House of Commons Hansard #110 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was offence.

Topics

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, the Bloc's position has not changed. As I said in my speech, it is based on Quebec and Canada's legal history, on the legacy that we inherited from our ancestors. Our version of justice puts trust in the judiciary. In contrast, we see that the Conservatives do not trust the judiciary, which is quite disturbing. The Conservatives' unfortunate approach is like that of the Republicans in the United States—replace judges with people who think as they do. We have been quick here, and they have not dared do the same in Canada. Their other option is to amend the Criminal Code and add minimum sentences wherever possible.

I understand the hon. member. We can look at an offence and have witnesses testify, and see justice has been done. The judiciary should still be trusted. That has always been our approach. And it will be the same with the bill before us: it will go to committee, we will bring witnesses forward and we will study how the bill can contribute to our society's evolution.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, earlier today when the member for Scarborough—Rouge River was making his presentation, he indicated that he had added up all the amendments to the Criminal Code and found that the government has 15 amendments to the Criminal Code. He stated that the government could have simply created one omnibus bill and brought it before the House, in much the same way the government seemed to be able to do with the last two budgets.

That brings us to the next suggestion. The Criminal Code is now 100 years old and is in serious need of a complete revamp. Perhaps the government should come clean with the citizens of Canada and approach the provinces and look at public hearings on a complete rewrite of the Criminal Code.

Is that a reasonable suggestion for the government to follow, or does the member think the government is simply interested in bringing amendments out one at a time for short-term political gain?

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I believe that we should at least consider what the hon. member is suggesting because the harsh reality behind the 15 bills introduced by the Conservative Party—the real and most troublesome reason for the bills—is that the Conservatives are taking advantage of events that get a lot of media attention. They have many other bills to work on, but they wait for newsworthy events in order to score political points. They want to use public outcry and disapproval, stirred up by the media, to make political gains. It is all the sadder because, often, once the event is over and new polls are taken, everything settles down. Everything returns to normal.

As I was saying, we cannot sweep away the legal philosophy we have inherited from our ancestors just because something happens and causes a public outcry. I believe this philosophy is deeply rooted and that things tend to calm down afterwards. What is dangerous is allowing a party such as the Conservative Party to take advantage of single events that are sensationalized by the media, especially since the government is in a minority position. The Conservatives have a great deal of difficulty being accepted all across Canada and it is even worse in Quebec, where disapproval of this government is evident. It is even more terrible because it is as though they were using the public, without its knowledge, to try to win an election. That is hard to take. As for our colleague's proposal, completely overhauling the Criminal Code, I believe it is worth at least a look.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I wonder about the hon. member's reaction to the question from the parliamentary secretary from Mississauga—Erindale who asked how one would feel if a person who assaulted a child got only the minimum 15 days.

I would be willing to bet the parliamentary secretary my personally autographed copy of Bill C-54 that he does not even know the average sentence that has been given out to offenders who have committed offences against children. He does not even know, yet in our debate he is challenging with the question of how one feels about a 15-day sentence, without any facts or statistical data at all. That is not a good way to debate public policy.

How does the member feel about that?

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I think my Liberal colleague understands perfectly. I know he is an eminent legal expert. The justice system is far too important for us to leave it in the hands of political predators, for that is what the Conservatives are. They exploit events and crimes committed in society that are sensationalized by the media, and use them to play politics. It is political predation. Maybe one day that will be added to the Criminal Code and become a crime.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale
Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, the member for Scarborough raised a point. He said that he did not think I knew the statistics for average penalties imposed on sexual predators. He probably missed the speech I made earlier this morning. Had he been here he would have heard that, in fact, in 2008, 80% of the people convicted of sexual offences against children in this country got no minimum sentence whatsoever, because they were charged under provisions of the act that do not even have minimum penalties.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I would say that I think my Liberal colleague was quite right to suggest that the Conservative member autographed the bill without even knowing what was in it.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-54.

