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Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands (Ontario)

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

Statements in the House

Questions on the Order Paper November 17th, 2014

With regard to Service Canada, specifically to the 2008 document, “Moving Forward, Growing Service Canada in the Ontario Region”: (a) what are the dates, titles, and file numbers of any file, memorandum, instruction, directive or any other record which document (i) the decision which resulted in removing Kingston from the list of physical processing areas of hubs for the Employment Insurance business line of Service Canada since the issuance of the 2008 document, (ii) the rationale which resulted in removing Kingston from the list of physical processing areas of hubs for the Employment Insurance business line of Service Canada since the issuance of the 2008 document; and (b) what are the dates, titles, and file numbers of any file, memorandum, instruction, directive or any other record which documents (i) the decision which resulted in adding North Bay to the list of physical processing areas of hubs for the Employment Insurance business line of Service Canada since the issuance of the 2008 document, (ii) the rationale which resulted in adding North Bay to the list of physical processing areas of hubs for the Employment Insurance business line of Service Canada since the issuance of the 2008 document?

Questions on the Order Paper November 17th, 2014

With regard to Correctional Service Canada's (CSC) terminated Prison Farm Program: (a) has CSC studied the possibility of re-opening a prison farm program; (b) what studies, reports or assessments have been prepared by CSC regarding the re-opening of a prison farm program, 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; (c) what briefing documents have been prepared for ministers and their staff regarding the re-opening of a prison farm program, broken down by (i) date of request for briefing note, (ii) title of requested briefing note, (iii) internal tracking number of briefing note; (d) what is the anticipated cost, broken down annually for the next ten years, of re-opening a prison farm program; (e) how much money has currently been budgeted to re-open a prison farm program; (f) how much money has currently been budgeted to study the re-opening of a prison farm program; (g) has the government’s policy changed regarding a prison farm program since 2010; and (h) what records exist regarding meetings at which CSC was asked to re-open a prison farm, broken down by (i) date of meeting, (ii) attendees, (iii) any internal tracking numbers assigned to the meeting’s documentation?

An Act to amend the Statistics Act (appointment of Chief Statistician and long-form census) November 7th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I was happy to read a very strongly worded editorial in The Globe and Mail today supporting the restoration of the mandatory long-form census and denouncing the actions of the government four years ago. I should mention that the writers of that editorial seemed to assume that the bill would fail and be voted down by the government.

Therefore, I offered to the government earlier in question period the possibility of a compromise, where it could choose a couple of questions from the census that the people who thought the census was intrusive most complained about. I think researchers would be happy with this compromise if we could take out a couple of questions. If the government could be happy, maybe we could reach a compromise. That is the sort of thing that we in Parliament should be doing more of. Therefore, I hope the government will perhaps take the time to address that idea.

An Act to amend the Statistics Act (appointment of Chief Statistician and long-form census) November 7th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would say two things. With regard to the national household survey, researchers who have analyzed the data have discovered that it is of very poor quality. The income data revealed by the national household survey, because it was compared with the tax data, has been called worthless.

With respect to the planners, I would say urban planners are probably the most supportive group when it comes to the mandatory long-form census. There are five countries in Europe, as I mentioned, that do not have a census but have a different system. The problem is that everybody there has a universal personal identification number and the Privacy Commissioner is dead set against that. There are definite privacy risks. If we were to implement such a system, I would recommend that this country have a very serious discussion about the privacy implications because I am not sure Canadians would feel comfortable with that.

The safest thing to do in terms of privacy is to continue what Statistics Canada has been doing for decades, which is to have a mandatory long-form census done every five years. Stats Can works very closely with the Privacy Commissioner and is accountable to the public. As it does its work, as it asks questions and gets information from people, Stats Can is accountable to the public. There is a lot of information gathering going on across this country that is not accountable to the public.

An Act to amend the Statistics Act (appointment of Chief Statistician and long-form census) November 7th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, there are many implications related to governments at all levels, municipal, provincial and federal, not knowing about the people whom they are supposed to be protecting and taking care of.

The whole north end of Kingston, for example, is a lower-income area. All the data in that area about education levels, aboriginals, immigration levels or household income were suppressed because not enough people returned the national household survey. Therefore, when we do not know where the people are who need services, we have a harder time locating the services and determining the quantity of services that need to be delivered. This repeats itself across the country because it is the federal government that is abdicating its responsibility.

An Act to amend the Statistics Act (appointment of Chief Statistician and long-form census) November 7th, 2014

moved that Bill C-626, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (appointment of Chief Statistician and long-form census), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, as members may know, this debate has been rescheduled three times because of events out of our control over the last couple of weeks. We are used to mixing up our schedules, but that also means that my family's schedule has been rescheduled three times, so I would like to thank my family, staff, and volunteers for taking care of that. I would also like to acknowledge my wife, who has volunteered quite a number of hours to this project. I would also like to acknowledge the outpouring of support from across the country we have had in the last little while.

Today I rise to present my private member's bill, Bill C-626. It is a bill that reflects the belief that people must have trustworthy information about themselves to govern themselves wisely.

