Tag Archives: clement

Census Update: It's the Economy, Stupid

Yesterday during a press conference newly minted House leader John Baird announced “The next few months will be sharply focused on Canadians’ No. 1 priority: jobs and the economy… The economic recovery remains fragile and it is increasingly clear that we are not out of the woods yet.”

Fantastic news.

I just hope someone sends Industry Minister Tony Clement the memo.

The effects and impacts of ending the mandatory long form census continues to spill out with a number of Canada’s most senior business and economic leaders pointing out how the decision will negatively impact the economy and… job growth.

First, there was Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney (voted one of the most influential people in the world by Time Magazine) noting that the bank relies on data found in the mandatory long form to assess the economy and, presumably, to inform decisions on interest rates and other issues. The bank’s capacity to make informed decisions has now been compromised – not exactly a win for jobs or the economy.

As an interesting side note, Carney goes on to say that this may cause the bank to have to supplement StatsCan’s research with its own. Expect to hear more and more statements like this from Government agencies (which are still allowed to talk to the press) as more and more ministries and agencies get plunged into the dark regarding what is going on in the country and are no longer able to assess programs and issues they’ve been tasked to monitor. Various arms of the government (and thus you, taxpayer) will be spending 10s if not 100s of millions to pay for Industry Minister Clement’s mistake.

Then, in the same Globe article in which Carney makes these statements, Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management notes that ending the long form census hampers Canadian companies capacity to both compete globally and boost productivity. More damning, and further echoing arguments I’ve been making here, he states it will prevent Canadians from having “a sophisticated economy that uses information to its best.” Unkind words from one of the world’s recognized business leaders.

Sadly, it doesn’t end there. The always excellent Stephen Gordon lists the emerging academic literature chronicling the havoc the demise of the long form census is about to wreck. Especially relevant is “The Importance of the Long-Form Census to Canada” by UBC economists David Green and Kevin Milligan. Interestingly, it turns out that the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation uses long form data to fulfill its legislative mandate, and also by local governments and private sector actors to learn about trends in housing. Something that might be of interest to those concerned about the economy and jobs given Canada is rumored to possible have a housing bubble.

Still more damning is how Green and Milligan show the mandatory long form serves as the foundation for the Labour Force Survey (LFS) from which we derive unemployment levels. Compromising the long form survey has, in short, compromised our ability to assess how many Canadians actually have jobs, something that, if you really believed Canadians felt the economy and jobs were the number 1 priority, your government should care about measuring accurately.

Maybe John Baird will sit down with Tony Clement and the Prime Minister and explain to them how, if the economy and jobs are priority 1 then perhaps the government should rethink its decision on the long form census.

Just don’t hold your breath. Instead, do write another email or letter to your local MP. Our country’s economic recovery and competitiveness is being eroded by a government either too dumb to understand the implications of its decision and too stubborn to admit a mistake. Those of us who will be paying the price should remind them of how they can best serve their own priorities.

More evidence that StatsCan disagreed with Clement (aka Helping @kady out)

Over at the CBC the ever resourceful Kady O’Malley has posted documents from Statistics Canada surrounding the decision to make the long form of the census voluntary.

She’s starting to notice some interesting bits, here’s two I saw that she might want to add to the list.

First, there are two lines written by public servants that seems to run counter to Minister Clement’s defense of eliminating the long form last week

There is this statement referring to both the short and long form of the census:

Census information is used in planning schools, community health services, housing needs, daycare and emergency services and other important services for our communities.

Worse still, this next one refers explicitly to the long form (renamed the National Household Survey or NHS in this memo):

The NHS questionnaire will cover topics such as language, immigration, Aboriginal peoples, mobility, ethnicity, education, labour, income and housing.

The information in the NHS will provide data to support government programs directed at target populations. Information from the NHS will also support provincial/territorial and local government planning and program delivery.

So here is an official government memo that appears to run counter to Minister Clement’s argument last week that the only special interests were benefiting (and were thus opposed) to changes in the census. As we see here (and as I argued last week) the biggest users of this data are government who use it to ensure that programs (say for the elderly) are targeted effectively and so tax dollars used efficiently.

More importantly, the document seems to recognize that the provinces/territories and municipalities are huge stakeholders in this process – wouldn’t that suggest they should have been consulted before hand?

Indeed, Kady points this out in her piece by highlighting a comment that vainly tries to raise the flag that “stakeholders” (read other ministries, the provinces/territories, municipal governments, the bank of Canada, the list could go on for about 300+ organizations) should be consulted.

The other interesting piece from the documents that I noted was this hilarious comment (comment number 7) of which I’ve taken a screen shot.

I love the comment! “If this that important why not mandatory?

Ah the lonely voice of reason, hidden in a comment bubble of a MS Word document.

