Census Decision Has Proponents Shaking Their Heads

The recent announcement by the Conservative Government , that refusing to fill out the long-form census will no longer be punishable, came out of the blue and left many wondering what the motivation for the decision is based upon. According to the government, they are merely responding to the call they had been hearing to change the law. For libertarians, the law requiring compliance with census is a classic example of the kind of intrusive government they seek to avoid. The problem is why are the Conservatives the only ones hearing this outcry?

Many offices on Parliament Hill remember well the organized campaign that flooded e-mail inbox based on the American arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin being contracted to create the software used for the 2006 census. Then, thousands of e-mails were received from across Canada in a campaign that was undeniably existent. This time, it is a mystery why only Conservatives are hearing about those who find the law requiring Canadians to fill out long-form census questionnaires to be intrusive.

Perhaps it is an internal party lobby. It still remains a mystery why the Conservatives are seeking to change the variables in a longitudinal study that tells Canadians who they are. What is not a mystery is that Canadians of all shape are lining up in opposition to the government’s announcement and are providing some compelling reasons for us to continue with the mandatory census.

Census information is not just used by the federal government. Provincial and municipal Governments rely on the information for their planning as well. It is not surprising provinces, with the exception of Alberta (likely for dogmatic reasons) have lined up to oppose the decision.

The information that we gather in a census helps us know ourselves. When compared with data from other census it allows us an important window into how we are changing and where that change is happening. It may sound oversimplified, but without census data, we would be working from best-guesses instead of hard fact.

Criticism of the change to census compliance is not limited to the provinces. Charitable organizations, advocacy groups, health providers, religious organizations, and community groups are also lining up to question the Conservative’s decision. They too claim the knowledge gleaned from the census is invaluable to determine the activities and social program we should pursue, claiming that the information about where we have been and where we are going allows for the most effective planning to address trends in our population.

Of real interest is that the Conservatives, as a political party, have arguably benefitted the most from social mapping, the kind that is available from a robust census. One has to wonder if they are merely trying to shut others out of the process while they use their expansive war-chest to fund private census-type data collection for their eyes only.

What is clear is that the decision was made in private with no mandate and with no consultation. For such an important issue, Canadians deserve to truly be involved in the process.