House of Commons Hansard #70 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member also sat on the committee hearings.

Nobody has been locked up in jail, but there have been cases where it has had to be impressed upon people to compile and finish their census and that, at the end of the day, a fine was possible. It is unfortunate if some people do not see it as their civic duty to do that.

I would ask the member to look at his own departments in terms of the industry department that test drove this and it failed. It failed miserably. We know that when we send out these voluntary census forms, the response rates range from 10% to 20% and for the mandatory long form census, it is 95% because people know it is something they have to do and there is going to be some type of penalty there if they do not do it.

If my memory serves me correct, one of the statisticians who testified said that they averaged it out and for a couple it will be once in every 50 years that they would have to fill out the long form because of the time period, the life expectancy and so forth. So likely in a lifetime, the long form will have to be filled out one or two times at best.

I say to the member, his own department proved that it would not pass and experts across the country already know that the rates are lower when it is voluntary.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member for his views on two areas where the Government of Canada has particular responsibilities that cannot be devolved through any other order of government. I am dealing with matters concerning the aboriginal communities and matters dealing with official language minority communities.

First, I will deal with the aboriginal communities and I will couple that with the concept of honour of the Crown by which the government is obliged to consult the aboriginal communities in any way, shape or form in decisions that might affect them. I did attend both sessions of the industry committee. We had one representative from the Inuit community and we asked that person whether or not there had been any consultations from the government vis-à-vis its decision to scrap the mandatory long form census and the answer was obviously no, there had not been any.

Would the member care to comment about the importance of the mandatory long form census and the information it yields to the ability of the Government of Canada to do what is right for our aboriginal communities?

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question is an important one especially in aboriginal communities. He is correct. I believe it was the Métis who testified, but they represented a broad band of aboriginal organizations and were very much opposed to changing the census. The honour of the Crown is a good point to bring up and I am glad the member did so because there is a level of respect that we should already have, that is automatic.

The minister knew that he was going to do this several months in advance and had been working on it even when the House of Commons was sitting. He never bothered to actually consult a population that we know historically in Canada has had several challenges. There are several major issues going on with government relations and programs already that need to be there at the table. For them not to be consulted is clearly an insult at best. It is sad that we still have not learned enough to respect those agreements. When it comes to housing, fresh water, a whole series of things are going to be very important in a census, particularly for aboriginal populations.

These are issues where we know there have been tragedies and basically, in my opinion, a disrespect has been paid. How is it that in Canada we still have some of these conditions of squalor on some of our reserves? That is unacceptable. Many of us would like to see that changed and one of the ways to change that is to ensure that the census provides accurate and proper information so that we can advocate for those things. The census is scientific. It is done through a lens of science as opposed to opinion and that is what is critical for this measure.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up on a question concerning first nations, Métis and Inuit. I have certainly had letters, emails and other correspondence from Inuit, first nations and Métis. The Métis nation raised a particular problem. They indicated that their problem was more serious than any other aboriginal people because the federal government had no administrative database for Métis as it did for first nations. So for Métis, they are going to be even more severely impacted by the fact that the government did develop policies as a result of the long form census, but there is simply no other database that captures some of the issues confronting Métis.

I wonder if the member could comment on the fact that not only are first nations, Métis and Inuit going to be severely impacted by the destruction of the long form census in its current form, but also the fact that these groups are far less likely to complete a voluntary long form census.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's question is critical and brings out another angle of the debate that is important to note, especially when it comes to aboriginal populations, Métis and others.

When we do scientific research on those groups and populations, other surveys and measurements are used, but to reinforce them to be more scientific, especially ones that are voluntary if they are research projects and so forth, they are compared to the non-voluntary census itself to make that data more significant, powerful and accurate.

The risk that we are taking is not only to lose the census data regarding the volatility that will now come forth, but we are also risking all the other surveys and measurement tools that we are looking at through social programs, economic issues, environmental planning, civic planning, and all those other elements out there.

That is one of the reasons the business sector is so concerned about this. When it produces those elements, that is what the backstop is. The backstop is the mandatory Canadian census form which produces good data for business and social planning by incorporating other types of measurements in our society.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It has been brought to the attention of the Chair that at the beginning of his presentation, the member for Windsor West asked if his time could be split with the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. That was missed by the Chair and the table officers, but it is my understanding that it did happen.

As a result, there are three minutes remaining in the NDP time slot, so at this point I would like to give those three minutes to the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan to make her comments. There will be no questions and answers. Then we will continue with the regular rotation.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate even the very short time I have to speak.

I want to acknowledge the good work that the member for Windsor West has done on the need to keep the long form census in place. My office has received a flood of emails, letters and phone calls from individuals as well as from organizations and city councils that are very concerned about the impact on their ability to plan long term in order to ensure they have services in place for their citizens.