I want to say at the outset that the NDP caucus will be supporting this bill and will be encouraged to see it make its way in due course to committee. I think there is potential for an amendment or two along the way.

There is a possibility of a charter issue. We would not want to pass a bill through and then see it successfully knocked down by a charter challenge. I believe there are ways to deal with that at committee. The member knows that our critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, is certainly on top of that issue and will be bringing that up at the committee stage.

The bill creates mandatory sentences for seven existing offences related to child exploitation, including sexual assault where the victim is under the age of 16 years, section 271; aggravated sexual assault where the victim is under 16 years of age, section 273; incest where the victim is under 16 years age, section 155; luring a child through the use of a computer, section 172.1; and exposure, subsection 173(2).

Bill C-54 also creates two new offences of making sexual explicit materials available to a child and agreeing to or arranging to commit a sexual offence against a child. As well, the bill expands the list of conditions that may be added to prohibitions and recognizance orders to include prohibitions concerning contact with persons under 16 and the use of the Internet.

By way of explanation for past history, the substance of this bill has in fact been introduced by former and current colleagues of mine in the House. As a matter of fact, on May 13 of this year, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam reintroduced legislation to strengthen laws to protect children against child luring and abuse. That was just a few months ago. That was a rework of bills previously introduced by Dawn Black, a former member of this House. So the NDP has a history of concern for this issue, and more than concern but actually doing something about it by introducing legislation in this House.

I know my time is limited today and I do want to follow up on several points.

A very important point was made by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River. Not only today but on previous occasions, not only that member but another member of his caucus, also a lawyer, have noted that the Criminal Code has been around now for over 100 years. It is basically being held together by sticky tape. We simply keep amending the Criminal Code, with little bits and pieces here and there over many years and many decades. Even the language is out of date.

It is way overdue that a government, and maybe not this government but perhaps a future government, will have to pull out the Criminal Code and sit down and start working on a revamp. The revamp can happen by the government announcing it, and in co-operation with the provinces, having hearings across the country and getting many groups involved. In many ways I think that would have been a more sensible way for the government to proceed overall on crime and perhaps it would have done better with the public as result.

By way of an example, I once again want to mention what happened in a similar minority government in Manitoba with Gary Filmon. Gary Filmon was a very smart premier who knew early on that the way to get legislation through the legislature was not to bully, fight, cajole and threaten like this government does. His approach on any controversial issue, such as Meech Lake and Charlottetown, was to call in the leaders.

The leaders were Sharon Carstairs, the leader of the Liberal Party who is now a senator; and Gary Doer, who is now a Conservative appointment as ambassador to the United States. Those leaders worked together very well. They dealt with the smoking ban. As a matter of fact, the smoking ban was actually introduced by a Conservative member who was in opposition under an NDP government.

I am just pointing out that the practice set up by Mr. Filmon not only followed through his government in a minority situation, but because it worked so well, he continued doing it for the rest of his tenure as a majority Conservative premier. When former premier Doer took over, he had a majority government and ultimately did not have to listen to the opposition, but he kept doing what had been working in the past.

I have not had the time to go back and look at the minority government of Lester Pearson, but we are getting dangerously close to the current government being in office almost as long as the Liberal government of Lester Pearson. The difference is that while this government has accomplished almost nothing because of its antagonistic views toward the opposition, the Lester Pearson government actually accomplished many things. It got medicare, it unified the forces, and it brought in a new Canadian flag. These were not just simple issues that it had to deal with. These were very controversial, divisive issues in the country at the time. Yet after six years, the Lester B. Pearson government was able to show a lot. It was actually a beacon.

My question always to the government is this: why can it not learn from best practices? It does not have to go overseas to check this one out. It is right here in its backyard. There is its own Gary Filmon in Manitoba and it can check out what happened there. There is also the Lester B. Pearson experience.

