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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is question.

Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 39.30% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys Act February 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-625. The bill would amend the Statistics Act to protect the privacy of Canadians by requiring their consent for the release, which happens after 92 years, of the information they provide, in this case in a census-related household survey. It would also remove the jail term from two of the Statistics Act offence provisions, and would provide that a jail term would not to be imposed in default of payment of a fine imposed under those same provisions. I see no reason not to support these provisions, therefore, I support the bill.

However, I welcome the opportunity to discuss Statistics Canada again, only a month after debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-626 to restore the quality of data that the long form census gave us.

I want to thank the Conservative strategist who decided in this election year to create the opportunity to extend the public discussion about Statistics Canada and the value to Canada of the long form census. It is clear that Canadians are interested in this issue. In fact, there are articles now in the press overseas. The information in the long form census is important to our country.

My private member's bill, Bill C-626 on the long form census, also replaced jail term with a fine for those refusing to complete a mandatory survey. Conservative MPs voted against that. The penalties are what make a survey mandatory instead of voluntary.

I want to explain why a voluntary census cannot replace a mandatory one, and that is why we need to have some sort of penalty such as these fines, which will remain after this bill is passed if there is enough time in this Parliament. This is a statement that the Chief Statistician made as he resigned in 2010 when the Conservatives eliminated the long form census.

It is all about sample bias, and I want to explain what that is. Sample bias is about the people who are not counted when one does a survey. As an example, politicians often refer to the Ottawa bubble. What happens is a certain kind of people inhabit Parliament Hill and the surrounding area. If we only talk to one another, we have to realize that is not a representative sample of the country. We understand that here on Parliament Hill.

When members are back in their own communities, if they only read letters to the editor in their newspaper, that is also not a fair sample of the community. There is a bias. That is what scientists mean by “sample bias”. Politicians instinctively understand this, and I know the Conservative members of Parliament understand it. We know there is no substitute for knocking on doors and listening to a proper sample of people. We know we cannot just knock on doors in the daytime on weekdays because then we will still get a biased sample of the people we represent and want to listen to.

Does the threat of sample bias mean that all surveys need to have penalties for not filling them out? Is that the only way to do surveys? How could anybody do surveys if that were the case? No, it does not have to be like that. The mandatory long form census in Canada allows the other surveys to be voluntary. This cannot be emphasized enough. The mandatory long form census is the one that allows the other surveys that Statistics Canada and a whole bunch of organizations, businesses included, do to be voluntary. All other surveys can and do use the mandatory long form census to correct their sample bias.

Another way of thinking about this is the people who fulfill their civic duty to Canada and fill out the mandatory long form census give up their time so other surveys can reduce their sample bias without being mandatory. This is not a big burden in bother or privacy. One big survey every five years sent to one in five households means that on average our country asks us to answer the 50 questions on the long form census every 25 years. Compare that to all the private information honest citizens report on their income tax every year.

Canadians from across the country have mobilized around this issue because they know that accurate, reliable data from a mandatory long form census is necessary if they want to use resources wisely in business, but especially when it comes to government. Over 60 organizations endorsed my private member's bill, including the Canadian Association for Business Economics, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Medical Association. Reinstating the census has generated support from Canadians across the country. Thousands of Canadians wrote the government and their members of Parliament asking them to reinstate the long form census.

Reinstating the census has generated support from Canadians across the country. Thousands of Canadians wrote the government and their members of Parliament asking them to reinstate the long form census.

I would like to end by talking about the Conservative election promise to remove the jail term. The Conservative speakers in this House have said, and I will quote the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence:

Our government committed to the removal of jail-time penalties for not filling out mandatory surveys.

They talk about “our” government. Why, in the 46 long months of the Conservative majority government, has the government not slipped this one-page bill into one of the many omnibus bills containing hundreds of pages of legislation? It could have done it. Instead, I do not think the Conservatives are serious. They are putting the elimination of the jail term into a private member's bill in a Parliament that only has a few weeks to go.

I know that I am short of time, so I will conclude by saying that I call on the government to restore the place of facts and evidence in Canadian governments and their policies, in civil society, and in the economy to make sure that Canadians identify challenges and opportunities by measuring them and measuring the success or failure of our efforts and enterprise.

