moved 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.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to move second reading of Bill C-568. Because this bill would save the government $30 million, we on this side of the House do not believe it would require a royal recommendation. We hope that the Speaker will see it that way.
This bill would enshrine the taking of the mandatory long form census every five years, as well as remove the possibility of prison penalties for any violations.
The census goes back a long time. In fact, there is a phrase in the Bible that comes to me at this time:
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.
I have to submit as a family doctor that if this had been a voluntary census, Jesus would have been born in Nazareth.
The mandatory nature of the census has been going on for 2,010 years. The government is a little remiss to try to change it at this point.
Canada's first census was initiated by Intendant Jean Talon in 1666. The census counted the colony's 3,215 inhabitants and recorded their age, sex, marital status and occupation.
The first national census of Canada was taken in 1871. According to the Census Act of May 12, 1870, census-taking was to take place no later than May 1. Under section 8 of the Constitution Act, 1867, formerly the British North America Act, a census was to be taken in 1871 and every tenth year thereafter. This first census of the Dominion following Confederation in 1867 counted the population of the four original provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. Its main goal was to determine appropriate representation by population in the new Parliament. Since 1871, decennial census data have provided the cornerstone for representative government.
In 1871 the questionnaire covered a variety of subjects, and asked 211 questions on area, land holdings, vital statistics, religion, education, administration, the military, justice, agriculture, commerce, industry and finance. Information was collected in tabular form on population, houses and other buildings, lands, industries and institutions. The population field included the age, sex, religion, education, race and occupation of each person. Not every household answered all 211 questions.
In 1971, the Federal Bureau of Statistics became Statistics Canada.
That year also marked the 100th anniversary of the first national census of Canada. Under the new Statistics Act, it became a statutory requirement to hold censuses of population and agriculture every five years.
Two questionnaires were used in 1971. The short form, distributed to two-thirds of Canadian households, covered the basic population questions and nine housing questions. The long form, distributed to the remaining third, contained the same questions as the short form with the addition of 20 housing questions and 30 socio-economic population questions. The Census of Agriculture questionnaire contained 199 questions, down from 251 in 1961.
What has been problematic in the debate is the misinformation by the government that it was in 1971 that the long form census began. In fact, the long form census was the norm before 1971, and only in 1971 did the short form census begin. Before that, all of the information was collected from all of the citizens.
On July 24, before the industry committee, Dr. Ivan Fellagi, a former chief statistician, said that the government had misinterpreted the imposition of this long form census in 1971, when before 1971 there was only a long form census. The short form census was introduced in 1971. It is clear that the government understand that both were mandatory and both are important.
In fact, it was also the testimony of the former chief statistician, Munir Sheikh, and the Conservatives misrepresented the chief statistician as though he had given this advice. I will quote from Munir Sheikh's statement:
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 cannot.
It was very clear from a lot of the testimony that a lot of people have rallied in favour of the long form census.
Dr. David Mowat, the former deputy chief public health officer for Canada and now the medical officer of health for Peel, said this with respect to the problems of voluntary census:
As for trying to elicit this detailed information from a voluntary rather than mandatory census form, we know from our own experience with voluntary research surveys, and we know from the experience of other countries, that certain categories of people will not respond proportionately to a voluntary census survey. In particular, we know that those least willing to provide information voluntarily will be those who tend to belong to socially and economically disadvantaged groups. We can debate why this is so, but the reality is this: if we go to a voluntary census, the groups whose health and living conditions are most in jeopardy will be underrepresented in the data.
In fact, if we look at the short form census, it is quite clear that it would plunge Canada back into the dark ages and indeed, worse off than the days of Jesus Christ. It is impossible for the government to attack proper data. As Mel Cappe has said:
For the last 35 years, people have been filling out this long-form of the census in one form or another. And we have been doing this for over 130 years. And now from 2011 forward, we will not have a data point. That means that all those people who filled out the form in the last 35 years did so for nought. Because we won’t have the next point on the series.
