Critique of CensusLiving between the linesNotesObservations

Canadian conservatives battling over the census… in USA

ObservationsI wrote in July that the Conservative government’s decision to abolish the compulsory nature of the census’ long form probably originated from an observation of the recent controversies surrounding U.S. Census as well as of the potential political risks and opportunities in their import in Canada.

Subsequent conservatives’ statements have amply demonstrated that the rationality of their decision was more one of partisan calculation than of administrative rationality or respect for the rights of citizens. Today, the Liberal Opposition tabled a bill to make the long form mandatory, still along with fines, but no more imprisonment. As if the opposition in the Commons blindly followed to the letter their role in one of the possible scenarios envisioned by the Conservatives.

However, the American inspiration for the strategy and the discourse in support has never been so clearly brought to light than by the statements of Minister Tony Clement on Tuesday. Jennifer Ditchburn of The Canadian Press reports that according to Clement, the enumerators could beat the system and make off with the personal information of Canadians. Although Statistics Canada has clear policies, “some enumerators are recruited in the same neighbourhood as respondents. This means, says Clement, “your neighbour may know some of your most personal and more intimate information.”

The minister described the situation here in the U.S. where, constitution requires, the census must be conducted by enumerators.

In Canada, the census is self-administered … since 1971. One reason for the abandonment of enumerators was specifically related to a matter of respect for privacy. It was less to avoid the risk of espionage, but to reduce the intrusiveness and the intimidating presence of a visit by a possible neighbour and therefore the bias resulting from the reluctance to answer questions honestly, even to answer at all. Indeed Statistics Canada’s policy for telephone follow-up reminders is to rely on enumerators who should not be from the area of citizen contacted.

In short, the cat is out of the bag. Latest Clement’s arguments are clearly American import copy and paste that have no relevance in the Canadian context. So gross an error would have not occurred if the conservative decision had been taken on the basis of some needs analysis to improve the Canadian census. Moreover, if one had wanted to improve the census, one would have amended the long form rather than spend the summer denigrating the questions it contains, and even those he does not…



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