Huge credit to Kady O’Malley for doing the hard work of getting these documents and for being a grade journalist and posting them online. If you do link to this post, please also link to hers (again found here).

Too… much… irony… must… share…

Okay I’m dying. So many ironic twists to share with people.

Ironic moment 1:

I think this picture says it all…

Ironic moment 2:

So last week I briefly felt what it must be like to be a writer on the Daily Show after showing that at the same time Vancouver Province Editorial Page Editor Gordon Clark was attacking me and those who opposed the decision on the long form census in his column he was simultaneously bragging about his paper’s readership using data that depends on the long form census. Yes, it really was the fun.

Sadly. It gets better. Today, a mere eight days later after his anti-census piece, Clark has a new column about rising teenage happiness levels (this is, of course, a bad thing). But the kicker? Apparently Clark hates StatsCan’s invasive survey’s up until he needs them to write a story. It’s about a statscan survey.

Ironic moment 3:

It looks like Maxime Berner’s has taken over talking about the census for the Government. He’s penned a piece in the Western Standard in which he argues there was significant public support for the change:

Most people don’t want to be called or be visited at home by a census bureaucrat pressuring them to answer the questions and threatening them with sanctions. They understandably do not want trouble with the government and when they get such threats, they simply comply. Few will officially complain to the government, although when I was Industry minister in 2006 during the previous census, several thousand email messages of complaint were sent to my MP office. (Some people have asked me to show proof of this. It was evidently part of an organized campaign, as my Parliament colleagues and I sometimes receive vast numbers of messages on controversial issues. They are one way among others to gauge the level of public support or opposition to a decision. These messages were obviously not filed for future use by my staff and were deleted.)

Okay, so just to understand. There was a huge protest. But you didn’t do anything about. Didn’t mention it. Didn’t ensure that it make it into the 2006 Census Review. Didn’t even raise the issue in Parliament.

But despite this we should believe and it would all be obvious to us if only you had all those letters still. In short, if only you had… the data. But you stopped collecting and saving it. Just like you want to do with… the census.


Ironic moment 4:

And on CBC radio on Saturday, while explaining why the mandatory long-form agricultural census was not scrapped, Minister Clement said the agricultural census is used for valuable measures “that will help farmers” and “The argument obviously to farming associations and to farmers is, ‘You fill out the form, it’ll help the government help you in your farming activities.'”

Isn’t that the same argument for why the census is important for non-farming activities? Like say planning where to build highways, hospitals, offer new services and pretty much everything government does?

The only difference between farmers and ordinary Canadians is that farmers know how valuable and important the census is. Most Canadians often don’t realize how pervasive census information is in decision-making.

There is of course, another interpretation. Maxime Bernier says the government won’t bend on the census decision to special interest groups like The Government of Quebec, The United Way, the Canadian Medical Association, the Toronto Board of Trade, the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (and many, many others), but maybe they are willing to bend to the Farmer’s lobby?

At some point I think we’ll wake up from this collective nightmare of poor decision making and worse arguments. At least some of the country’s most prominent thinkers are trying to do something.

Tory logic: Injection sites in Quebec = good, in BC = bad

So Yaffe’s Wednesday column (which I talked about yesterday) about how Insite would not be challenged by the conservative government if it were in Quebec has turned out to be sadly prescient.

Today, the Globe is reporting that Federal Conservative Health Minister Tony Clement is willing to consider Quebec’s request for an injeciton site even as he works to shut down the site in Vancouver. For a party that was supposed to let the west in, this is a complete outrage.

Health Minister Tony Clement says his government will not necessarily oppose safe-injection sites for illegal drugs in Quebec even though it will appeal a court decision allowing a similar facility in British Columbia…

…”I am obligated to consider each situation as a unique situation. That’s my obligation as the Minister of Health.”

Appalling. Apparently the local consensus reached in Vancouver about this approach means nothing to this government. Nor apparently, do the votes in Vancouverites. With this move it is hard to imagine the Conservatives winning any seats in Vancouver.

Insite – Incremental Death?

Yesterday the federal government announced it would extend the legal exemption that allows Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site, to stay open until June 2008. (to understand why the Injection site is important click here, here and/or here)

So the good news is brief and temporary: Insite, gets to stay open an additional 6 months.

And here’s the bad news. Tom Flanagan, Harper’s chief strategist has recently published his tell all book: Harper’s Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power. One of the books key messages? Conservatives must adopt an “incrementalist” strategy. In other words, they must slowly when advancing the conservative agenda – move too quickly and the electorate will turn against them.Insite Logo

This begs the question. Is the reprieve for Insite genuinely designed to give the Federal Government more time to assess whether it is having a sufficiently positive impact? This is very much my hope. Those in the know tell me that the Federal Government only got around to appointing the team to assess Insite a few weeks ago. Given that this team’s report was never going to be ready in time for Christmas deadline another temporary extension was widely expected.

