Hon. Mauril Bélanger (Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the debate today because I had a wonderful opportunity all day yesterday and half the day today to be a spectator at a presentation that was being held not far from here in one of the two courts in the Supreme Court of Canada building, the Federal Court of Canada. The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne was there to present its application to have the government's decision announced in August overturned and to request an order to make the census form that the government is proposing to send out next year mandatory and not voluntary.
I will mainly focus on the official languages aspect of this unfortunate decision by the government to drop the long form census—as it is proposing to do—which was mandatory, and to make it voluntary, although sent to more people. The people from Statistics Canada have testified by affidavit. I could provide the hon. member opposite with a quote from the testimony of these people who, without reservation, have said that information obtained by Statistics Canada, government agencies and all those using such a survey, would be less valid and reliable than information obtained through a mandatory census form.
The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne is focusing mainly on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act, part VII, subsections 41(1) and 41(2) in particular. Some colleagues in the House will recall that it was in 2005 that we made the last changes to this section of the act that I will now read in order to give everyone some context in this debate.
Subsection 41(1) of the Official Languages Act states that:
|| The Government of Canada is committed to (a) enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and (b) fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.
Subsection 41(2), entitled, “Duty of federal institutions”, reads:
|| Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that positive measures are taken for the implementation of the commitments under subsection (1). For greater certainty, this implementation shall be carried out while respecting the jurisdiction and powers of the provinces.
I mentioned that these amendments were passed in 2005, when we were in power. I was the minister responsible. And I must say to my colleagues across the way that they supported these amendments. Also, I thought that they had understood the meaning of what they had approved at that time.
I would like to make a few comments about the intent of the lawmaker at that time. The commissioner of official languages at that time, Dyane Adam, made a wonderful comparison that I would like to share. The lawmaker's main intention was to create an obligation for all agencies and departments in the Government of Canada.
I would like to remind the members that this section was added to the Official Languages Act in 1988 under the Mulroney government. But it was mainly seen as a wish and not an obligation. It was not binding. In 2005, as a result of Bill S-3, which was introduced by my predecessor in the House, Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, we jointly amended the Official Languages Act to create this obligation and make it binding on all agencies and departments. I want to highlight that this law, which was implemented within a year, applies to all departments and agencies.
At that time, Ms. Adam made a comparison to help people understand the new obligation that had been created. It was an obligation to act positively because we were dealing with positive measures. She compared it to a trip to the doctor. If someone goes to the doctor, the doctor is obligated to act and must, therefore, make a diagnosis. And that combines the government's obligation to undertake consultations and to obtain the most accurate information possible. With this diagnosis, the doctor can then prescribe something—medication, an operation or something else. There is an obligation to act. There is no guarantee of results, but there is an obligation to act on the diagnosis.
With the adoption of this section of the act, Government of Canada departments and agencies now have the obligation to act based on consultation, that is, based on information which, it is hoped, is as accurate as possible. Hence the responsibility of one agency in particular, Statistics Canada, to do what it must to obtain accurate information. This was part of the basis for the application of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne to the court. I am anxious to see the court's decision. It seems that the decision may come fairly quickly given the circumstances. I will be watching. I understand the sub judice convention. I spoke about the facts and did not venture into interpretation. I will leave that to the courts, and that is as it should be.
I was listening to the presentation by the government's lawyers this morning. They argued that because there are no regulations there is no obligation with respect to the census. That argument is somewhat disturbing because we must not forget the legal hierarchy where the Constitution is at the top, followed by laws, and after the laws, there may be regulations, and after regulations, there may be guidelines for application. Just because there are no regulations does not mean that the law is null and void and that the responsibilities of the agencies and the government with respect to the law are diminished. That seems to be the gist of what they were arguing this morning. I look forward to the court's decision and eventually, if there is an appeal, the final decision. In fact, it may be appropriate at that time for lawmakers to adjust the act by regulation or amendments so that the intention is not misunderstood.
I would also like to say that the government's decision is unfortunate because if it is not reversed, it would affect everything that has been done since the last census, the post-census studies. This point is worth our consideration. A post-census study does not just have to do with official languages, but that is certainly one important aspect. For example, not too long ago, I went to visit my friends in the Eastern Townships. They were nice; they gave me a study, in both languages, on the anglophone community in the Eastern Townships.
It is “Profile of the English-speaking Community in the Eastern Townships”, second edition. They were quite proud to give me this document, because it is a document that gives a very precise profile of their communities and their membership. It would be rather disastrous if we could not produce this kind of document and profile anymore, which would be a consequence of not having the mandatory long form census.
I have tried to understand the government's intention here, and all I can conclude—and we all agree, at least those who bothered to try to understand—that as soon as a census becomes optional, the wealthy will be less inclined to fill it out in full, and so will the poor and the most vulnerable. So we will have a less-than-complete portrait of society and its inequalities. The only thing I can figure is that by abolishing this mandatory census the government is trying to camouflage, conceal or hide all of the inequalities in our society. Then it would feel less pressure to create programs to eliminate these inequalities, or at least to reduce them. I find that deplorable.
Now it is very clear that the government is not presenting us with a hidden agenda. Their agenda is clear, and Canadians have to deal with it.
