Head of StatsCan resigns over census changes
Published Wednesday, July 21, 2010 10:20PM EDT
The head of Statistics Canada has resigned after a controversial decision by the Conservatives to scrap the long-form census.
"Under the circumstances, I have tendered my resignation to the Prime Minister," Munir A. Sheikh said in a statement posted to the Statistics Canada website Wednesday evening.
"This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census," Sheikh wrote. "It can not."
Earlier, Sheikh abruptly cancelled a town hall meeting for Statistics Canada employees in which he was supposed to talk about the proposed change, fuelling speculation that his resignation was imminent.
The Conservative government quietly announced that they would do away with the long-form census in June. Instead, more money will be spent on a voluntary survey that will be sent to more homes.
As of 2011, Canadians will no longer be required to complete the long-form census, which 20 per cent of the population normally had to fill out. Replacing that is a volunteer survey sent out to 33 per cent of homes.
Industry Minister Tony Clement told the Globe and Mail that Sheikh had discussed several options for dealing with the transition from a mandatory census to a voluntary survey. Sheikh was "comfortable with those options," Clement said.
However, CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife said that Sheikh in fact doesn't support the switch and that he's "unhappy" with any contradicting suggestion.
"(Sheikh is) clearly very unhappy with the government's position to dumb down the accuracy and reliability of the census," Fife told CTV News Channel Wednesday evening. "He's particularly unhappy with the fact that Tony Clement seemed to finger him as the one who supported this when in fact he doesn't."
In his own statement, Sheikh said he could not comment on what he told Clement.
"I cannot reveal and comment on this advice because this information is protected under the law. However, the government can make this information public if it so wishes," he said.
"I have always honoured my oath and responsibilities as a public servant as well as those specific to the Statistics Act."
Sheikh's resignation prompted opposition parties to take aim at the Conservatives.
Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale suggested that StatsCan has been tainted with political interference, which will make it more difficult to replace Sheikh.
"It would say to anybody that would consider taking the job that you are now in the role of a political puppet," Goodale said.
New Democrat MP Charlie Angus was more colourful, stating that the Tories had scrapped the mandatory long-form census "strictly out of partisan reasons to appease the Ron Paul, Tea Party base."
Sources within the agency told The Canadian Press that although officials had discussed how to scrap the long-form census, the organization did not recommend replacing the survey with a voluntary one.
The switch from the mandatory long-form census to a voluntary survey will cost the federal organization about $30 million. About $5 million will be spent to mail out the survey to 60 per cent more households and up to $25 million to encourage public participation.
StatsCan did not recommend a voluntary survey, the sources said, because of the high cost needed to salvage an adequate sample size.
News of a voluntary census has created an uproar among provincial governments and major Canadian organizations.
Doris Grinspun, executive director of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario called the decision "ludicrous."
The governments of Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec and Prince Edward Island have all come out against the idea, reminding Ottawa that data collected from the mandatory census enables them to draft policy and deliver services.
Some politicians in Alberta, such as Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, have also spoken out against the move.
"I'd like to know how they are going to replace that information with equal data that's going to be just as effective," Mandel said.
Critics say not only are certain groups less likely to respond to a voluntary survey but that it will be difficult to compare data from a new survey to information compiled over the last 30 years with a long-form census.
Don Drummond, the former chief economist with TD Bank Financial Group, said the voluntary version will likely receive fewer responses from groups including "the poor, First Nations communities, the very wealthy and a lot of recent immigrants from certain countries."
Clement has maintained that the data garnered from a volunteer census would be effective. However, according to the Globe he was told otherwise, and virtually all statisticians interviewed on the matter have said a volunteer census reduces the value of the data.
Sheikh's predecessor Ivan Fellegi has also gone on the record with his thoughts about the subject. He told The Canadian Press two weeks ago that he would have resigned if the government had decided to axe the long-form census during his reign.