There has never been a case, in the history of Canada, in the history of Statistic Canada where someone’s personal census data has been released. All that is released are the aggregation by census track so they add them up. [...] Statistic Canada has an unblemished record of keeping to themselves – private – all of the returns of the census.
How much time would filling the mandatory census long-form questionnaire take? Cappe explained, “20 percent of the population get asked every five years to fill out this form. […] That means once every 25 years, you got to spend about 30 minutes in answering 41 questions.”
We think it is egregious that the government has misrepresented this. Indeed, by the continuous use of words like “intrusive” and “coercive” it is has created fear, such that people think the government will know what religion they follow, and how many bedrooms they have in their homes. When people say they do not want the government to know, it is imperative that a government of any substance admit that the government will never know what religion one is or how many bedrooms are in one's house. It will only know the average number of bedrooms in the community and the number of people who live in that community. It will not know whether a person is a Roman Catholic or how many Roman Catholics live in the neighbourhood.
The most poignant testimony on July 21 was from Elisapee Sheutiapik, a board member of ITK:
You have to remember that in the long form there are questions such as how many bedrooms are in the house. In Arctic communities it's too cold to be homeless. There's hidden homelessness. We'll never get that data if that long form is not filled out.
Mr. Speaker, I think the member for Peterborough should not think this is funny and should be listening.
Ms. Sheutiapik went on to say:
Actually, there is an amazing partnership that has been developed between Arctic communities and the government when it comes to Statistics Canada. There is a partnership there where they have trained bilingual Inuit people who can work with unilinguals on filling out these forms. It took a lot of time to educate people about how important this data is, because after all, we use those data to help us plan into the future.
Language is an issue in Arctic communities. Those are the kinds of information that are asked about as well in the long form. Moving forward, language and the use of it is a concern, so moving forward we need to know about and continue to keep tabs on where our language is at, not just housing but language as well.
[I]n northern communities, they're still very much intimidated by forms, especially the elders, because some of them still can't read English, so they're intimidated. But if you have someone who has been trained through Stats Canada going house to house, they would be very comfortable having the person come and help to fill out those forms.
In northern communities we wear many different hats. Today I can answer for all of the different hats I wear, be they as president of Pauktuutit, which automatically makes me a member of ITK; and as mayor of Iqaluit and president of our association, which also automatically makes me a member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. So it has an impact on all of the organizations I work with.
Firstly, I just want to state that to keep Canada strong, we need to know how the country is changing, where people live, work, and raise their families. This census helps us do that.
As Inuit, because of our small numbers within our great nation, sometimes we fall through the cracks, but this data brings real information that's needed in all levels of government and non-government organizations.
She went on to say:
I think it really is unreasonable to suggest that Inuit bear the cost of collecting data to measure the size and scope of their inequality.
Last week the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories had a motion which began with, “WHEREAS the Government of Canada intends to eliminate the Statistics Canada 'long-form census'”, and further on states:
AND WHEREAS It is estimated that it would cost the Government of the Northwest Territories approximately $500,000 to increase its data collection to replace the data no longer available from Statistics Canada;
NOW, THEREFORE I move, seconded by the Honourable Member for Thebacha, that this Legislative Assembly urges the Government of Canada to reverse its decision to eliminate the mandatory “long-form” census questionnaire.
In his letter, Ivan Fellagi has been very clear. I hope the government will read the UN fundamental principles of official statistics. We need to make sure that all of those principles are followed. As a physician, I will use the analogy that having the chief statistician explain that a voluntary census would be adequate is like asking the chief medical officer of health to go out and tell the people of Canada that smoking does not cause cancer. This is appalling. Even Andrew Coyne has said what was once the normal attack on elite experts is now an attack on the knowledge of this country. “The loss”, said Peggy Taillon, president and CEO of CCSD, “of the long form census is equal to the government actually shutting off Canada's navigation system”.
We are calling on the government to change the questions, if it will, change the punishment, if it will, but to retain the long form census. This bill would put it into the Statistics Act so that no future government would ever be able to fool with this completely important essential data.