Mr. Mike Wallace (Burlington, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to take part in this important discussion we are having on the revision of the 2011 census. In particular, I would like to discuss where official language questions sit within the new 2011 census. However, first I want to say a few words about the history of the census, because it helps put the recent events into context.
Since it was first conducted in 1666 by Canada's first official statistician, Jean Talon, the census has provided a portrait of our people and the communities in which we live. At that time, the census tallied a grand total of 3,215 inhabitants and recorded age, sex, marital status, and occupation. This information was used to help plan and develop the colony of New France, and it set the stage for succeeding governments to use statistical information to guide decision-making.
In 1871, the first national census occurred, following which the constitution required that a census be taken every tenth year thereafter. In that year, information was collected on housing stock, armaments, livestock, crops, buildings, churches, grist mills, firearms, race, religion, and ethnic origin. The main goal of this national census was to determine the appropriate representation by population in the new Parliament.
Let us move forward, a full 70 years later, to 1941, by which time data collection was becoming more sophisticated and comprehensive. By 1956, rapid growth in our population and agriculture promoted the need for benchmarks at five-year intervals to provide a more accurate basis for annual statistics. It was that year that the first national quinquennial census was conducted. In addition, for the first time, television was used to encourage Canadians to fill out the census. Again, the passage of time led to revisions in our census-taking methods. Accordingly, the 1971 census introduced more innovations than any of its predecessors. In fact, it is only since 1971 that Canadians have completed the questionnaires themselves rather than give oral answers to a door-to-door Stats Can interviewer.
Also, 1971 was the first year of the long form census. The short form was distributed to a sample of Canadian households covering the basic population, and it asked nine housing questions. The long form went to the remaining households and contained the same questions as the short form plus 50 additional questions dealing with a wide variety of socio-economic matters, which greatly expanded the scope and intent of the census from what it had been in prior years.
In 2006, as more and more Canadians gained access to the Internet, households across the country were offered the convenience of completing their questionnaires online.
That, my colleagues, is the briefest of highlights from 360 years of census history in Canada. As a country, we have grown from 3,215 inhabitants to a nation of more than 33 million.
The 2011 version will continue the tradition of earlier censuses. It will continue to paint a picture of the people living in Canada. We have refined the collection methodology and at the same time are making the process less intrusive, less coercive, and easier to complete. In short, in 2011 the census has once again been revised and updated to suit the times, as it has been many times in the past.
The long form census will now be made voluntary and the threats of jail time or heavy fines will be removed.
It may also interest the House to know the questions in the 2011 national household survey are exactly the same as what would have appeared in the mandatory long form census.
The government does not dispute that we need solid, basic demographic information about Canada and Canadians. Clearly this has been the purpose of the census for many years and we feel that this necessary information will be collected on the census short form rather than on the long form introduced in the 1970s. With the existing distribution of the national household survey going to so many millions of households and with the short form being sent to 100% of the households with the same demographic and language questions that the 2006 census covered, we are confident that the 2011 version will continue to provide vital planning information for governments and other users of census data.
The debate before us today is not about the data. The debate is about the differences, and most important, the contrasting positions between the opposition and the government, a difference that could not be more pronounced.
The government believes we must strike a fair balance between the need for information and the personal privacy rights of Canadians. Further, we strongly believe it is unacceptable that an agent of the Government of Canada uses the threat of jail or fines to gather that information.
The opposition coalition has made it clear that they do not care about those concerns. They choose instead to demand that Canadians provide detailed information on over 40 pages of questions whether they want to or not. Under their rules, data at all costs trump the personal rights of Canadians. The opposition cannot have fully thought through their position, though, because I cannot think of any member of the House who could honestly tell a constituent to fill in a form against his or her will or go to jail.
I have to assume that we are all here today debating the invasion of Canadians privacy for nothing more than reasons of pure partisanship. I would think those we represent would expect that we could do something much more productive with our time, perhaps finding more ways to get more Canadians into jobs, or working harder on pulling Canada out of the recession.
On that note I would like to address concerns about how the government is able to comply with the obligations under the Official Languages Act. First and foremost, as has been said, the government is committed to providing usable and useful data that can meet user needs. As hon. members know, to address any official language concerns the government has added two additional questions to the short form. I can assure the House that all questions relating to official languages asked in the 2006 census will be maintained in the 2011 version, including knowledge of official languages, mother tongue and languages spoken at home. Of course, the government, in all its actions on this matter, remains fully committed to taking into account the priorities and any concerns of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
To meet both the spirit and the letter of the law, the minister announced in August the addition of two language questions in the census questionnaire to meet the requirements of the Official Languages Act.
The following questions were approved by order in council and published in the Canada Gazette on August 21:
Question 7 of the 2011 census reads:
|| Can this person speak English or French well enough to conduct a conversation?
Question 8(a) reads:
|| What language does this person speak most often at home?
Question 8(b) reads:
|| Does this person speak any other languages on a regular basis at home?
Question 9 reads:
|| What is the language that this person first learned at home in childhood and still understands?
These questions together will ensure the government's compliance with the Official Languages Act. This includes providing services to and communicating with the public in both official languages, supporting the development of official language minority communities, and fostering the full recognition and the use of English and French in Canadian society.
Of course, these questions on the 2011 census go beyond the mere meaning of legislative requirements. The answers to these questions will provide the government with key official language demographics throughout Canada.