I want to quickly refer to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I will refer to article 14, which states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.

I referenced in my question to the member for Windsor West the fact that the Métis nation itself has indicated that there is no other database that captures some of the issues facing the Métis nation. For others, there are also very serious concerns.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs sent out some information titled, “Census is key to our survival”. In the release by the grand chief, he indicated:

The importance of the census is that the federal government uses the numbers to determine funding to provinces as well as First Nations--

For First Nations, where younger populations and overcrowding mean the federal government must provide funds for education and housing, this information is critical.

Now the government is attempting to make the long form census voluntary, which means many people will not fill it out. In fact, a poll shows that the majority of people who are most likely to fill out the census accurately earn over $80,000 per year, have a university education and no children.

This is hardly a realistic depiction of First Nations in Canada. Further, it means that the federal government can point to census numbers to say we do not need funding for homes and education--

Because the federal government affects almost every part of our lives, every First Nation person must understand that in order to make change, they must be part of the change.

He went on to say that they needed to vote in federal elections and fill out the census.

Of course, I had a number of other initiatives I wanted to touch on, but I can only emphasize the importance of the mandatory long form census in terms of developing social and economic policy in this country. It is the reliability and credibility of the data that we collect on an ongoing basis that allows us the retrospective to see where we have come from and to do some projections about where we want to be.

I urge all members in the House to support this motion. I am hoping that the government, in its wisdom, will listen to the concerns that are being raised from coast to coast to coast on the importance of this long form census in terms of developing that very important policy for the future of our country.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Burlington.

It is my pleasure to rise today to talk about the recently announced change from a mandatory long-form census questionnaire to the volunteer national household survey.

Every five years, Statistics Canada conducts a national census on behalf of the federal government. Since 1971 it has comprised a short form, with basic demographic and language questions, and a long form, to obtain more detailed socio-demographic information.

The 2006 census long form was 40 pages and went to 20% of households. In addition to the short-form questions, it asked questions in such areas as language, education, labour market, housing, ethnicity, citizenship and immigration, and income.

Section 31 of the Statistics Act states that a person who refuses or neglects to furnish information or who knowingly gives false information required under the act, such as for census questions, is liable, on summary conviction, to a maximum fine of $500 or to imprisonment not exceeding three months or both.

Our government does not believe that this threat of a fine or jail time, or both, is appropriate when it comes to a long-form census. This is why our government announced that we would no longer punish Canadians for choosing not to complete the 40-page, 61-question plus 36-subquestion long-form survey sent to 20% of the households.

Critics of this decision believe that if a Canadian refuses to fill out the 61-question long form, that person deserves to be prosecuted and given a criminal record. Clearly, this is just not right.

The government asked Statistics Canada to provide options for administrating a voluntary long-form questionnaire. I want to be clear on this point. Our government took the decision to put an end to the concept of threatening Canadians with fines and/or jail time for not completing the 40-page long form. We then sought options from Statistics Canada on how to implement a reliable survey. This led to the creation and implementation of the national household survey.

This reasoned and responsible approach is about finding a better balance between collecting necessary data and protecting the privacy rights of Canadians. Furthermore, this government has announced plans this fall to remove the penalty of imprisonment from section 31 of the Statistics Act.

Now, as Statistics Canada has noted, a voluntary long-form survey offers challenges. In particular, efforts will need to be made to maintain quality data, and Statistics Canada provided options as to how to address these challenges. The options provided included increasing the sample size of the national household survey.

In 2011, the new survey will be sent to 4.5 million households. This means that one in three Canadian households will receive the survey, compared to one in five households who received the old long-form census.

The census has evolved over time. Questions are modified, added, and deleted, taking into account a number of factors, such as consultation feedback, support to legislation, program and policy needs, respondent burden, privacy concerns, quality, cost, operational considerations, historical compatibility, and availability of alternative data sources.

Collection methods have also evolved. For example, in 1971, Canadians began to complete the questionnaire themselves rather than provide answers to an interpreter or interviewer, as in the past. Beginning in 2006, Canadians were given the option of providing their answers via the Internet.

The content of the national household survey is similar to the 2006 census long form, with 66 questions. It will provide information on key populations for public policy, including aboriginal peoples, recent immigrants, youth, seniors, and visible minorities. The national household survey will include questions on income and housing, which measure crowding and identify housing needs, for example, leading to the development of community housing programs.

It also includes questions on commuting and place of work, which are used in commuting pattern studies, leading to improvements in transportation infrastructure, public transit, and support programs.

Our national household survey content includes education, labour market, language, ethnicity, aboriginal peoples, and immigration and citizenship. Information from these markets, then, analyzed together, can provide insight into the labour market integration of various segments of the population such as, for example, youth, recent immigrants, or aboriginal peoples. This will lead to the development of various programs, such as those related to foreign credential recognition, skills and language training for those lacking knowledge of official languages, and programs aimed at narrowing the education gap between various segments of the population.

