Manitoba, Ontario among provinces backing long census
Canada's premiers and major organizations continue to speak out against the Conservatives' decision to scrap the long-form census in favour of a voluntary application.
The census is now expected to be a hot topic at the upcoming Council of the Federation taking place in August, according to Jim Eldridge, Manitoba's acting deputy of intergovernmental relations.
"Unless there's a correction, given the attention this is getting and the opposition, we'd be surprised if it didn't come up," Eldridge, who is hosting the conference, told The Canadian Press.
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.
Government officials in Nova Scotia have said they are looking closely at the census change and trying to determine how it will impact their policies.
Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan got into the debate on Monday, telling reporters the province was afraid the switch would cause governments to lose important data.
"That data is extremely important on a whole variety of things," Duncan said.
"I think the best two examples I can give you are our anti-poverty strategy and virtually every spending and tax decision we make. So, our officials are concerned about the quality of data that will be coming forward, the comparability of data going forward with this change."
The provinces haven't been alone in denouncing the plan. Organizations like the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and the Canadian Conference of the Arts have voiced their concern about letting people fill out the census on a voluntary basis.
"It is indeed highly unlikely that low-paid artists and other types of culture workers will have the time or motivation to provide the kind of information required for a household survey if it is voluntary," Alain Pineau, national director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts, said in a letter to Clement.
"They will therefore be part of the several underrepresented elements of the workforce and of Canadian society in general."
The Conservative government has been defending itself against criticism of the census plan, dismissing critics as "special interest groups."
Industry Minister Tony Clement told the Globe and Mail Tuesday that he took the advice of StatsCan officials when he asked them to explore how to scrap the long-form census and replace it with a volunteer one.
But officials within Statistics Canada say Clement has been misrepresenting the advice they gave him on the matter, according to the Globe and Mail.
"Not at all," Clement told CTV News Channel Tuesday when asked if he misrepresented the advice of StatsCan officials. "Their role is to provide advice to government, which they did do in this case."
He said the government had a "dialogue" with StatsCan officials about the fact some Canadians feel the census is overly intrusive, and asked for advice on how to implement a non-mandatory long-form census.
"We took their advice to increase the sample size to 33 per cent and to have an advocacy campaign with that," Clement said.
Clement has maintained that the data garnered from a volunteer census would be effective. However, according to the Globe and Mail he was told otherwise, and virtually all statisticians interviewed on the matter have said a volunteer census reduces the value of the data.
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.
The Conservative move has been criticized as ideological in nature by a wide-range of groups, from the Canadian Medical Association, the C.D. Howe Institute, religious groups, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to the opposition parties and provincial governments.
The Conservative line has been that Canadians do not want the government to force them to answer questions on the census – refusing to do is punishable by fine or jail time. However, there have only three complaints to the Privacy Commissioner in the last decade, the office reported.
"These are personal questions, and some, not all, conscientiously object to that," Clement said.
Some questions on the census ask how many bedrooms are in your home, or whether you have a physical disability.
Clement admits the data from the mandatory census was extremely valuable.
"There is no question that the data is something that is quite valued and is used," he said, noting businesses, public institutions and a number government bodies rely on the information.
Canada's chief statistician Munir Sheikh will hold an internal town hall meeting on Wednesday for employees of Statistics Canada who are concerned about the decision.
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.
With files from The Canadian Press