We need that for Canada to thrive, prosper, and lead the world in the 21st century.

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys Act February 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I hope the members of his riding take paying income tax as seriously as everybody else in the country.

However, my question is specific to the member's claim that the government has promised, going back in 2011, to remove the jail terms that exist in the Statistics Act.

If the Conservatives were really serious about this in the 46 months or so of their majority government, and the thousands of pages contained in the many omnibus bills that the government has put forward compared to the one page that Bill C-625 occupies, why have they not done this yet? Why has the government waited until this Parliament has only a few weeks left and then put it into a private member's bill? What kind of way to keep a promise is that?

Opposition Motion—Job Creation February 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about small businesses, and in particular, about creating new small businesses where the jobs involve work that is highly value-added, and as a consequence, highly remunerative, with high wages. These are jobs that make these new small businesses highly competitive. There is a high barrier to entry.

One of the important ways to create these companies is by having early-stage, risky commercialization of game-changing discoveries in Canada. That is the way to create new small businesses where there is a high barrier to entry, thereby making us more competitive vis-à-vis foreign companies.

My concern with the NDP motion today is that I do not think a tax credit will do that. I do not think it will take care of very risky, early-stage commercialization where there is not much cash flow for the first few years.

In Canada, we still do quite a poor job of nurturing that early-stage, risky commercialization. Why are we still doing such a poor job?

Petitions January 30th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from people across the country, particularly in Quebec and eastern Canada, asking Parliament to vote in favour of Bill C-626, an act to amend the Statistics Act, and to bring back the long form census, which would protect the integrity of the data and information collected by Statistics Canada and protect Statistics Canada from the political imperatives of the government of the day.

An Act to amend the Statistics Act (appointment of Chief Statistician and long-form census) January 29th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, this year is the 350th anniversary of the first census done in what is now Canada. We have been doing a census for centuries here in Canada.

I want to thank my great colleague, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, for his thoughtful remarks. I also want to thank all the people from across the country who have communicated and spoken out about the issue of the long form census over the last few months.

I want to start by addressing the criticisms of my colleagues from the Conservative caucus.

The Conservatives claim that Stats Canada would be required to publish information on more than 350 surveys a year in the Canada Gazette and that this would be burdensome. This is not at all the intent of the bill. The legislation would only require publication of a minister's order, and then only if the order was with regard to the technical, scientific, or professional guidelines established by the chief statistician. I believe that this is a misreading of the bill, but I would be happy to address any concerns of the government and support appropriate amendments in committee.

The government also says that changing the manner of appointing the chief statistician would blur the accountability of the chief statistician and that it would prefer that the chief statistician be treated like any other deputy minister, as he is currently. The point here is that the Canadian people must trust that StatsCan is providing unbiased, unvarnished information and is not unduly influenced by the government of the day. Is this a real problem? The chief statistician resigned in 2010 in order to protect the integrity of Statistics Canada. My bill would ensure that the chief statistician was still accountable to the minister. However, if the minister wished to use his prerogative to overrule the chief statistician on technical or methodological matters, he could. He just would have to do it in the public eye, that is, in the Canada Gazette.

The government also opposes the bill because it would allow the chief statistician to choose the questions. I am happy to compromise on that. That is not central to the bill, and I am happy to compromise on that.

The government is also worried about Canada having to adhere to international standards for official statistics. In fact, it is the other way around. Canada played a significant role in establishing the United Nations “Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics”, which members can look up on the Internet. We are actually telling the rest of the world how to do official statistics.

The government also says that the bill does not go far enough in eliminating the threat of a jail term. My bill would eliminate a jail term for refusing to fill out the census truthfully. There are other mentions of jail terms in the Statistics Act, but they do not concern individuals filling out the census and are outside the scope of the bill, so this is not a relevant criticism.

Moreover, since the government brings up this issue, the Canadian people have to ask why the Conservative government chose not to eliminate the jail term itself. It is only one line. In any one of the government omnibus bills we have had in the past few years, the government chose to not eliminate the jail term. This contradicts what the government has said tonight.