In that regard, I would be remiss if I did not remind my hon. colleagues that, just as the mandatory long form did before it, the national household survey will also have a question on the language most often and readily used in the workplace. The point is that between the census and the national household survey we will be gathering essentially the same official language information as we did in 2006.
The government is fully committed to the notion that the vitality of the official language minority community is fundamentally important to the cultural mosaic that is Canada. To back up these words, we are proud of our unparalleled investment of $1.1 billion to support those communities through the road map for linguistic duality initiative.
It seems to me that through these actions we will be in a position to provide the sort of information that stakeholder language and cultural groups find most valuable.
The long and the short of it is that the government has a clear vision with respect to supporting and developing official language minority communities and promoting our two official languages to all Canadians.
Part of that support is through the data that has been, and will continue to be, collected via the census and other sources. We believe the 2011 census and the national household survey, along with the other survey sources from Statistics Canada, will continue to play this important role.
I would ask that all members encourage their constituents to complete the census when they receive it next May, because ultimately it will provide us with the information we need to build a better future.
A concurrence motion was brought forward by the NDP on Friday of last week and I had the opportunity to speak to that motion. I do not know why the coalition does not get its act together to find out who is moving what and when so we are not debating the same thing twice within a five-day period, but that is fine.
I want to go over a couple of points.
I made the point that according to the definition of a census in law, a census has to carry penalties. All of us in the House agree about removing the jail time. No one has ever served jail time.
The other part is the issue of the fine. For it to be defined as a census, it has to carry a mandatory requirement and that mandatory requirement needs some sort of punishment or it is not mandatory but voluntary, and that is all we are doing.
There is a lot of misinformation that the long form census has now disappeared. It has not disappeared. We are making the long form census voluntary, because there was a requirement for penalties. To make sure that we get a good return on the voluntary form, we are increasing the number of Canadians who will receive it by 30%.
I am a bit of a numbers person. We are going from about 2.5 million to 4.5 million people who will receive the long form. Even the statisticians and the people who appeared before committee said we would probably get about a 70% return rate. That is 800,000 more returns than we have now under the mandatory system.
People argue that we might get more back but they are worried about the quality. I disagree. I believe Canadians understand that providing us with information through the voluntary system, through the national household survey, will help with the development of public policy. It will help social service communities and business communities.
Canadians will come to the plate, whether they are in the upper income brackets or receivers of social services. They will fill out the form. There is no evidence that there will be a skew on who will fill it out and who will not. I am confident in Canadians, and as I said in my speech, I ask every single member of Parliament to encourage Canadians in their riding to voluntarily fill out the form when they get it.
To be clear, the way the law stands now, if one does not fill out the form, under the mandatory system, one is facing a fine. Let us assume that there would be no jail time, although there is the threat there; one would face a fine. One of the questions on which a person would be facing a fine is about nationality, where one's parents were born or where one comes from.
Here is one of the questions on which I do not understand why the opposition members want to make it the law to fill out the form. The question asks what is the person's religion. It does not care whether that religion is practised but what the religion is. Maybe the person is Anglican and his wife is Roman Catholic. There is a long list of religions, such as Lutheran, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh. What if individual Canadians feel that religion is a private matter between them and their god? I do not think the Government of Canada needs to know what a person's religion is or whether that religion is practised. Under the present system, if one refuses to fill it out, that could carry a fine because it is a mandatory census.
All we are doing on this side of the House is saying it is a question that should be answered voluntarily by Canadians. We ask them to do it because it does provide information, but it is their private information and not a government requirement.
A constituent of mine, in a previous census, where it asked for nationality and one of the options was native Canadian, put native Canadian. His wife got a phone call from Statistics Canada asking for his Indian card number. She said her husband was not an Indian. Statistics Canada said that he ticked that off and wanted his number. She said she had been married to him for 40 years and should know whether he was an aboriginal Canadian or not. His grandparents were born in Canada. His great-grandparents were born in Canada. Statistics Canada called him back and said to him that he had marked off native Canadian and if he did not have an Indian status card number he could face a fine or jail time for not giving the proper information. They negotiated and he changed his answer because he was not going to face a fine over it, but he made his point.
Do we have to have employees of Statistics Canada calling individuals and threatening them with fines and jail time to fill out these questions? I say not, the Conservatives say not, and I think most Canadians say not.
Hon. John McCallum (Markham—Unionville, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I have been in politics almost 10 years and never ever have I participated in such a ridiculous debate. It is ridiculous in the sense that the government is proposing that we go with ignorance over knowledge, ideology over reason. There are 355 organizations and individuals who seldom enter politics denouncing this move. The Conservatives talk about jail time when not one Canadian has ever gone to jail for not completing the census. The Liberal bill will remove that possibility even as a theory.
There are people from across the land in every kind of occupation and profession professing that this long form census data is crucial to our understanding of our country, whether we are in business, whether it is a provincial government, a municipal government or whatever. It makes absolutely no sense and the government keeps changing its arguments.
An hon. gentleman who actually worked with me as the deputy minister, Munir Sheikh, a great Canadian, a great public servant, had no option but to resign as chief statistician after his advice to the government was, to put it charitably, mischaracterized.
