Earlier this July, Stephen Harper's conservative government replaced the mandatory long form census, sent to one fifth of the population, with a voluntary survey sent to one third. The reason given was that it invaded the privacy of Canadians, who should not be threatened with jail time for refusing to fill out the survey. According to Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, the government is acting in the interest of the, "silent majority," who find the survey coercive.1 This has been largely decried as detrimental to the country.
The major argument against the Harper government's actions is that the data will be skewed. Andrejs Skaburskis, a professor in Queen's School of Urban and Regional Planning, has stated in an interview with The Whig newspaper that a voluntary census will create a bias. The National Statistics council has said that Statistics Canada will not be able to publish reliable results with a voluntary census. Society's most vulnerable and most affluent are the least likely to respond to a voluntary survey, giving Statistics Canada results that say Canada is populated by middle class white families.2 In the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Patricia Martens, director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy and a professor at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, also argued for the long census. She said that accurate population data comparing health to socio-economic status comes from the long census, and that, "You can't get in any other way." She went on to say that those who would suffer most from ineffective policies if research is inhibited by inaccurate data are vulnerable populations, such as First Nations and the poor.3
Opposition to the changes have begun to take tangible form. On September 29, the Opposition in Parliament passed a resolution to reinstate the mandatory long form census, on the same day that both the Ontario and Quebec parliaments launched formal complaints against the Federal government.4 The motion was ignored. The following day, the Liberals introduced a private member's bill to write the census into the Statistics Act, while removing the threat of jail time for not completing it to nullify Conservative arguments for scrapping it. The bill will not be passed until after the 2011 census.5 The Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities has taken the case to the Federal Court, claiming the government will not be able to fulfill its obligations under the Official Languages Act. On September 27, they presented an internal communications document in which both Munir Sheik and Rosemary Bander, the former chief and the assistant chief statistician of Statistics Canada respectively, stated that in a voluntary census, much of the collected data would be unusable, and that producing neighbourhood and community data would no longer be possible. The court case is still pending.6 [Editor's note: after this report was filed the case was dismissed by Federal Court Judge Richard Boivin27]
by John Maynard Keynes