New content on child care costs and child and spousal support payments, when combined with income, will help provide better measures of disposable income. This may be useful in developing new measures of low income.

Statistics Canada is internationally recognized as one of the top statistical agencies in the world. This is due in no small part to the professionalism and commitment of its staff members and to the strong leadership provided by its management. I am confident that Statistics Canada will show the same professionalism and commitment in implementing the census and the national household survey in 2011.

StatsCan will use a variety of methods to encourage people to fill out these new voluntary surveys. This is the first time the national household survey will be conducted, and Statistics Canada will monitor the results carefully, applying the same sound methods and standards used for all its voluntary surveys.

In summary, the 2011 census of population remains mandatory, and the new 2011 national household survey, which replaces the census long form, is voluntary.

I would like to take this opportunity to invite all of my colleagues in the House today to encourage all of their constituents to participate in the national household survey if their household is contacted.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, the agency responsible for the census in the United States of America tried this approach of going from a mandatory form to a voluntary one, and after seeing the results, decided to revert back to a mandatory questionnaire. This was done during the George W. Bush administration.

The question for my colleague is this: If a country very similar to ours attempted what we are proposing to attempt and realized that it was not working, that the information it was yielding had a built-in bias, why then are we not willing to learn from that experience and not go down that road, spending $30 million more to get less valid information?

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, indeed it is true. The Americans were involved in this type of procedure.

I would like to suggest that the culture in America compared to the culture here in Canada is different. I would like to believe that when we engage the Canadian population in this particular endeavour, we will have good results.

The other important point is something that was brought out in our committee study, which we attended during the summer. In the past, the result of the mandatory census was that we were getting all kinds of strange answers. Oftentimes people felt that because they were compelled to give answers, for whatever reason, and we have a number of suggestions as to why, they were not accurate.

I believe that when we present this to the Canadian populace, they will believe in and rightfully express their patriotic duty and will certainly fill these forms out as necessary.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find this situation very worrisome. I was at the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology this summer, and I heard the minister answer questions. It was not at all reassuring.

It is not complicated. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Association francophone pour le savoir, the Fédération québécoise des professeures et des professeurs d'université, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, as well as UQAM professors Jean-Pierre Beaud and Jean-Guy Prévost, experts on the census, are against this. And they are not the only ones. It is the science that is being threatened here.

Does my colleague want to do away with the science and make it so that we can no longer compare trends from one census to the next? That is very troubling.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his questions, and yes, we did sit across from each other during the proceedings this summer.

I would like to remind the member that the number is increasing. It will increase from two million to 4.5 million. That increase will have a direct effect on the answers we receive.

Yes, there will be some people who will choose not to fill out the form, but I really believe, as I stated in the last answer to the previous question, that when given the opportunity, when the people of Canada are asked to fill this out, they will respond. I think we will have a very accurate census, and I believe that the messaging we get back from that, the information we garner, will all be there. I am willing to even go a step further and say that it will be more accurate and that as a result, our citizens will give us better information.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague who just spoke. We are both on the industry committee. We sat through committee meetings this summer and it was a very interesting study that we did on the census.

I do not really have a speech. I have a few comments I would like to make and I am happy to answer any questions.

A reporter asked me why we were cancelling the long form census. In fact, we are not cancelling the long form census. If we look at the definition under the Statistics Act of what a census is, it must have penalties and there must be a requirement to do so. We can require people to do things but if there are no penalties at the end of it, in my view, it is voluntary. I think most people would understand that.

I think there is a bill coming that will get rid of all the jail term aspects of all census materials in this country, including the short form, which will still have a monetary penalty attached to it, but there is a penalty. That is what makes a census.

We are having a national survey which has the exact same questions. People have said that we are changing the questions. That is not accurate. It is the same set of questions that we would be asking in the long form census that had penalties attached to it. I will give one example.

Near the end of the census, it asks how many rooms are in one's house, how long one has been in the house and whether one is a renter or an owner. Under the present system, if an individual decides not to answer that question because he or she does not think it is the government's business, he or she faces either jail time, which we all know has never happened, or a fine, but the threat is there.

I want to give a concrete example of a question asked of a constituent, which I think is inappropriate for the Government of Canada. In the previous census, it asked for one's nationality. One of the options was native Canadian. This individual's parents, grandparents and four of his great-grandparents were born in Canada. He believes that he is a native Canadian. We know that this was talking about aboriginals and first nations, but he marked that off.

My constituent's wife received a call from someone at Statistics Canada who asked, “Can we have your husband's Indian number?” She said, “No, he is not an Indian”. The person said, “He filled out the census that he is a native Canadian”. She said, “Yes, he is, in his mind, a native Canadian”. The person said, “Well, he must be an Indian then”. She said, “I have been married to him for almost 40 years. I think I would know if he was an Indian or not. Call back and talk to him directly”.