I will now talk a little bit about the economic angle, but I am just astounded as a Canadian in politics that this issue should ever have come to the floor of the House of Commons because it makes absolutely no sense. It is counter to what is good for Canada. The Conservatives have no arguments to the contrary, so I am a bit floored, I must admit.
Let me now turn to some more detail on the economic side. For example, we have Mark Carney, a highly respected Governor of the Bank of Canada, whose job it is to set interest rates and conduct monetary policy for the good of the Canadian economy. He himself has said that the absence of long form census data will impede his ability to conduct monetary policy for the good of the Canadian economy. To quote him, he said, “There is a non-trivial range of data that could be affected”. Then according to a Globe and Mail story, when asked which data could be affected, Mr. Carney said, “That's part of what we're going to have to work through. Obviously a series of surveys on the household side, and the potential implications for the labour force survey”.
Here is the man appointed by the Conservatives, and in this case I would say a very good appointment, to conduct the monetary policy of the nation saying that his job for the good of the Canadian economy will be negatively impacted by this ridiculous, stupid decision by the government to abandon the long form compulsory census. That is just the tip of the iceberg. We have 355 solid organizations confirming how ridiculous this move is.
Let me just say one thing about statistics. Those on the other side do not seem to understand the basic principle of statistics. We do not get more accurate information by increasing the numbers. It is not a question of how many respond; it is a question of which type of person responds. The experts are unanimous that there are certain classes of Canadian citizens, certain types of people, perhaps new Canadians because they have trouble with the language or poorer Canadians, who will not answer and therefore will be unrepresented. We could have 10 million Canadians answering, but if they are disproportionately of the, shall I say upper or middle class or parliamentarian types who are not in these negatively affected groups, we will get a disproportionate answer and we will not get accurate data. That is what all the statisticians are telling us. That is what the government either does not understand or chooses to ignore.
This affects not only the Bank of Canada but businesses that are making investments, such as a business wanting to set up a new Tim Hortons or a grocery store, they want to know where people live. These businesses are the backbone of our economy. However, they will no longer have accurate information in terms of demographics and where people live, the incomes of people and all of those things needed to conduct their business in an effective way. It is bad for business and bad for the Bank of Canada and the management of the Canadian economy.
I will give the House a few more quotes. The thing is beyond the pale. We really do not need more quotes because it is so obvious but since we are debating this issue I will read more quotes.
Craig Alexander, president of the Canadian Association for Business Economics and the chief economist at TD Bank, said, “...the census is the single most important piece of information we get.” They will no longer have it thanks to the anti-diluvium attitude of the Conservative government.
The Nunavut finance minister said:
|| We depend largely on information that they gather to help us shape our policies, programs that we deliver in Nunavut in areas such as the homeless issue, health, education.
Nunavut will no longer have this information.
The Association des statisticiens et statisticiennes du Québec, which has more than 110 professional statisticians in its ranks, is in favour of reinstating the mandatory long form questionnaire for the 2011 census.
The statisticians of Quebec are hardly a left-wing, subversive socialist gang who the government should be afraid of. These are people who do not usually get involved in politics and they are typical of those who are speaking out against this ridiculous decision on the long form census.
John Winter, president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, again not a socialist subversive to the best of my knowledge, said:
|| Having dependable and quality data which achieves a high response rate to questions covered by the long form is vital for business analysis and policy development. Businesses, regardless of size and sector, base their planning and decisions on dependable census data. This determines how they will develop initiatives and allocate resources to remain successful.
That goes back to my example with Tim Hortons.
Madam Speaker, I forgot to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga—Streetsville.
I could go on forever with quotes but I will give the House just one more.
Marni Cappe, president of the Canadian Institute of Planners, said:
|| The mandatory framework of data collection under the current Census system provides a validity and comprehensiveness that is not likely able to be matched by a voluntary system....
I have been in politics almost 10 years and I have never seen a more ridiculous action taken by any government than this action on the long form census. It destroys the quality of data needed by businesses, by governments, by NGOs and by others to run our country effectively. They will be paying more money to get weaker data. The notion of people being sent to jail is totally ridiculous because no one has ever been sent to jail. The Liberal member's private member's bill would eliminate, even in theory, the possibility of jail time.
I see absolutely no reason for this and we on the Liberal side will work as hard as we can to get this motion through in order to block this anti-diluvium dinosaur move by the Conservative government.
Mrs. Bonnie Crombie (Mississauga—Streetsville, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the residents of Mississauga—Streetsville, I am happy to join in the discussion on the long form census.
Earlier this summer, the government announced its intent to abolish the mandatory long form census, which will compromise the accuracy and integrity of the data that Statistics Canada collects. Its rationale was that the mandatory census was overly coercive, intrusive and that no citizen should be punished with a jail term for failing to complete the form. However, according to Statistics Canada, no person has ever been sentenced to jail for failing to complete the census and a very small number of individuals have ever been fined.
Since the announcement back in June, the industry committee was recalled to hear voices and Canadians, from coast to coast to coast, came forward to express their discontent and often their visceral disagreement with this announcement.
We next witnessed the resignation of a lifelong civil servant, the director of Statistics Canada, Mr. Munir Sheikh, who could not, in good conscience, justify, rationalize or accept this policy. He knew that the data would be inaccurate and compromised.