People are worried about coerciveness. There is a cost to getting good information. We have to spend many hours and fill out forms and give the government a lot of information when we file our income taxes. We have a duty to pay taxes so that our government can protect us and can strive for values like justice and equality of opportunity. Filling out the census is the same. It is doing one's duty to one's country.

On the question of privacy or intrusiveness, I would submit to Canadians that the Conservatives cannot be counted on as guardians of privacy. For example, one threat to privacy is all the electronic and online surveillance that is going on. StatsCan asks us where we work, then locks up the information. It only releases aggregate numbers. Other groups may know who we sent an email to last night or what website we visited, and we were not even asked.

Given that the voluntary national household survey cost $22 million more than the long form census, how can good Conservatives vote for a voluntary survey that costs taxpayers more and provides poorer data? How can good Conservatives vote to kill the long form census when the Conservative New Brunswick premier said that it is now harder to measure the results of money spent on fighting poverty?

The fight over this bill is a fight over the soul of this country. It is a fight over whether Canadians should collect information about ourselves so that we may have solid evidence with which to govern ourselves wisely.

Let us vote for a competitive country where public health, business investment, economic management, and local government service delivery is done in a smart, informed, and efficient way. Let us vote for a country where we assess social programs using real data and know how to cut the ones that are not effective, where collecting solid data is not about bigger government or smaller government but smarter government. Let us vote for a country that does not accidentally look more middle class and equal than it really is just because of poor statistics. Let us vote for a country where knowledge and wisdom guide us, where we acknowledge our civic duty to provide information for the common good through informed governance.

Let us bring back the long form census.

Petitions January 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the last petition is from Canadians who are appalled that we spent an extra $22 million on the national household survey to collect data that was of poorer quality than the data collected through the last long-form census.

The petitioners are asking for the restoration of the long-form census.

Petitions January 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the third petition is asking the federal government to adopt international aid policies that protect the right of small family farmers in the global south to preserve, use, and freely exchange seeds.

Petitions January 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is calling on the federal government to rescind its cuts to the interim federal health program.

Petitions January 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I have four petitions today.

The first one is asking Parliament to impose a moratorium on the release of genetically modified alfalfa.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns January 26th, 2015

With regard to Statistics Canada: (a) have studies been done on how to use alternative sources of data and methods of data collection, outside of surveys, to replace the information gathered by the mandatory long-form census in 1971, and every five years from 1981 to 2006; (b) what alternative sources of data and methods of data collection, outside of surveys, were considered prior to 2011 to replace the information gathered by the mandatory long-form census in 1971, and every five years from 1981 to 2006; (c) what alternative sources of data and methods of data collection, outside of surveys, were considered from 2011 to the present to replace the information gathered by the mandatory long-form census in 1971, and every five years from 1981 to 2006; (d) prior to 2011, which foreign jurisdictions were consulted in order to assess alternative sources of data and methods of data collection, outside of surveys, to replace the information gathered by the mandatory long-form census in 1971, and every five years from 1981 to 2006; (e) from 2011 to the present, which foreign jurisdictions were consulted in order to assess alternative sources of data and methods of data collection, outside of surveys, to replace the information gathered by the mandatory long-form census in 1971, and every five years from 1981 to 2006; (f) what studies, reports or assessments have been prepared by Statistics Canada regarding alternative sources of data and methods of data collection, outside of surveys, to replace the information gathered by the mandatory long-form census in 1971, and every five years from 1981 to 2006, broken down by (i) date of studies, reports or assessments, (ii) title of studies, reports or assessments, (iii) internal tracking number of studies, reports or assessments; (g) what briefing documents have been prepared for ministers and their staff regarding alternative sources of data and methods of data collection, outside of surveys, to replace the information gathered by the mandatory long-form census in 1971, and every five years from 1981 to 2006, broken down by (i) date of studies, reports or assessments, (ii) title of studies, reports or assessments, (iii) internal tracking number of studies, reports or assessments; (h) before 2011, did Statistics Canada consider the possibility of establishing connections between existing databases in different Canadian jurisdictions containing the personal information of Canadians, with the use of any form of primary key; and (i) from 2011 to the present, did Statistics Canada consider the possibility of establishing connections between existing databases in different Canadian jurisdictions containing the personal information of Canadians, with the use of any form of primary key?