Indeed, the Prime Minister himself said in his recent speech to the United Nations:

...vital statistics are critical.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

We parliamentarians should aspire to safeguard the integrity and quality of fundamental information about the people of Canada, whom we endeavour to serve. Is that not what we seek when we pray at the beginning of each day in the House of Commons: Grant us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all, and to make good laws and wise decisions?

However, the quality of national statistics has been compromised. In 2011, the voluntary national household survey replaced the long form census. Researchers have publicly called that survey worthless.

What are some of the effects? In May 2014, the Progressive Conservative premier of New Brunswick said that the elimination of the long form census makes it hard to track the outcomes of the province's poverty program. That is, it is hard to figure out what New Brunswick got from the money spent to help the poor.

National household survey data were too meaningless to be published for 25% of Canada's towns and cities because of low response rates, rising to 30% in Newfoundland and Labrador's and 40% in Saskatchewan.

All levels of government and the private sector have been handicapped by bad data here in Canada. What is worse is that the one mandatory long form census forms an essential anchor that is needed to adjust for errors in many other voluntary surveys. We have lost that data anchor.

Why is the voluntary national household survey so poor? The problem is that certain groups of people tended not to fill out the voluntary survey. Rural residents, single parents, one-person households, renters, the very rich, the poor, and younger people all tended not to complete the national household survey. The result is a biased and misleading picture of Canada and Canadians. This is what scientists call a systematic error. A systematic error, unlike a random error, cannot be corrected by sending out more census forms.

This systematic error is eliminated if everyone who receives a long form survey fills it out. Not filling out the long form census is a disservice to the country. That is why filling out the census should be considered a civic duty.

In 2011, the government went ahead and sent out more voluntary surveys to compensate for the lower response rate. This inflated the cost of the census by approximately $20 million, but it gave us poorer information. Avoiding such waste is another reason we should restore the mandatory long form census.

More importantly, making business and investment decisions and managing the economy and the affairs of the people all require trustworthy information about the people. That is why, just this past summer, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce passed a policy resolution calling for the restoration of the mandatory long form census. That is why, in 2010, groups such as the Canadian Association for Business Economics, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Conference Board of Canada, and the Toronto Region Board of Trade opposed the elimination of the mandatory long form census.

Let me say this again. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Association for Business Economics, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Conference Board of Canada, and the Toronto Region Board of Trade want the mandatory long form census.

Let me give an example of the value of the census. Suppose one wants to know how educational attainment and income are related. One could get data on education from graduation records. One could get data on income levels from tax returns. However, if one wants to know how a person's education is related to income, one has to ask the person both questions at the same time. One has to survey people. This sort of question is very important for provincial government policy, and that is why the provincial governments of Ontario and Quebec protested the elimination of the mandatory long form census.

The government said in 2010 that it eliminated the long form census because some people believed it was an intrusion into personal privacy. In its “Final Report on 2016 Census Options”, Statistics Canada considered the use of a virtual census based on using administrative data the government collects in the course of normal operations and in other surveys. Indeed, some countries, such as Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, manage to do this and have no census.

In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen in August 2014, chief statistician Wayne Smith said, “Could we actually, without bothering Canadians...[b]e able to obtain the same level of accuracy or better than the current survey-based census?... [W]e’re probably two censuses away before we could do it”.

Is this the long-term plan of the Conservative government? Could it be that the government is only guilty of being too hasty in eliminating the long form census before its replacement was ready to be implemented? The answer to that can be found in the same StatsCan report, which noted the following about the virtual census:

...this approach requires both a population register and a universal personal identification number. Neither exists in Canada....

What might life be like with such a universal personal identification number? It would be a number people received at birth. They would use it for education, health care, driving or gun licences, paying taxes, voting, reporting change of address, or banking. All their vital information could be in a single database, catalogued by universal personal identification number. That is what happens in countries with no census.

Most Canadians would agree with Statistics Canada that there are serious privacy issues with a virtual census. Letting Statistics Canada take a snapshot of them every five years, as it has done for decades, is not as risky as having all their vital information tethered for life to a universal government ID. For decades Statistics Canada has done an excellent job of protecting the privacy of individual Canadians who fill out the long form census.

To summarize, the Conservative government knows that the long form census is less of a threat to privacy than other national data-gathering systems in use today.

Bill C-626 would also give new responsibilities to the chief statistician so that the work of Statistics Canada was not unduly subject to the political imperatives of the day. In 2010 the industry minister claimed that Statistics Canada itself suggested the replacement of the long form census with the voluntary survey and that Statistics Canada and the chief statistician supported the government's move. In the wake of this statement, chief statistician Munir Sheikh resigned from his post, issuing a public statement, explaining:

I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census.

It can not.

Under the circumstances, I have tendered my resignation to the Prime Minister.

Munir Sheikh later elaborated on his resignation, explaining that a critical issue was the fact that StatsCan was subject to significant interference from the government of the day. He has since gone on to say:

...in my mind the most serious consequence of cancelling the census, is the loss of trust in Statistics Canada to be independent of government interference.

