Ministerial Twitter Battle! $130M tax payer dollars wasted! Conspiracy theories!

Who knew the census could be so exciting.

Yesterday, I published Why you should care about the sudden demise of the mandatory long census form on the Globe and Mail website (also can be found here on this blog).

One interesting impact of the piece was that it generated the following debate between the Minister and a Laval Statistics Professor. Ultimately the professor’s concerns that the data generated by a voluntary long form remain unresolved. In short, as the former chief statistician of Statistics Canada also noted, a $100 million dollar survey may generate useless data.

UPDATE: Turns out there is now a petition to save the long form census here.

In addition to the online debate here are some other interesting facts about the end of the mandatory long census form:

1. It will be more expensive to implement.

For a government that is supposed to be fiscally conservative, ending the mandatory form could actually cost Canadian Tax Payers an additional $30 Million. As the Canadian Press reports:

“The cost of the change could reach $30 million, says Statistics Canada: $5 million for the additional mailout, and $25 million in case there is a major problem in getting people to respond.”

So, to sum up: Canadians will pay more to get data that risks being useless and skewed. Total waste of tax payer dollars: $130M.

2. No one can identify who wanted this change, not even the Minister.

Again, from the same Canadian Press article:

Industry Minister Tony Clement acknowledged in an interview that no consultations were undertaken on the decision.

He said it was based on the fact that many Canadians had complained of the coercive and intrusive nature of the census, but Clement had not seen polling on the issue.

How many Canadians? What is clear is that a large number of people are stepping forward to say this was a bad idea. So far every major municipality – through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities – is complaining about the decision, so to is both the Canadian and the Toronto Associations of Business Economists, the Canadian Council on Social Development and the Canadian Association of University Teachers and numerous academics and of course, the former chief statistician of Canada who says he would have quit rather than carry out the order to end the mandatory long census form.

3. So who has complained? (this is the best part)

So far all the stories about Canadians who have complained about the census refer to two individuals. The Canadian Press story (Which has been reprinted in several forms in a number of newspapers) references Sandra Finley, a Saskatoon activist who is still fighting in court after refusing to fill out the 2006 census. In addition to Ms. Finley, the Globe also referenced Don Rogers, a Kingston, Ont., man who mounted the “Count Me Out” campaign against the census.

In both cases the protesters core problem was not the coercive or intrusive nature of the census (the concern the minister seeks to address) but the fact the Statistics Canada bought software from defence manufacturer Lockheed Martin back in 2003. Indeed, the Count Me Out website is plastered with a hodge podge of conspiracy theories NAFTA, Lockheed Martin and the Canadian census funding ballistic missile tests.

Is this the complaint upon which the minister is grounding his decision?

4. Canada is alone

As far as the former Chief Statistician can tell, no other country in the world has a voluntary portion to its census.

Taken these four issues one is left wondering – is this how cabinet decisions are made?

Update 9:17am July 7th

Liberals issue a press release stating that:

“If the Conservatives don’t reverse their decision, Liberals are prepared to explore the introduction of an amendment to the Statistics Act to ensure a comprehensive, mandatory long-form stays,” said Ms. Jennings. “This decision, made in secret, without any consultation, is dangerous because the information that will be lost is used to help Canadians in their daily lives – particularly our most vulnerable citizens.”

Update 8:30am July 7th

Other articles raising concerns about this decision:

Winnipeg Free-Press: Anti-census crusader not satisfied with federal axing of long form

Globe and Mail: Tories Scrap Mandatory Long Form Census

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: Detailed census data invaluable for sound policy

Montreal Gazette: Canadians must be able to count on Statistics Canada

Vancouver Sun Editorial: Canada needs its citizens to stand up and be counted

Victoria Times Colonist: Census shortcut bad for Canada

Edmonton Journal: Ridiculous to scrap key census data

(Plus many more who ran the Canadian Press story and others I just didn’t paste in here).

Articles supportive about this decision:


9 thoughts on “Ministerial Twitter Battle! $130M tax payer dollars wasted! Conspiracy theories!

  1. tonobungay

    The individuals that you mentioned would probably not get any satisfaction from this change. The short form is still mandatory and even more intrusive (it now asks if your marriage or common-law relationship is a same-sex one), and the optional long form is more complex to process, requiring even more outsourcing to defence firms.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Ministerial Twitter Battle! $130M tax payer dollars wasted! Conspiracy theories! | --

  3. Disquieted

    As I wrote on another blog — but now I'll just add that I think that this was all Harper's doing — I can think of at least 2 ideological & partisan reasons the Cons are doing this, quite apart from appeasing their libertarian base's own personal resentment of being req'd to do anything for their country:1) One of the most important uses of this more detailed info. is in social policy, particularly in population health issues, to combat the effects of poverty, etc. But arming those pesky Social Planning Councils & the like with good data just leads them to asking for better social programs like subsdized day care etc. etc., all the time, which req's more money — read: more taxes. So this will cut them off at the knees, & the Con's can go on merrily trumpeting their own anecdotal “data” (crime up, gun registry useless, plenty of jobs for anyone, only reason for anyone to be hungry or a troublemaker is laziness). Similarly on environmental & food safety issues (data? we don't need no stinkin' data). The Cons have been quietly & systematically going about dismantling policy research capacity both within gov't & in nonprofits as part of their overall goal of whittling gov't down to nothing but military & police forces (& pork-barreling to reward friends & stay in power). 2) Another important use is for fine-grained demographic information at the postal code level that is extremely useful for fundraising, which they no longer need since they've exploited it to the full & now have a great database of their own, and which they want to deprive those pesky nonprofits & especially their rival political parties of. Good news, tho': further to my 2nd point about that data being a goldmine for fundraising & campaigning purposes (which is why the Cons want to blow it up, along with the vote subsidy, so they can turn this into a one-party state), it seems the business community has finally gotten wind of this & will be opposing it, because they use the same data for marketing purposes. See:

  4. R. Mowat

    I love data. Policy should be built on it (of course, data has limits and sometimes doesn't tell you what you think it does, so policy should reflect that too). But I'm not a statistician. So some of this goes over my head.So a couple of questions:1) Has the Statistics Act enforcement of the mandatory long form survived any charter challenges?2) How can the statisticians verify the accuracy of the long form data if its only distributed to a random sampling of the population? Even with the “mandatory” nature, I'd be surprised if 'fringe' elements in society were accurately represented.2a) And if they can adjust for those potential errors already, couldn't they also do so within an voluntary regime?Any help is appreciated.Cheers,R.PS – anyone else think it's odd that we have compulsory taxes, compulsory census and yet no compulsory voting?

  5. Pingback: The Progressive Economics Forum » Question Period for Census Decision

  6. Eugeneforseyliberal

    Excellent post. You and Calgary Grit should continue to keep running tally of commentary, having come this far.

  7. Karla_helgason

    Actually, as I understand it, the additional $30 mil is for COLLECTION ONLY. Meaning, it does not count the extra cost of paying StatCan's statisticians for their time in trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

  8. Karla_helgason

    Actually, as I understand it, the additional $30 mil is for COLLECTION ONLY. Meaning, it does not count the extra cost of paying StatCan's statisticians for their time in trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.


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