Public and the media condemnation of the government’s decision to end the long form census has been universal (see more fun quotes below). Now the political opposition has started to mobilize. The focus of the opposition has been on the secretive nature of the decision and the failure to consult any stakeholders. While this is problematic I’m not sure it is the most ironic and sensitive point. There is actually a much more juicy Achilles heel in this decision, one that might garner press attention.
In explaining the decision (such as in the quote to the Canadian Press below), Minister Clement has repeatedly claimed that MP offices has received numerous complaints about the long form census form:
“Every MP has had complaints like that so this year we decided to at least try another method that could be a sound method that would beat the issue of concern of degradation of data, and deal with the issue of coercion and too much intrusiveness”
The statement suggests broad base support but, ironically, anecdotal and, in theory, untestable.
The fun thing is, it doesn’t have to be that way. The opposition could bring more (and hard) information to this process and expose how the Conservatives are using a lack of information to at best mislead and at worse, lie, to ordinary Canadians. Better still, if the opposition parties have been organized, they should possess that data.
How is this? Well, I’d like to see the Liberals, Bloc and NDP ask each of their MPs to search and count every email and letter from constituents over the past 4 (or some sensible number) years that involved a complaint about the census.
My suspicion is that there are no more than 100 such letters (and, maybe even a lot less, like 10). You could then pick a couple of issues of your choice on which you have received 1000s of letters and which the conservatives have taken no action and put a simple chart up showing how they react to made up issues, but ignore real priorities of ordinary Canadians.
Of course, maybe there has been some massive, secret letter campaign targeted at Conservative only MPs but I think most Canadians will want to know how many letters the Minister and conservative MPs have actually received (sadly I don’t think you can FOI this) and most will suspect it is about as many as other MPs have.
Let’s show that better data leads to better decisions and that a little transparency can go a long way to exposing those who seek to mislead us. The minister says MPs get lots of letters – lets find out how many. And in comparison to what. Moreover, let’s show that those who seek to restrict the gathering of good information are generally those most inclined to use a lack of data to mislead the public and drive agendas that are not in the public interest. Canadians are sensible people, they want a smart government that makes good decisions. This, much more than secrecy, will rub them the wrong way.
The narrative isn’t as neat – but I suspect it could be turned into something more fun and more impactful.
Other fun articles…
Also, the universal condemnation of the Conservatives decision to end the mandatory long term census continues. My newest favourite is an article in the Globe where Derek Cook, Calgary’s the research and social planner at the City of Calgary and in the riding of the Prime Minister Harpers states that “If we don’t have that data at the neighbourhood level, we’re crippled.” Now, in addition to business groups, ngos, think tanks, cities, university researchers we are also seeing even more local and focused organizations such as those representing French Canadian communities, Inuit people and others starting to call for a reversal as well.