The list of those Canadian civil servants who spoke out against this included former chief statistician, Ivan Fellegi, who celebrated 51 years as a civil servant; former PCO clerks, Mel Cappe and Alex Himelfarb; and former Governor of the Bank of Canada and finance deputy minister, David Dodge. They all urged the government to reverse its decision on the long form census.
In fact, the current governor, Mark Carney, stated that the Bank of Canada may no longer be able to rely on the data from Statistics Canada for analysis because of the proposed changes to the census. Mr. Carney said that the changes could have an impact on the quality of the research in important areas and force the bank to supplement the information with its own research. According to Mr. Carney, “There is a non-trivial range of data that could be affected”.
The central bank draws from a wealth of information about subjects, from the job market to housing and household debt, to track the economy and to help it decide whether to adjust the country's overnight lending rate. It receives that from the statistics that Statistics Canada collects.
In the face of rebuke, the response by the Minister of Industry was, “I got bigger fish to fry”, demonstrating the Conservative government's arrogance and contempt for its opponents and, in this case, for a man, Mr. Fellegi, who has dedicated his life to the service of our country for over a half-century.
In my time remaining I will discuss three issues: first, the historical basis for this vital tool; second, why it is so critically important to decision making; and last, why the decision to dismantle it is more ideologically driven than rational.
What is behind this irrational decision?
First, I will give the history of the census. The first known census to be taken was in Babylon at about 3800 BC. Not only were people counted but livestock, butter, honey, milk, wool, vegetables and weapons were also countred. The Egyptians, Chinese, and Persians all implemented a census. The Romans conducted a census every five years, including a very famous one that forced a very pregnant Mary and her carpenter husband Joseph to travel to Bethlehem to register themselves and their newborn son in 33 BC.
As most of us know, Jean Talon completed the first census in Canada, then known as New France, in 1666. He recorded age, gender, marital status and occupation. Through the years, more questions appeared. Questions of livestock, crops, buildings, churches and grist mills were added.
As Canada matured and grew, questions on race, religion and ethnic origin were also introduced. Yes, even as far back as 1710, questions of armaments and firearms also appeared. How fitting is that, given our vote on the long gun registry just last week?
Since 1666, census information has been used to collect information for the betterment of our society. It helped define our rich mosaic and create an accurate portrait of our nation and, most important, it helped us plan for the future.
Second, why collect census information at all? Quite simply, the census helped us shape our nation. If we do not have vital statistical information, then governments cannot make reliable, scientific, evidence-based, factual, efficient and cost-effective decisions to plan for our future, such as projecting the funding for our schools, our hospitals, our public transit and our police forces based on population growths, and for funding of settlement agencies based on projections of new immigrants arriving at our doorstep.
James Turk of the Canadian Association of University Teachers stated:
||—we are deeply concerned about the disastrous consequences this will have for the scientific understanding of Canadian society, and for the ability to make informed decisions about social and economic policies.
The collection of data is not something to be feared. Statistics are used for creating, evaluating and monitoring federal legislation, for policies and programs, for rural communities, for ethnic communities, for women's groups, for the poor and for the disabled. It is used to collect demographic trends and information used to determine transfer and equalization payments to provinces for veterans, for health and social transfer payments, for Citizenship and Immigration to aid in the settlement of refugees and for language instruction for newcomers to support their economic, social and cultural integration into our nation and for labour market activity and income to plan Canadian pension needs, employment insurance programs and old age security.
The government's decision to eliminate the mandatory census will compromise the integrity of data and render it unreliable. Certain ethnic groups and other minority groups will be underrepresented in the data and will lose out on programs and services. Demographic trends will be missed altogether.
This decision has drawn opposition and has been widely condemned by media outlets, community groups, NGOs, not-for-profits, business groups, economists, aboriginal leaders, francophone groups, cities and municipalities. Over 350 organizations do not support making the long form census voluntary. The government stands virtually alone in its decision to proceed in its decision to proceed with abolishing the long form census.
Some of those who oppose dismantling it include: Canadian Association of Journalists, the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Anglican Church, the CD Howe Institute, Canadian Population Society, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, cities and municipalities from across the country, Canadian Marketing Association, Canadian Labour Congress, the CMA, Catholic Women's League and the Prime Minister's former adviser, Tom Flanagan from the University of Calgary.
The list goes on, but I know my time is limited so I will move on to my final and third point, which is ideology versus science and rationality. I believe the decision to abandon reason and facts stems from the government's underlying and fundamental civil libertarian views and ideology, which places the rights of the individual ahead of the collective good.
We see Conservatives cutting government programs and services all in an effort to reduce the size and capacity of government. We see them attempting to eliminate tools deemed necessary by professional law enforcement agencies, such as the gun registry, because of the perceived nuisance it causes gun owners to register their firearms.
We see the Conservatives attempting to eliminate the mandatory census because they claim that governments should not be in the bedrooms or the gun closets of the nation, that it has no right to collect data on individuals even if it is in the interests of protecting the collective good, or to create a scientific evidence-based internationally praised and accredited database for all to use.
We see the Conservatives put ideology ahead of respect for democracy and silence those who oppose them as we have witnessed with the dozens of courageous civil servants who have been fired in various departments and ministries. We see them eliminating a credible, scientific policy planning tool for all to use in the delivery of social programs, of veterans programs, of language and settlement programs.