I know that when premiers and prime ministers become elected to office, the game changes for them. They start thinking in terms of legacy and what they are going to show for their time here. I have no idea why the Prime Minister would have frittered away literally five years. The member opposite is trying to bring in some changes to question period and things like that, which he has to fight his own members to get through.

However, just to get back to the bill at hand, the fact of the matter is that Bill C-54 recognizes that children are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation. The government committed in March of this year, during its Speech from the Throne, to better protect children by increasing penalties for sexual offences against children. The proposed bill, which would be called the “Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act”, supports this commitment in two ways: it ensures that the penalties imposed for sexual offences against children better reflect the extremely serious nature of these acts and are consistent with each other; and it seeks to prevent child sex offenders from engaging in conduct that would facilitate their sexual offending or reoffending.

The legislation would amend the Criminal Code, and I want to say that there has been a sea change in our attitudes towards these sorts of offences over the years. Many years ago, these offences were happening probably at the same rates as right now, but it was swept under the carpet and it was hidden. We have to thank people such as Theo Fleury and certainly Sheldon Kennedy, two hockey players who have come forward with their previous experiences.

Even before that, I recall Senator Sharon Carstairs, who was leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party at the time, appearing before the legislature in a very emotional manner and telling us how she was abused as a child. There was not a dry eye in the house. It probably made some people uncomfortable. It was certainly groundbreaking. Up until that point, I do not think any politician would have done something like that. She explained her situation and people were very happy that she did.

My example of the case of hockey coach Graham James, Theo Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy just masks part of the problem. Graham James abused dozens if not hundreds of boys who are still afraid to come forward. We are seeing only the tip of the iceberg here. It is important to have role models, people to come forward and talk about their experiences. Hiding the abuse leads to more problems for the individual along the way.

We have gone through the whole residential schools issue in the native communities and all the abuse that was involved there. We know about the abuse that has gone on in church organizations. Up until the 1970s it was probably whispered about. There was no openness about the whole issue. However, people who were abused are now coming forward and are finding that they are being embraced by society. They are not being rejected and vilified the way many thought they would be. They have come forward.

This is a very good bill.

I do want to make some observations on the sex tourism issue. It is important for the government to get tough on criminals in this country. Having said that, we do not want to be exporting our problems somewhere else. We have laws against sex tourism, and it is debatable. Some people say they are not being enforced properly, that they are not tough enough. The laws have to be enforced and have to be toughened if necessary. The government has to show a clear example here that this type of activity will not be tolerated and will be punished.

We have to do work throughout the world to try to influence governments in some of these areas like Thailand and other countries where sex tourism is flourishing, to have them bring in similar laws and enforcement in their jurisdictions. I recognize that it is a never-ending game because, like the Internet issue, the problem gets solved in one place but simply goes somewhere else. That does not mean we should not try to work on this issue.

With the few minutes I have left I want to talk about the role of the victims and why we should be supporting victims, particularly in situations like this.

In 1970-71, among many initiatives, for example, the guaranteed annual income program and state-run auto insurance, the Manitoba government under Ed Schreyer, the very first NDP government in Canada, set up what is known as the criminal injuries compensation act. That act has been operating as a fund for the last 40 years, providing compensation to victims of crime, so that if someone is a victim of being attacked and beaten up, for example, he or she receives compensation from this criminal injuries act. Ontario has one as well.

It is incumbent upon the Conservative government to set up a national fund. The federal government should set up a national fund if it really believes in helping victims of crime, which it certainly talks about a lot.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 5 consideration of the motion that Bill C-568, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (mandatory long-form census), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Statistics Act
Private Members' Business

December 3rd, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak about the bill today. Let me say right off the top that the rural parts of this country very much need a long form census. We need to know who lives here. We need to know where they live. We need to ensure that services like health care, education, employment assistance and so on are provided fairly and equally right across this country.

For urban areas of course the long form census is just as important, but I am going to keep my remarks mostly to my riding and to the issues that we face and why the long form census is so important to my part of northern Ontario.