Someone from Statistics Canada did call him back and they had the discussion about whether he was a native Canadian or not. The person from Statistics Canada said to this individual, “Sir, do you know that that carries either a fine or jail time for misrepresenting yourself on this census?” They agreed to change it and the information was changed. He was not going to go to court over it but he was making a point.

I think it was absolutely inappropriate that a government agency would call a constituent, a Canadian, because it did not like his information on the census and was threatening him with what the penalties might be.

All we are doing is removing the penalties, which will Canadians the option to either fill it out or not.

The NDP mover of this motion said in his speech that we are burdening more Canadians. If it is a burden, why is he supporting it in the first place? He called the census a burden in his speech. What we are saying is that it is not a burden. We are saying that it is a responsibility.

I agree with the member who spoke before me. I believe that Canadians will have the civic duty and the understanding that it is important information for policy-making at the government level. I think they are not so concerned that Wal-Mart buys the information in order to decide where to put a Wal-Mart so it is close to those who can afford to go there. I am not that concerned about the private sector.

However, I am concerned that we have good information. Let us look at the numbers. I am on the finance committee and I like numbers. We sent out about 2.5 million before and we had a 95% return rate. That is about 2.3 million back. Now we are sending out 4.5 million surveys and, based on the information we got this summer from all the experts, they think the return rate may be 70% at the low end. It may be higher but at the low end it was 70%.

Let us take the 70%. That return rate will be almost 800,000 more surveys that we did not have before. It is a huge increase. The argument is that those who have less education, those whose first language is not English and the poor will not fill it the survey. Are people saying that people only filled it out under the mandatory system of the census because of the threat of penalty? I do not think so. They filled it out because they knew it was right thing to do. In fact, the more information we have about those who are in need, the more ability we have to have policies and programs to help those people.

I am convinced that Canadians will fill out the survey at more than the 70% mark and that it will represent all income and education levels. It will not just be, as the NDP like to present it, the rich filling it out. Frankly, I think those who have more assets are less likely to fill it out because they do not want us to know what they have.

The difference between the survey and the census is the penalty piece, and that is it.

We had experts from the National Statistics Council tell us that they would talk about the volume and the quality. They said that if they send a survey in English to an all French community, whether they send 100 or 1,000, they will get lousy results. Of course they will. How can somebody from National Statistics Council talk about a built in bias in their survey? If a bias is built into the questioning in any survey or census, that bias will be there. That was a ridiculous answer. Let us be honest. We will get more back.

On the quality side, I believe we will get the quality back, although there was a concern about quality. In the second meeting we had this summer, I think most of the experts said that we would likely to get a decent return in terms of numbers and maybe even more than we got before, but it was the quality that they had an issue with. I disagreed with them and I still disagree with them.

I think it is important for us to be advertising and promoting that Canadians should fill this information out, whether they like it or not.

However, under the census system, there was a penalty per question. It was not a penalty for the whole census but if people decided they did not want to fill out one piece of the survey, there was a penalty on that. If there was another piece of the census they did not want to fill out, there was the potential for additional penalty. We should not be penalizing Canadians for giving us this information. We should be encouraging them to do so, without penalty.

At the end of the day, there has been much misinformation about this. I will be frank. I do not think we did a great job in terms of promoting what we were actually doing from the beginning. However, if people are listening now, they will hear the actual facts. It is clear that this is the same survey as the census, the difference being that there are no potential penalties. As far as I understand, every party in the House agrees that there should never be any threat of jail time with any of the remaining mandatory census forms.

We do still have a mandatory short form that will tell us where people live and what they do. It will give us a demographic look at where this country is. It is useful information. That is mandatory. It has eight questions. It asks people which language is their first language, and other questions. It is just not right for us to require people to do it. It should be voluntary. I appreciate the government moving in that direction.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, as for the matter of official languages, we will see how that ends because the matter will be determined in court very shortly, so I will leave that one alone for now.

I love this debate because the more the member for Burlington is trying to rationalize this decision, the more he digs the hole for his party, which is fine by me, because the people who attended the committee, the experts, were really quite clear.

The number of people who respond to this is not the issue. If we have a sampling, and all of the sampling must respond because it is mandatory, we therefore create a situation where we establish a benchmark and, from that benchmark, everything flowing can be tested, measured and validated. However, if it is voluntary, we create a built-in bias.

Those wealthy people will tend to seek anonymity and therefore will tend not to respond. Those who are more vulnerable, poorer or who do not understand the language as well will tend not to respond and we end up with data that has a built-in bias. Every expert on census confirmed that and the member just puts it aside by waving his hand. However, it does not work that way.

This is not a question. It is a comment--

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. member for Burlington.