Not knowing the facts means not having to deliver the goods and services. The Conservatives will continue to base policy on anecdotes as we saw with the rationale for building more prisons, because unreported crimes were on the rise. They base policy on ideology rather than on facts and statistics.
I am not just speaking of the elites of society, as the government House leader has suggested, but of the myriad of groups and organizations that have taken the government to task for its decision to eliminate the data generated from the mandatory long form census for planning and policy purposes.
We need to ask the government this once again. What is its true motive for cancelling the mandatory long form census? Why would it proceed with its decision in the face of opposition from every sector, every region and every level of government? The decision has been universally panned, but rather than accept the folly of their actions and adjust their policy position, the Conservatives remain headstrong, self-righteous and sanctimonious.
I will gladly stand and be counted and support this motion. I hope the Conservatives and all members of the House will do the same.
Mr. Yvon Godin (Acadie—Bathurst, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I would like to share my time with my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie.
I am pleased to be speaking today about Statistics Canada's mandatory long form questionnaire. I was wondering when the long form questionnaire was introduced in Canada and why. Someone was wise enough to say that we needed to have this data. That was years ago. I am not sure how long the questionnaire has existed, but I know that it was not started just last year. It definitely was not introduced by the Conservative government, that is for sure.
For us, for minority communities, the long form survey is important, especially for the development and vitality of our communities. The FCFA has been in hearings at the Federal Court since yesterday. They were there again this morning until 12:20 p.m. An association that represents one of the largest francophone communities in the country had to go to court to ask for an injunction to keep the government from scrapping the long form survey, which would deprive organizations, and the government itself, of fundamental data.
This will deprive organizations of basic data. The long form gives them access to information that helps them tailor their services to communities and request services from the government, which is responsible for making programs available for francophones and anglophones in Quebec.
A review of parts IV, V and VII of the Official Languages Act shows that the government has certain responsibilities toward citizens. Now the government has the best excuse ever. I suppose it was trying to imitate Canada's former Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who said that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation—
Hon. John Baird: Or their bathrooms.
Mr. Yvon Godin: —or their bathrooms, as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons just said, or their living rooms or kitchens. Or their garages either.
When Pierre Elliott Trudeau made that comment, it was for another reason. Back then, he was referring to what people did in their bedrooms, not to the number of bedrooms people had.
When the mandatory long form asks how many bedrooms people have in their houses, it is asking for a different reason. The government does not want to know the answer to that question because if it asks a family how many children it has, then finds out it has four but only two bedrooms, that means more housing has to be built. We need affordable housing. That is the government's responsibility. That is an answer it would rather not hear. It does not want to know how many bedrooms people have, because the number of bedrooms reported on the long form suggests that if a family has four children and only two bedrooms, it needs more bedrooms. The government does not want to know that people need affordable housing with four or six bedrooms. The government should tell people the truth instead of playing this negative game.
The Conservative government would like to have nothing to do with Canada or the nation. It does not want to have to help them. It wants to make laws and build prisons, and if people act up they will know what is coming to them. The Conservative government prefers that to knowing the truth and understanding what people need. Cities, mayors, academics and responsible people who see the importance of the long form census are calling on the government to make it mandatory again.
The Conservatives are saying they do not want to start jailing people who do not want to disclose details about their private lives. The people who gather this information have a responsibility, and we can trust them. There have been no cases, despite what the government says. No one has ever been sent to prison for this. It is like making a law to create a speed limit on the highway and not stopping people who are speeding because it is not bothering anyone and the government is not in the business of issuing fines or getting involved in other people's business.
We need leadership from the government. A government has to know things about the people and what is happening in the nation. We need to know how many people live in cities. How many francophones live in Alberta and what are their needs? Are there health services or not? Are there government services or not? Are there child care services or not? We need that data. How many immigrants speak both official languages? We need to know. In Montreal, how many immigrants speak French? How many immigrants speak French in Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, in all the regions?
Under part VII of the Official Languages Act, the federal government must take positive action to support the development and vitality of official language minority communities. What did the Minister of Industry state in this House? He said he added two and a half questions—that should equal a bedroom and a half—on language, which will meet the requirements of the Official Languages Act. It would be interesting to ask him if he really knows the requirements of part VII of the Official Languages Act. It would be interesting to ask him that and hear his answer.
In particular, does he understand the obligation of federal government agencies and departments to adapt their programs and services to meet the needs of those communities regarding health, the integration of immigrants, education and economic development? How is the government supposed to adapt to communities and populations if it does not know what is going on in the regions?
When we look at how the government is handling this whole issue of the mandatory long form census, it is a real joke. We have a government that is responsible for providing services to its citizens, but it does not want to know anything about them. The Conservatives believe that people will answer voluntarily and they will get all the information they need. That is really unacceptable.
How can positive measures tailored to the needs of francophone and Acadian communities be implemented without reliable data such as those obtained with the mandatory long form? Statisticians are saying that unless participation is mandatory and people are compelled to tell the truth the data will not be reliable. It is an incentive for making people fill out the questionnaire.
