What does the census tell the government that isn’t already collected by some other branch of either provincial or federal government, or a company that has to report same to the provincial or federal government? Do we really need multiple sources for the exact same data, privacy concerns or no?

  • Thanks EK. All I can do is roll my eyes about the goofy statement from the PMO. I’ve filled out the long form questionnaire, and it was neither intrusive nor all that long. I certainly didn’t feel like the government was in my bedroom at 10:00 at night.

    Dave, yup, if they thought the evidence was going to make them look good, maybe they wouldn’t be in such a hurry to destroy it.

    XUP, they’re still conducting the census, just not the long form. And they’re replacing it with something that will be considerably less useful, yet considerably more expensive. (As Dan Gardner says, “Doing less with more.”

    Grace, even though I’m unemployed, I’d hate to have Dimitri’s job.

    James, it’s not the exact same data – not even close. The Census is the only official count in the country. The long form, because it is completed by fully 20% of households, is statistically critical. No other surveys can provide the same data at the same detailed geographic levels. Also, other databases sometimes work in conjunction with – and require – Census data.

    If the data yielded by the long form Census questionnaire were available elsewhere, or if it were not so critical, you wouldn’t be hearing this outcry from such a wide cross-section of organizations and data-users across the country.



      You are a human piece of scum for wanting to FORCE people to fill the census. Apparently you have no problem with tyranny.

      Make the census 100% VOLUNTARY !!!

      YOU want to fill the census, I DON’T !!! So fill the census and let me NOT fill it !!!

  • Ma’am, you have snatched the baffled, incredulous speechlessness right outta my pointy snout. Good on ya. I just wish the twit had the sense to listen to you.

  • Zoom – this is such a great post. The best I’ve read on the subject.

  • Coyote, like they say, 99.9% of statisticians can’t be wrong!

    Laurie – thanks for the very kind comment. I appreciate that.

  • Great post! It’s my first time reading your blog and I was inspired to take action: I signed the petition and sent an email to Tony Clement.

  • @Zoom: They also say 99.99 percent of statistics are bs. So which is it? :)

  • […] Zoom also has a post on scrapping the mandatory long census. […]

  • When I was a university student I worked doing the census one summer. Very few of my houses protested filling out the form, and I only had one refusal. I know my experience may not be scientific or representative of the whole country, but I’m sure there weren’t masses of people upset about doing the long form. I think your theory makes good sense. Stephen Harper is doing this for himself.

    Now if you do fill out a voluntary long form, PLEASE fill out your postal code and make the poor census representatives life more easy than mine was at the time!

  • XUP

    I have a correction. I now have it on good authority that the new short form will actually be more expensive than the long form because it’s voluntary and requires a lot more follow-up. The same authority also feels that the reasoning is “control of information” by the PMO. Very scary.

  • grace

    @XUP Quelle surprise!

  • EK

    @XUP, grace yep, it’s definitely going to be MORE expensive to do now.



  • rebyl

    Hey Boycott I think you are really the Turmel guy. Come on fess up that you took all your meds at once and go back to your election chasing gig.

  • XUP

    It’s always heartening to see who’s supporting the Prime Minister, isn’t it?

  • Nat

    I agreed with you on Clement until he started with take on more responses means more statistically relevant data.

    It’s such an odd thing to do, you know it’s a bad decision when everyone from lowly bureaucrats to scientists all over are decrying the decision.

  • EK

    Here is a piece that appeared today in the Globe and Mail. It’s a transcript of a discussion with Tony Clement about the census nonsense.

    PS can everyone clearly understand me and still pay attention even when I don’t write in caps lock? Perhaps I should switch in order to convey my point more clearly…

  • grace

    Even with the hearing aid turned down EK!

  • I think Stephen Harper must be GW Bush’s Canadian clone. Which does not bode well for you, our northern neighbors. If Harper does as much to undermine true democracy and privacy and autonomy in Canada as GWB did here in the US, you will be the poorer (literally and figuratively) for it.

  • […] optimistic. When the Chief Statistician of Canada, Munir Sheikh, resigned yesterday over the Census debacle, it was a courageous and ethical stance against Stephen Harper, and it restored my […]

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