Part of me desperately wants to believe in the Harper as “policy wonk” narrative. If this is the case, then the overwhelming evidence in favour of Insite may be persuasive to a person focused on outcomes. On the evidence it would be hard to justify pulling the plug on Insite.

Flanagan’s incrementalism thesis however, plays on Insite supporters’ worst fears. If Flanagan is to be believed (and there are good reasons to believe him) then the reprieve is simply a way to hold off a decision until after an election (and a hoped for majority government) at which point it will be politically “safe” to kill Insite. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is very hard to imagine the Conservatives picking up a seat in Vancouver if they kill Insite. If however, they appear to be moderate and are considering saving it, they boost their chances of capture a seat like Vancouver-Quadra. This is certainly the fear of Keith Martin and other local federal Liberals.

So am I excited that Insite got a 6 month extension? Not really. Insite works. Moreover it is operating at capacity. We shouldn’t be debating whether or not it stays open. This is akin to arguing if we should keep open a single public hospital in a country where there is no public healthcare insurance. It’s the wrong debate. The question should be – how do we scale this policy up nationally?

But that’s not the debate we are having, and likely won’t be having for a few years. So in the interim let’s save Insite.

As far as I can tell our fate in this capacity rests on whether Harper is an incrementalist, or a policy wonk.

Our New/Old Drug Policy: Welcome to the 1980s

The Tories are beginning to lay down the ground work for a new (or should we say old) drug strategy.

The ‘new’ strategy? A TV campaign informing kids that drugs are bad, an increased presence at the border and a slight increase in funding for drug rehabilitation. If it sounds like the 1980s all over again, it is.

Ironically, it is being billed under the new tagline: “Enforcement is harm reduction.”

This is bad news for all of us. The tentative progress of the last decade is about to be lost in one fall swoop, including of course, Vancouver’s Insite injection site.

Let’s be clear, enforcement is not harm reduction.

There is no evidence to suggest that an increased police presence will have any impact on the drug problem in Vancouver, or anywhere else in the country for that matter. Indeed, American’s 36 year old war on drugs demonstrates otherwise. My question to Tony Clement is: what are doing that Nixon (who coined the term “war on drugs“), Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr., and previous Canadian governments, didn’t try? With only a fraction of the resources America dedicated to similar campaigns, explain to us why this policy will be success?

In short, Clement’s strategy is analogous to yelling at a non-english speaker when they don’t understand you. It’s a strategy – and for some people it feels good – but it accomplishes nothing. This is because the problem isn’t that they can’t hear you – it’s that they don’t understand you. Similarly, it’s not that many drug users don’t know drugs are bad – or haven’t seen warning messages – it is that they have come to a place where they are truly dependent. Screaming at them, arresting them, and legally marginalizing them isn’t going bring them into the fold and increase the likelihood they’ll seek treatment – if anything it will accomplish the opposite. I would love to see Clement in the downtown eastside, yelling at users to seek treatment. It would be about as alienating and as effective as it sounds. Contrast that to the injection site’s strategy of developing a relationship with users over time, and keeping the door open for when they are ready. Is it ideal? No, nothing about the world of drugs is ideal. But at least it works.

The simple fact is, Clement wants to overturn a program that enjoys the support and cooperation of the Vancouver Police Department, local community leaders, local business leaders, and Vancouver Costal Health. Still more problematically, Clement wants to replace a program supported by evidence and science with one based on ideology and fear.

The benefits of the injection site and harm reduction strategies are clear. They include:

  • Saving lives by:
    • Reducing overdose fatalities
    • Reducing injection-related infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C
    • Increasing access to addiction treatment programs
  • Improving public order by:
    • Reducing public injections
    • Reducing drug-use related public disorder
    • Reducing drug related waste (such as needles) in public spaces
  • Reducing healthcare and policing costs associated with drug-use by:
    • Reducing emergency room visits
    • Reducing use of ambulatory and emergency response services
    • Reducing police resources dedicated to drug-use related public disorder

If the Conservatives aren’t interested good public policy, policy that saves lives, improves public order and reduces healthcare costs… so be it. But I am certain they are interested in electoral outcomes. Given the injection site’s support in Vancouver (the last polls show it receives a 70% support rate) it will be difficult to secure a seat in the city if the Insite injection site is perceived to be on the chopping block. With Emerson stepping down, the Conservatives won’t have a single MP from one of the country’s three largest cities. If evidence and science can’t persuade them, maybe, just maybe, electoral math can.

For myself, the Insite injection site is what re-invigorated my interest in municipal politics. I hope it survives the December 31st exemption renewal deadline. Otherwise, I’d hate to be the politician who saw Insite go down on their watch – I know I’ll be volunteering for who evers campaign is opposing theirs.