Instead, the government steps in and encourages people to say that they do not want to know what the government is doing, that the government does not want to force them and does not want to intrude in their private lives. If we do not want to intrude in people's private lives then, in the same vein, a police officer should not ask a driver if he has had a beer that evening. We should not be asking a driver if he smoked a joint that evening. That pertains to his private life. That is the most ridiculous argument about a person's private life. It is an excuse that permits the government to not carry out its responsibilities towards its citizens, to not provide services to francophone and anglophone communities. The government will say that it did not have the relevant data or that had different data.
Our communities are clearly telling us that they need this data. Canadians need it. Therefore, we are asking the government to change its mind. If we look around in this country—and this is what I am hearing in my riding—Canadians are wondering where the Conservative government is going with this. As usual, it is going in the wrong direction.
Mr. Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, NDP):
Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak on this very important topic, as it affects the members of my community and people across Canada.
I want to speak to this issue today from the perspective of its impact on those who are most at risk and marginalized in our country. I want to, first, put it into some context.
I have been working very hard for 20 years now at a senior level of government on the issue of poverty and how the policies and programs of government have an impact, directly or indirectly, on the lives of those in communities across the country who are struggling to make ends meet, to keep body and soul together, and to look after themselves and their families.
I believe that government has no greater responsibility than to look after those in its jurisdiction who are most at risk and marginalized. I have watched governments at both the provincial and federal levels, particularly in the last 15 years, try to define the issue out of existence rather than do things on behalf of and in support of those who are challenged.
All of us who are involved have been engaged in a constant, perpetual debate about how to measure poverty. What measurements should we use? Some people talk about the low income cutoff. Others talk about the market basket. There are many other vehicles people have argued about over those 15 years. All the while, the people who are counting on us, who are looking to government for some assistance, who are thinking that we will work with them to help them better their lives, get nothing. They get no leadership, no direction, and no partnership. They get nobody coming to the table to work with them to help them out. We who have been given this great responsibility to set up programs to deal with their issues cannot get to a place where we agree on what poverty is, what the measurement is, what the level is, and what it looks like so that we can get on with putting in place some of these very important programs.
The other context I want to talk about is a very important discussion that has been going on at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. The member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, who is in the House today, will know about this and so will the member for Huron—Bruce, who sits on that committee and is here this afternoon.
We have been, for two years now, out and across this country talking to people, people who are working with those who are living in poverty and people who are living in poverty themselves. We have talked with different levels of government, municipal and provincial, that are trying their very best to respond to the ever-increasing challenges facing ordinary families and working men and women across this country as the economy changes, the recession hits us, and we try to work our way through it. They are asking who will put in place programs that will assist them in dealing with these very complicated and difficult realities they have not experienced before and now have to deal with.
We are trying, as a committee, to bring forward some strong recommendations to this House that would make a difference. Those recommendations would be based primarily on our ability, together, in a non-partisan way, to decide on some measurements that would indicate to us where it is that we need to start to deal with this very difficult challenge.
As we crossed the country, we discovered that poverty had a different face. I went to Vancouver, Penticton, Castlegar, and Burnaby. I went to Edmonton and Calgary and met with people there. I then went over to Saskatchewan, to Saskatoon and Regina. I went to Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, many places in the wonderful province of Ontario, and then down to Halifax, Moncton, St. John's, and Montreal. We went across this country. We discovered that poverty presents itself in different ways because the challenges are different. We need to get a handle on what it looks like and how we can best make a difference in the lives of our people.
In this context, removing the long form census, discarding important data that will give us the ability as a standing committee to measure poverty and know what it looks like in different places in the country, will tie our hands behind our backs. It takes away the vehicles we need to make the recommendations that government must have to respond to the challenge of assisting people across the country.
Many provinces, to their great credit, have launched anti-poverty strategies in their own jurisdictions. They need the long form census to get that information. They need to continue this important work. If the federal government is going to respond to the call of those provinces, if the government means to come to the table and be an effective partner once again in a national anti-poverty strategy, then we need the long form census to acquire the information necessary to target the resources that will give us the best return on our investment.
It is an important piece of public policy that we are debating here today. I appeal to the government and its sense of fairness and justice, in looking at its own jurisdictions, ridings, and constituencies to agree with me and the members from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Huron—Bruce, Chambly—Borduas, and the many who have been working so hard for a number of years. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development will need these vehicles as well. Give us the tools we need to do this job properly.
As an example of how all this will affect the country, let us take a look at the disabled community. The member from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour raised this in committee. Last spring, the disabled got the first indication of what was coming when the government announced that the important PALS survey, which was based on the census, was not going to continue. The PALS survey went to people who reported a disability on their census form. Because the census form was mandatory, it was thought to be a reliable sample of the disabled community.
The Participation and Activity Limitation Survey, Statistics Canada's major collection of data on individuals with disabilities, was cut by the government department that paid for it: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. There was real concern and skepticism in the disabled community on how reliable the information would be with the proposed new database culled from tax information, welfare rolls, and similar databanks.
That is just one of the groups we concern ourselves with when we look at poverty and the impact it is having. We are looking at the larger group and the many smaller ones we need to address as we bring forward a national anti-poverty strategy.
