Yesterday, in response to a legal challenge from the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities of Canada Minister Clement announced the government would shift questions regarding the French language from the voluntary long form to the mandatory short form of the census.
Specifically these questions would move:
1) Can this person speak English or French well enough to conduct a conversation?
2a) What language does this person speak most often at home?
2b) Does this person speak any other languages on a regular basis at home?
This was done allegedly after receiving “new” advice from the new Statscan head which advised that having these questions in the voluntary form would not satisfy the government’s obligations under the Official Languages Act.
Of course, my friend points out that by moving these question the government is admitting that data collected by the voluntary form is essentially useless. It certainly isn’t good enough for the government otherwise… why not leave it on the voluntary form? In short, the minister just admitted that the long form, for which we are going to spend over $130M dollars to collect data, is for intent and purposes, useless.
This of course runs counter to the claims the Minister has been making all along that the data would still be sound.
It also begs the question of what other obligations the government has that might not be met. Legislation around disabled Canadians comes to mind, as of course do immigrants and first nations, all groups that we will know significantly less about. Once again, good public policy is based on having sound data. It would be nice if the government at least acknowledged this.
Update: Turns out the National Statistical Council (who normally advises StatsCan on these issues but which has been cut out of the loop on the issue of the long form) has come to the same conclusion.
2nd Update: In the ongoing – we are an international laughing stock – part of the census story, Nature, one of the two most preeminent science and research peer review journals in the world has published a scathing editorial piece about the Long Form Census decision. This is equivalent to the international research community pointing at Canada and asking “why do you want to go back to the dark ages?” It’s a question that – as a passionate believer in effective public policy – I’ve been asking myself as well.