Sunday, July 18, 2010

Making the long form of 2011 Census voluntary - a good start

By now if you live in Canada and keep up with the news you have heard about the announcement made by the Harper Conservatives with regard to next years Census. Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement announced that the "long form" of the Census called the National Household Survey (see left) will be voluntary rather than mandatory as it has been in the past. Clement said that this was actually recommended by StatsCan, but rumours within StatsCan spin this story a different way. Whatever the truth it seems to be a tiny positive step that the Conservatives should be commended for.
Of course that's not what the opposition thinks and Clement's statement has been criticized (not surprisingly) by a large number organizations that claim they need the information from the long form to do proper planning. Many groups brought out there big guns, the C. D. Howe Institute brought out its President, William Robson.
In the Globe and Mail last week Robson admits that the long form is intrusive - "Knowledge comes at a price". But he goes on to show that's OK and he has no idea how the term "libertarian" fits into the politics of Canada or anywhere else. Let me quote one of the juicier bits:
"If you are one of the many Canadians who would like government to do less but do it better, this spectacle risks making you tear your hair. The state’s role in our economy and society has grown prodigiously over the past century – and not only radical libertarians worry about the resulting cost to prosperity and freedom. As governments’ reach grows, however, so does the need for information with which citizens can hold them to account. In eliminating the census long form, the libertarians have taken out the wrong target."
I've read that paragraph a few times and I can't believe Robson does not see the contradictions. He sort of laments the fact that the "state’s role in our economy and society has grown prodigiously over the past century" - it's a "worry", but as it grows it needs more information so citizens can hold government to account. Huh, it's the citizens that will suffer? Does he think libertarians would want more information from government to keep an eye on government? I'm shaking my head, but that is only part of why Robson thinks we need the long form. He mentions education, we need the long form to sample graduating students to see if they comply with the government mandated curriculum in the government mandated schools. On immigration, we need the long form to better plan the Canadian labour market. Then there is health care:
"The state plays a huge role in Canadian health care: Good information on personal and neighbourhood characteristics can help us know if we are healthier or sicker as a result. It redistributes income on a colossal scale: The long-form census can reveal much about the successes and failures of these programs. In all these areas, good information helps Canadians hold their governments to account."
Is that a great quote or what? I'm certain the next Census is going to give us the required information so we can fix health care, shorten those queues, improve the technology and justify that "colossal" redistribution of income right?

Just one point on the immigration. My parents came to Canada 62 years ago with virtually nothing but me. There was no government program for immigrants, no English classes, no co-ordination with skills and the labour force; my parents figured it out with help from various charitable agencies, family and friends. It worked amazingly well, my family and the thousands of others that came from war-torn Europe managed without government central planning, detailed statistics, charts and graphs and all that Statistics Canada does with more than half-a-billion dollars a year of our tax money.  

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