Therefore I am very pleased to speak today on Bill C-568. It is an act to amend the Statistics Act in which we are dealing with the long form census.

The New Democratic Party is generally supportive of the bill because it seeks to reverse the ideologically based decision of the Conservative government to cancel the long form census. The bill also removes the punishment of imprisonment for a person convicted of providing false or misleading information.

While I am supportive of the bill and while my party is supportive of the bill, it is also important to note that I do not think it goes far enough. Bill C-583 introduced by my colleague from Windsor West goes one step further by enshrining into law the primacy of evidence-based decision making over political manoeuvring, the likes of which we have seen with the Conservative government.

To be clear, both elements of Bill C-568 are fully supported. For the record one more time, not a single Canadian has been imprisoned for failing to fill out the long form census. The imprisonment element should be removed right now.

However we need to go further by removing political interference from Statistics Canada's ability to do its job and provide an accurate picture of our country. The Chief Statistician must be able to do his or her job in an environment free of political meddling by an ideological government intent on suppressing evidence and information that contradicts, in this case, the narrow Conservative agenda.

We can just imagine the outrage from the national and international community if the government were to meddle in the independence of the Bank of Canada, for example. It would not be tolerated.

Therefore why should we accept the government's heavy-handedness when it comes to interfering with our Chief Statistician in his or her ability to do the job?

Hundreds of individuals, organizations, businesses and governments coast to coast raised the alarm bells because of the terrible decision to cancel the long form census. Despite the unsubstantiated claims by Conservative MPs about mythical complaints about the intrusiveness of the long form census, we know that the majority of citizens support and understand the need for the long form census.

Losing the long form census will have a detrimental impact on our communities in Thunder Bay—Rainy River. Let us just look at the first nations communities for example. There are 10 first nations in Thunder Bay—Rainy River. While they are connected by the road system, some are very far away from the main road, and it is important to have an accurate picture.

If we do not have a long form census that asks the kinds of questions that it does, we may not know what is going on in these isolated communities.

For example, without a long form census we would not know that the Couchiching First Nation, as of this past September, had 22 students who had graduated from high school but did not have the ability to go on to post-secondary education because the funding was not there.

We would also not know that in that same community last year it sent its very first student to medical school. It had its first PhD. return to the community.

Here we are making advances right across my riding and I would suggest that is duplicated right across the country.

Just when first nations are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, particularly as far as education is concerned, the taps get turned off. Without a long form census, we do not know and we will not know that is happening. It is important for all of our communities to have the input into the long form census to protect them and to let all Canadians know, to give all Canadians a snapshot of what is going on in those communities.

When we see the importance of the long form census, is it any wonder that the government was taken to court on the issue? It seems as if the government is trying everything, making relentless efforts to shut down any source of credible data that provides any sort of objective evidence necessary for developing good public policy.

A short while ago on Parliament Hill, parliamentarians and members of Canada's very professional public service were invited to a special panel discussion on a very timely topic, evidence versus ideology of Canadian public policy. The event was sponsored by the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, the Association of Canadian Financial Officers and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

The event aimed to launch a public debate regarding the current state and possible future of evidence-based policy making in Canada. There were a number of distinguished speakers on the panel, and the discussion was fascinating because these panellists and participants acknowledged that there has always been a role for ideology in public policy. However, they noted that in the past two years we have seen the emergence of a worrisome pattern.

First, the government gagged public servants and fired others who dared to disagree with it or give it policy recommendations that did not fit into its ideologically driven agenda.

Second, the government cancelled surveys and the long form census to ensure that statisticians, economists, academics and other professionals did not have access to objective data that provided damning evidence of the government's policy failures.

I am just guessing, but I suppose the object is to put it all into the private domain and let private companies do the work of the long form census. They do sometimes. For example earlier this week there was a BDO Dunwoody study about my pension protection bill, Bill C-501. BDO Dunwoody asked CEOs from across Canada what they thought of the bill. More than half of the CEOs who replied said it is a good bill and Parliament should move it ahead. Those are the kinds of things that the government should be finding out about legislation that happens in this place.