I agree with all those who have put their voices on the record in opposing the removal of the long form census, which is an essential element in the work the government does on behalf of its constituents.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I want to thank all hon. members who have participated in this debate today, for their efforts in trying to inform Canadians as to their views and their parties' views on whether or not the long form census should be retained and maintained in its current form, that being, of course, a mandatory census with requirements to refer all questions back to the government, return the census in the form it was intended, under threat, however, of either imprisonment or fine.
Let me make one thing clear. The government agrees that the information gleaned from this type of census is necessary for the development of secure and sound public policy. We take no issue with that whatsoever. However, we do take issue with the manner in which this information is being gleaned from Canadians.
As all members of this place know, currently the Canadians who receive the long form census and who have received forms in the past are required to answer all the questions and return their forms to the government. If they do not, they are subject to fines or jail sentences.
We feel that this threat of fines or imprisonment is not acceptable to Canadians. We believe we have found a far better way to retain and gain all the information required, without threatening our Canadian citizens with imprisonment or fines. In other words, we think we have struck a proper balance.
The opposition seems to be suggesting that, if the census or the newly named household survey is not mandatory, the information coming back to the Canadian government will be suspect. I take issue with that.
I want to deal with both the reliability of the data and the compliance with these surveys. At committee, we heard a couple of interesting points, none of which has been brought forward in comments by members of the opposition.
In committee, a number of expert witnesses came to testify, giving their viewpoints on whether the long form census should be retained, or whether it should be discarded and replaced with a voluntary survey, similar to the option we have decided to favour.
The only witness who appeared before committee with any expertise in research surveys was a gentleman by the name of Darrell Bricker, the president of Ipsos Reid. During Mr. Bricker's testimony, he was asked whether Canadians, if presented with a voluntary survey, would respond in sufficient numbers with enough information for public policy development. Mr. Bricker's response was unequivocal, because he had done research surveys on this very issue. Mr. Bricker pointed out that his surveys indicated that over 80% of Canadians would respond voluntarily, if asked to do so, because they would feel that it was their civic duty.
Currently the opposition members are pointing out that under the current mandatory system 95% of Canadians have returned their surveys, giving the government information.
I would point out to one very interesting point that Mr. Bricker brought forward. This is an empirical point: Mr. Bricker stated that, if Canadians were asked on a mandatory basis to provide data, the reliability of the data would be suspect. In other words, the more strenuous the need to respond, the more unreliable the data.
Let me repeat that. The more strenuous the need to reply, the more unreliable the data. What that means is simply this: if Canadians are forced to respond to a survey, the data they give may not be accurate.
As Mr. Bricker pointed out, in the last census, which was conducted in 2006, 21,000 Canadians, when asked what their religion was, responded with Jedi Knights. That is not a surprise. Canadians are saying that, if the government is forcing them to answer questions that they consider to be intrusive and private, they are going to give an answer, because otherwise they might be fined or thrown in jail, but they are not going to give accurate information. In other words, “Screw you, government”.
Madam Speaker, I am sorry for the colloquial, but we have seen this in other jurisdictions in other forms. In Australia there is a mandatory election act and citizens are fined if they do not vote. The elections officer in Australia has stated time and time again that there are a lot of spoiled ballots or ballots that are ridiculous in nature, people voting for say the Rhinoceros Party, or the Marijuana Party, or the equivalent, simply because they are offended that the government is forcing them to vote. Therefore, they will put down an answer on the ballot paper, which is really irrelevant, frivolous in nature.
The same thing is happening here. The more strenuous the need to respond results in the more unreliable data. Mr. Bricker went on to say that over 80% of Canadians who said that they would respond on a voluntary basis would then end up in a situation where their data that would be provided to the government would be reliable and accurate. Since our plan is to send out roughly double the amount of surveys from years past, the results will be simply this. In all probability our government and future governments will receive more information from more Canadians and it will be more reliable. It is a win-win situation.
The opposition seems to suggest that if we change the mandatory aspect of the census, the data will be less and it will be less reliable. In fact, the opposite is true. We will receive more information from Canadians and it will be more reliable in its nature, which will allow our government and future governments to develop sound public policy. There is an old saying, which we are all aware of, “garbage in, garbage out”. That is what seems to be happening now. If the information we are receiving from the mandatory census is flawed, then the public policy responding to that will also be flawed.
I am sure all of us in this place want to see sound public policy developed to benefit all Canadians. I do. I do not think there is one member in this place who does not agree with me on that. However, we want to come up with a method that provides accurate information to the government so when policy is developed, it can be developed in a fashion that is also sound.
Let me repeat this once again. According to Mr. Bricker, and extensive surveys that have been done beyond Mr. Bricker's, if we ask for information from Canadians to be provided on a voluntary basis, over 80% of Canadians will respond voluntarily, resulting in more accurate information being provided to the government. Since we are doubling the amount of surveys being sent to Canadians, it is logical to expect the results are going to be more information and more accurate information being provided, resulting in more accurate, sound public policy that will benefit all Canadians.
The issue before us is very simple. The changes we are suggesting and we are planning to implement are not some knee-jerk reaction because we are afraid of the government's invasiveness and the coercion of governments into the private lives of Canadians. That may be part of it, but also we are attempting to change the system to allow our government and future governments to develop sound public policy, with more accurate results coming in from Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
The results will speak for themselves. I look forward to engaging in debate over the course of the next few minutes with my colleagues opposite to defend this position.