Bill C-626 seeks to protect the integrity of StatsCan so that Canadians can trust that their data are produced according to strict professional considerations, including scientific principles and professional ethics. In describing the duties of the chief statistician, Bill C-626 would remove the phrase, “under the direction of the Minister”, and instead would require the chief statistician to establish and publish guidelines, on technical and methodological matters, based on international best practices.

Indeed, Canada helped codify some of these best practices in a document called the United Nations “Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics”. The bill also gives the chief statistician the duty of educating the public, consulting stakeholders and choosing census questions.

Under Bill C-626, the minister may give orders and the chief statistician is still accountable to the minister, but if those orders fall within the scope of technical or methodological guidelines, the orders must be published in the Canada Gazette.

Because the chief statistician is granted additional duties and independence, Bill C-626 requires that he or she be chosen in a way that safeguards the credibility and integrity of the office. For that reason, the bill establishes a process similar to how officers of Parliament are chosen. There is extensive consultation with stakeholders by appointing a search committee composed of senior representatives of the civil service, the statistics profession and the Canadian research community. There is also consultation with the leaders of all official parties in the House of Commons, because the chief statistician should be credibly non-partisan.

Finally, Bill C-626 does not enshrine the latest form of the long-form census into law. Instead, it acknowledges and makes allowances for new sources of data or methods of data collection in the future, methods that must maintain or improve the quality of data, but may be less intrusive or less costly, all the while protecting people's privacy.

Bill C-626 eliminates the threat of a jail term for failing to truthfully answer the census. Instead, it replaces it with a fine of, at most, $500. People who guard their privacy so much that they will not fill out the census will not face a jail term.

I want to re-emphasize that Canada's mandatory long-form census is less of a risk to privacy than the national statistics systems of other countries who have no census, and instead rely on administrative data tied together by a universal personal identification number.

Data about Canadians is continually collected, analyzed and stored by public and private organizations, probably more so than if the mandatory long-form census still existed. What is the difference? When Statistics Canada collects, analyzes and stores data, it works very closely with the Privacy Commissioner. Statistics Canada is accountable to the public as it does its work through this elected House. With the mandatory long-form census, Canadians are, in a sense, getting the best information for the lowest cost in risk to privacy.

I will end by talking about duty. As Canadians, we have a duty to ensure that Canada has the financial capacity to protect us from foreign threats and to offer all of us equality of opportunity, thus we have a duty to pay taxes. As Canadians, we have a duty to ensure that our justice system is accepted by the people as legitimate and fair, and thus we have a duty to serve on juries. As Canadians, we have a duty to ensure that trustworthy information is available so that we may govern ourselves wisely for the benefit of all. This is the duty to respond to the census.

For the good of Canada, may responding to the long-form census again be recognized as a civic duty. May the House vote to approve Bill C-626 at second reading.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns November 7th, 2014

With regard to government funding, for each fiscal year since 2007-2008 inclusive: (a) what are the details of all grants, contributions, and loans to any organization, body, or group in the electoral district of Kingston and the Islands, providing for each (i) the name of the recipient, (ii) the location of the recipient, indicating the municipality, (iii) the date, (iv) the amount, (v) the department or agency providing it, (vi) the program under which the grant, contribution, or loan was made, (vii) the nature or purpose; and (b) for each grant, contribution and loan identified in (a), was a press release issued to announce it and, if so, what is the (i) date, (ii) headline, (iii) file number of the press release?

Statistics Canada November 7th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to be able to measure long-term trends.

Bill C-626 will be debated later today, a bill to restore the mandatory long-form census so that we have the trustworthy information we need to govern ourselves wisely.

Instead of voting it down, would the government consider a compromise to restore the long-form census but remove one or two of the questions that it says cause the most complaints? If not, is the government having a look at a move towards the systems used in some European countries where they have quality national statistics but no census?

Red Tape Reduction Act November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, would my colleague be interested interested in amending the bill at committee in such a way that any administrative burdens that would be added in a particular sector would be compensated by removals in the same sector?

We know that in the first year and a half or so, since the one-for-one rule went into effect, three-quarters of the regulatory reductions have come from the health sector. However, there have been more regulatory burdens in other sectors, particularly in natural resources and transportation.

Would business owners not feel more secure if they knew that the bill did not permit the regulatory burden to go up for them only to be offset by reductions in some other sector where they were not involved?

It seems more fair that way.

Committees of the House November 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, upon reading this report and the reply of the government, it seems to me that there is a lot of work to be done. It is no surprise that there is a lot of work to be done on the issues of wills and estates. Ultimately, it is the ownership of land that is the most complicated issue and the most important issue. The sense I get from the committee report and from the government reply to it is that there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of stakeholders to talk to. A House of Commons committee has the capability to do those things.

My constituents in Kingston and the Islands do not care if it is the government's fault or the official opposition's fault that this House of Commons committee is not working. The fact is that the committee has not met since June 3.

Given that the report says that the committee should meet, should we really be debating the report if it is not meeting? I would also ask if the official opposition would like to speak to that aspect in their speeches on this motion.