I fear that the Conservative government is dragging the country backward, and a clear majority of Canadians are saying, “No, you cannot drag us backward”. A majority of parliamentarians in the House support restoring the long form census, protecting the professional role of Canada's Chief Statistician and removing the threat of imprisonment in the act. Yet the minority continues to thumb its nose at the majority will of Parliament, an insult to democracy, an insult to this place itself.

Bill C-568 is specific to the government's decision to cancel the long form census. I believe the House needs to have a wider debate about the government's treatment of public servants; its setting of public policy based on belief, not public interest; its rejection of evidence-based public policy; its attempt to shut down public access to objective data; and its attempt to stop credible analysis of its failed policies. This will not work. We are on to the Conservatives, and so are Canadians.

I offer my party's support for the bill and urge the House to bring other necessary changes to protect our professional public service from the kind of pervasive political interference by ministers and their political staff. We need to end this trend and we need to do it quickly before we are dragged any—

Statistics Act
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Resuming date, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.

Statistics Act
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to address this matter. I had the pleasure of seconding Bill C-568 when my colleague from St. Paul's introduced it in the House. The bill follows up on a decision that the government first announced in June, and that was we would no longer have a mandatory long form census distributed, that it would become some sort of a survey that would be on a voluntary basis. Even though the decision was announced in June, it had been taken months before.

As soon as the decision was announced, after Parliament had conveniently shut down for the summer, reactions started. We had very strong reaction from Canada's partners in this federation, the provinces and the territories, indicating, in a great majority, that they thought the decision was wrong. Municipalities across the country said that they thought the decision was a wrong one, that we should not scrap the mandatory long form census. We had the same thing from universities and colleges across the country and various departments of universities involved with the science of statistics also decrying the decision, that this was not the way to go.

People representing churches throughout the country have also said that this is not the thing to do. Businesses, starting with the Bank of Canada, said that the decision would affect its ability to deliver programs. When it starts getting like that, we have to wonder what was behind such a decision.

A number of scientists came forward. Even the chief statistician felt that it was best to tender his resignation because of some of the statements from the government, which he could not support.

We have had reactions from across the world from statisticians and from organizations wondering what is going on. This flies in the face of an international agreement on the use of statistics and census that Canada is a party to, yet the government seems intent on not changing its mind.

The industry committee had two full days of hearings this summer, of which I was privileged to be part. An overwhelming number of the witnesses said that they wished the government would rescind the decision and that it would maintain the long form census in a mandatory manner.

Now we even have comments from federal government departments. As of yesterday, in a publication in the Canadian Press, Ms. Jennifer Ditchburn, through access to information, obtained some of the comments given to the government by various departments. The article stated:

Statistics Canada scrambled to assemble research last December on “the prime minister’s decision” and consulted data users across government. A briefing note drafted for the deputy minister at Industry Canada detailed the “specific consequences” of replacing the long questionnaire with a voluntary survey. And with the number of Canadians filling out the forms potentially decreasing by as much as 40 per cent, according to the memo, a number of other federal activities would feel the loss of data.

Here are some specific concerns of the departments. The Human Resources and Skills Development Canada commented:

Less reliable data would “compromise their ability” to determine EI eligibility, assess skills development and retraining, and apply the federal-provincial agreement on labour mobility.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada commented:

Absence of reliable long-form data will not allow them to effectively manage, evaluate, and measure performance of programs in areas of aboriginal health, housing, education, and economic development.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada commented:

A broad range of programs dealing with selecting and settling immigrants, including a pan-Canadian agreement on foreign credentials would be hit. “A question in the long form on country of educational attainment specifically provides information to support this program”.

The conclusion that seems to come from the bureaucrats of our federal government service is:

It cannot be anticipated at this time if a successful resolution of these issues is even feasible to provide reasonable quality data at affordable cost.

