Scrapping the compulsory long-form census questionnaire
I intervened in the media over the weekend to defend my government’s decision to scrap the compulsory long-form questionnaire of the census. There has been a lot of opposition to this decision over the past two weeks coming from all kinds of interest groups who use the data from the census.
Fundamentally, my position is that whatever the presumed usefulness of these data, I don’t believe it justifies forcing people to answer intrusive questions about their lives, under threat from a fine or jail time if they don’t.
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.)
As I keep saying, government is already much too big and intrusive, and this decision will restore some balance. Private businesses and organizations who want such data should pay to get surveys done that answer their needs instead of relying on government coercion to get them.
For those who want to read more on this issue, here is an excellent column by Gordon Clark in the Vancouver Province, and this one by two economists from the Fraser Institute in the National Post. Also, the Western Standard has been publishing a series of commentaries supporting the decision, including one by one of my former advisors at Industry Canada, Martin Masse.
Those who have never seen the 40-page long-form questionnaire that is at the center of this debate can check the 2006 one here on the website of Statistics Canada. Among other intrusive questions, you are asked about your ethnic background, how many hours of unpaid housework, yard work or home maintenance you did the previous week, details about what kind of job you are doing, how you get to work, all your sources of income, who pays for what in your household, how many bedrooms there are in your home and if it needs minor or major repairs, etc.
Why in the world should peaceful and honest citizens be threatened with jail if they refuse to answer these questions?! Why do the Liberals support this?
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