The question remains, why did we do this if everybody and their brother were arguing that this was the wrong decision?

We initially thought it might be a matter of concern with privacy, so we asked the Privacy Commissioner. The answer was no, that there had never been a leak of any data collected through the long form census. Obviously that is not the concern.

We keep hearing that it was to ensure that Canadians did not go to jail. No Canadian has gone to jail over this in the history of the census taking. Obviously that is not the reason either.

We then started to hear the experts. The experts confirmed that if we were to have a voluntary form, as opposed to a mandatory one, the information collected would be biased and of a lesser quality, especially within small communities. The argument they put forward was that if it were a voluntary format, those earning more money, the very well to do, would seek anonymity and would not fill it out. Also, those who felt more vulnerable in our society would not fill it out for fear or whatever. We now will have a reading of our society that is appropriate, not equal and not accurate. The inequities of our society will no longer be measured appropriately.

By the way, this is not a theory. The U.S. tried scrapping the mandatory long form census, or the equivalent, under the George Bush administration. The U.S. reversed itself because it realized that the information it was gathering was not as accurate or as reliable as before.

One would think the Conservatives are doing this to save money, as that would be in line with their philosophy. However, no, the government is going to spend $30 million more.

We have to wonder why the government is doing this. It has been proven wrong, according to what the U.S. has done. Almost everybody in Canada is saying not to do this. We will be spending $30 million more to get information that is less reliable.

One conclusion that many of us are forced to arrive at, and we have heard it before, is that to facilitate a shift from evidence-based decision making, which has traditionally been the way governments in our country have reached their decisions, the government wants to ensure that it does not have as high-quality information in order to have ideologically driven decision making. That is where the rubber hits the road. We cannot allow that.

This is why we have members of Parliament in the House saying no. We have had a motion in the House where the majority of the elected representatives of the people of the country have said no to this. However, the government has said that it will stick to its guns.

We now have a bill in the House and I suspect and I hope that the government will respect the will of the House when the bill passes, as I believe it will next Wednesday when it will be read in at second reading.

We are doing this because to move from evidence-based decision making to ideologically-based decision making scrambles the ability of government to have accurate information. The impact of this on municipalities, universities, provinces and business is untold. It is a shameful decision. I hope the government accepts the fact that the country wants it to reverse itself on this.

However, if the government does not, then we will have to force it to. If we cannot do it that way, when the Liberal Party forms government, we will ensure the census reverts back to a long form mandatory method to accurately read the snapshot of Canada in order to design programs to address the inequities in our society.

Statistics Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Madam Speaker, let me begin my remarks by quoting someone who has been much quoted in the ongoing debate about the 2011 census, the former chief statistician, Ivan Fellegi. In an address to the International Statistical Institute in 2003, he said, “Privacy was generally defined as the right to be left alone, to be free from interference, from surveillance and from intrusion”. He went on to say:

Information privacy involves the right to control information about oneself. At its heart lies informed consent: the right to give or deny consent for the use of information about oneself. In this sense all compulsory household surveys are clearly privacy intrusions.

This is one point on which Ivan Fellegi and I can agree. Perhaps we also agree that there has been a growing concern in official statistics in Canada and internationally about the use of coercion in government data collection. Many countries have removed imprisonment from the penalties imposed on individuals and businesses refusing to participate in government surveys that are conducted on a mandatory basis. Some countries, where their administrative data systems permit, have chosen to dispense with surveys.

In the 1980s, Canada showed international leadership by introducing the notion into the Statistics Act that surveys could be conducted on a voluntary basis. Statistics Canada then showed leadership by making the vast majority of its household surveys voluntary.

For over 20 years now, Statistics Canada has been releasing useful and usable data and information from those voluntary surveys. For over 20 years, governments, organizations, businesses and individual Canadians have been using that information to help them make informed decisions on everything ranging from new programs to new products.

A few countries have made specific questions, such as questions on religion, voluntary, even in their censuses. This government has taken the next logical step in this progression by looking into the census itself and recognizing that some questions are sufficiently intrusive that Canadians should not be legally compelled to answer them.

The bill we are debating today is regressive. It seeks to restore legal compulsion for all census questions, however intrusive. For this reason, it must be rejected.

The Parliament of 1970, which adopted the current Statistics Act, showed wisdom in crafting its terms. It recognized in section 21 that questions that would be asked in a census of an entire population on a mandatory basis with severe legal penalities for non-compliance should be approved not by civil servants but by elected officials.

In reviewing proposals for the 2011 census, this government has taken its responsibilities very seriously. We do not believe the government's role in the approval of census questions should be to rubber-stamp proposals from the chief statistician. This is not what Parliament intended. We reviewed the proposals carefully in coming to our decision.

Let us be clear on what our government decided. We concluded that some of the questions proposed for the 2011 census of population were sufficiently important that they should continue to be asked on a mandatory basis. These are the questions necessary to establish the population of the country, information that is needed for the definition of electoral districts and to determine inter-governmental transfer payments involving billions of dollars. They are also the questions that will provide the information necessary to provide government services to local communities in the official language of their choice.

We similarly decided that all questions proposed to the 2011 census of agriculture should be asked on a mandatory basis in order to support extensive government programs and policy interventions in this sector.

The government also decided, as a matter of fundamental principle, that the remaining questions proposed for the 2011 census of population were too intrusive to be asked of Canadians on a mandatory basis. The government recognized the utility for all governments and many other organizations of the information that would have been derived from the remaining questions.

It is for this reason that the government asked Statistics Canada to develop options to collect this information through a voluntary survey. It is for this reason the government then selected, approved and funded one of these options.

We understood also that there would be consequences for data quality, but we have worked, and will continue to work, with Statistics Canada to ensure that we will obtain the best possible results from the voluntary national household survey. We have great faith in our world-leading statistical agency to find the means that will ensure this new survey will meet the needs of the greatest possible number of users. We will of course learn from 2011 to improve future cycles of the census and the survey.

This bill seeks to turn back the hands of the clock. It fails to respect the privacy of Canadians and their right to refuse to participate in a survey when they cannot be persuaded that the public purpose of the inquiry justifies the surrender of their personal information. It seeks to transfer to a public servant decisions that clearly belong to elected officials. The government cannot support these aspects of the bill.

There is one point on which the government can concur with the bill, however, and that is with respect to the removal of imprisonment as a penalty for Canadians who refuse to participate in surveys that are mandatory under the Statistics Act.

Other developed countries around the world have already taken this step and it is time for Canada to join them. We are pleased to see that other members of the House have rallied to the government's view on this issue. Unfortunately, the bill is incomplete in removing the sanction of imprisonment. Other sections of the act also contain this penalty. The government will be bringing forward legislation of its own to completely remove this penalty for non-compliance with mandatory surveys conducted under the Statistics Act.

I urge my hon. colleagues to do the right thing for Canadians and reject this bill.

Statistics Act
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased today to speak to Bill C-568, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (mandatory long-form census).

I will read the summary of the bill so that the viewing public can understand it:

This enactment amends the Statistics Act to provide that the census of population taken under section 19 of the Act must be taken using a long-form census questionnaire that conforms substantially, in length and substantive scope, to the census starting in 1971 and at intervals thereafter to meet the requirements of that section. This enactment also removes the punishment of imprisonment for a person convicted of the offence of providing false or misleading information.

I congratulate the member, who is a long-standing member of the House, for introducing this bill.

When the government announced its initiative many months ago, I got the impression that most people, even Conservatives that I talked to among members of the public, felt it was the most boneheaded move the government had made since the killing of the prison farms.

Generally speaking, the public settles down based on ideology and their voting patterns. When the government of their choice introduces something, they try to understand what the government is doing. By and large, they find a way to accept, if they are Conservatives, what their government is doing and work out a rationale for it.

However, these are two issues, which I find from talking to Conservatives, that just leave them puzzled. They cannot explain why the government has done it and they do not agree that the prison farms should have been eliminated. They certainly do not agree that the census should be changed.

That aside, many organizations have the same view on this matter. There are business organizations across the country that require the statistics provided by the census in order to conduct proper business operations.

As the Liberal member mentioned previously, in his attempt to find out why the government was doing this, he looked at the cost of it and said that the government is spending $30 million more to get less reliable data. It does not make sense.

Then I looked back to a question that I asked on September 28. We were looking at best practices. I like to talk about best practices. That is the hallmark of Conservatives. Whatever line of business we are talking about, computers, IT issues, it is always best practices and they are lined up with Conservatives.

Well, the best practices here would seem to be the United States. The Conservatives seem to want to follow where the United States is going, and they are always six months or six years behind. I do not know whether the member has checked this out or not, but back in 2003 when George Bush was the president, the Americans tried this experiment. The U.S. Census Bureau conducted an experiment and found that the data was degraded so much that fixing it would be too expensive and it abandoned the idea.

What sort of planning is the government involved in and what sort of planning did it do to develop this approach?

We know what the approach was. It was a knee-jerk ideological approach to the problem. The Conservatives had a preconceived notion. Their Conservative ideology tells them that this census is an irritant to a certain number of their supporters, and they probably heard from a few of them over the years.

I am sure it is the libertarian part of the party that is flexing its muscles at this point. The libertarians have not had a lot of support from the government over the last four or five years as it races to recoup as much of the centre ground from the Liberals that it could get its hands on. Every once in a while the Conservatives throw some red meat at the libertarians in their group.

That is the only reason the Conservatives would have taken this measure. The public does not support what they are doing.

The Joe Clark government seemed to have suicidal tendencies from day one. That was the government that started sending pension cheques to federal prisoners. We have not seen that suicidal tendency in the Conservative Party over the years, but we are certainly seeing it now.

Practically every business organization in the country is opposed to the government's approach on the census. School boards are opposed to the idea. Pretty much each and every province is opposed to the idea. Members over there might be able to tell me that one province is onside with respect to this issue. My home province of Manitoba is not in favour of this approach to the census. If the government is trying to get allies, if it is trying to build support, then it does not make any sense to torch its relationships.

We support this bill because it seeks to reverse the ideologically-based decision of the Conservative government to cancel the long form census. It would remove imprisonment of a person convicted of providing false and misleading information. That is an issue. Nobody has ever spent time in jail for failing to provide information with respect to the census, but the idea that it was possible may have weighed heavily on some people when they were asked to provide information.

While we support the bill, it really does not go far enough. Bill C-583 put forward by our colleague from Windsor West goes one step further. It would enshrine in law the primacy of evidence-based decision making over political manoeuvring of the likes we have seen with the government. We have seen political manoeuvring by the government not only with respect to this issue but with respect to a whole range of other areas. The Conservatives have fired people, sometimes people that they hired, who do not see things their way. They hired the victims' advocate three years ago and when he did not act the way he promised on victims' support, they simply fired him. They will get somebody who sees things their way.

As I have indicated, no Canadian has been imprisoned for failing to fill out the long form census. That would be removed if this bill were to pass. We have to remove political interference in the process. The chief statistician has to be able to do his or her job in an environment free of political meddling by an ideological government, certainly one like the Conservative government which is intent on suppressing evidence and information that contradicts its own narrow agenda.

Imagine the outrage from Canadians and the international community if the finance minister had interfered with the independence of the Governor of the Bank of Canada to set monetary policy. Why should we accept the government's heavy-handedness by interfering with our chief statistician's capacity to do his or her job?

As I have indicated, hundreds of individuals, organizations, businesses, governments from coast to coast, certainly an apolitical group of people have raised alarm bells about the terrible decision to cancel the long form census--