Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys Act

An Act to amend the Statistics Act (removal of imprisonment)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Joe Preston  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Third reading (House), as of June 3, 2015
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Statistics Act to protect the privacy of Canadians by requiring their consent for the release, after 92 years, of the information that they provide in a census-related household survey, to remove the imprisonment penalty from two of its offence provisions and to provide that a term of imprisonment is not to be imposed in default of payment of a fine imposed under those provisions.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

March 11, 2015 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

June 3rd, 2015 / 6:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise in the House on debate for the second time on my private member's bill, Bill C-625, an act to amend the Statistics Act. I am grateful for the opportunity to thank the hon. members for the unanimous support the bill has received so far.

The principles of this bill are simple and address two very important issues. First, the bill seeks to eliminate the threat of jail time for Canadians who refuse to complete the census or any mandatory survey questionnaire. Second, it would seek the consent of Canadians to publicly release all records obtained through the national household survey 92 years after each census or survey cycle.

With regard to the first issue, Bill C-625 would eliminate the threat of jail time for those who refuse to complete mandatory surveys or for those who choose not to provide access to administrative records. While we can all argue that the work of Statistics Canada is extremely important, threatening Canadians with jail time is simply inappropriate and unacceptable.

Regarding the second issue, access to census-related records, Bill C-625 would ensure that historians, genealogists, and future generations would have access not only to census records but to census-related records, such as those collected through the national household survey. Where permission has been granted, census-related records would be released 92 years after they were collected. Current generations would therefore have the unique opportunity to inform future generations and leave their mark in history.

With these changes to the Statistics Act, our government and I are delivering on the promises we made to the voters in my riding who asked for this. I am proud to play a role in helping to deliver on this commitment.

With the support this private member's bill has received, at the stages going forward I hope that the House will remain in favour of it and that all members will vote in favour of it.

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

June 3rd, 2015 / 6:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly agree with the idea of removing jail sentences for not answering a census and replacing them with a fine. However, it is important to remember that the mandatory nature of surveys is important. It removes sample bias. It minimizes the possibility of certain groups with certain characteristics being less likely to answer the census, or any survey. This sort of sample bias is very important to eliminate.

Once we make this change in the Statistics Act, does the member believe that the Chief Statistician should be given the tools and the direction to make sure that people answer surveys as much as possible? What I mean is that there should not only be a fine, which is a stick; there should be a carrot.

I believe that the Chief Statistician should be given the resources to educate the public as to the value and importance of the census. There should also be people to help those who might have trouble filling out a census and to encourage those who might be very busy and might be reluctant to invest the time to fill out a survey from Statistics Canada.

It is important for our economic growth to have good information about ourselves. It is important for a government in making wise decisions. It is important for local officials who are making local decisions to have good quality local data with good statistics at the local level.

What can we do to get more people to fill out the surveys and the census of Statistics Canada?

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

June 3rd, 2015 / 6:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question, and it is a good one. It does not necessarily pertain to Bill C-625, which is simply about removing the punishment of jail time and about the release of the national household survey.

When we were at committee on this piece of legislation, the Chief Statistician expressed that he was pretty pleased with the return on the national household survey. The member opposite has just suggested some other things that may very well be in a piece of future legislation, but they are not in this one, so I will stick with removing the threat of jail time and releasing good Statistics Canada documents after 92 years.

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

June 3rd, 2015 / 6:50 p.m.
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NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, my concern is whether the member feels that the bill is just a bit of window dressing, given that no one has actually gone to jail for a violation under lack of compliance? Is he not concerned that the fundamental issue of the switch to the national household survey is that municipalities and other jurisdictions do not have the data they need to make decisions about program spending?

We have municipalities, cities that are already squeezed for cash, having to go out and buy reliable data from private companies, because our own data system, Statistics Canada, has been lacking current reliable data because of the actions of the current government. Does it not trouble the member that what he has put forward is a bit of window dressing to address a problem that does not exist, when we have an absolutely monumental problem that does exist and that the bill does not address? Can he answer that?

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

June 3rd, 2015 / 6:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, the party opposite complains about omnibus legislation, yet she wants a private member to put everything that was ever possible into a piece of private member's legislation. That is not what this was. I brought forward a piece of private member's legislation, because constituents in my riding mentioned it during the last campaign. It is anecdotal, of course, but there were still times when Statistics Canada would mention the fact that there was a possibility of jail time.

The Chief Statistician shared the same thought as the member. He even wondered why jail time was still in the legislation. He thanked me for bringing forward a bill that took it out, because it is kind of archaic to have it in there, but he also expressed satisfaction with the rest of the document and stressed the ability of StatsCan to provide information to anyone who needs it.

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

June 3rd, 2015 / 6:50 p.m.
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NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House to speak to this bill, which is a Conservative smokescreen.

If the Conservatives truly wanted to remove the possibility of imprisonment for people who refused to fill out Statistics Canada's long form census, they would have supported, back in 2011 or even earlier, the bill introduced by my colleague from Windsor West, namely Bill C-346.

This bill would have restored the long form census, which has many social and economic uses for municipal governments and businesses. It enables them to help the public and to make certain improvements. Furthermore, Bill C-346 removed the possibility of imprisonment.

No one has been imprisoned since Statistics Canada created a public census form. The Conservatives are simply trying to polish their image instead of working on advancing issues and fixing problems.

It is clear that this bill does not reverse all of the cuts that the Conservatives have made to Statistics Canada, which is now underfunded and unable to produce studies and data that are in keeping with international standards.

As I said, no one has been imprisoned. The only people who have been convicted were sentenced to community service or else were pardoned.

Let us look at the fallout of the Conservatives' decision to eliminate Statistics Canada's mandatory long form census. I will give a list of the serious problems created as a result of the Conservatives' decision, which is completely ideological and is not in the best interests of the public.

Many communities in Canada had such low-quality data that Statistics Canada refused to release them. For example, 40% of communities in Saskatchewan had data held back because they were insufficient. These data are normally used by provincial and municipal governments and by non-government actors to plan services, such as transit routes and shelter coverage.

Women, aboriginal groups, and minorities were also under-represented in the 2011 national household survey. This means that the government was not able to see whether the situation for these groups could be improved. It has no idea what the situation is like in Saskatchewan.

Furthermore, the information on incomes that came out of that survey in 2011 suggested that the income inequality gap in Canada was shrinking. That was at odds with progressive economists who said that the Conservatives' message did not hold water, because the data from income tax returns from the Canada Revenue Agency, which is managed by the Conservatives, said the opposite. We need to bring the long form census back in order to have more accurate data, statistics and scientific facts.

Bill C-625 before us today raises an extremely important issue, namely the role of science in a democratic society. Under the rule of law, a government should base its public policies on facts and verified scientific evidence. In Canada, we should be able to say that we live under the rule of law. However, since 2006, the Conservatives have been standing in the way of that, and things have only gotten worse since they won a majority in 2011.

The Conservatives are developing ideologies that fly in the face of scientific, empirical evidence and knowledge acquired from experience. As I said, they are not governing for the public good. Their interests are very targeted, very partisan and very political. That is completely irresponsible, and they do not deserve the trust of the people.

Since 2006, Canada has been slipping into an ideological crusade that undermines the very foundation of our democracy. The Conservatives manipulate the facts to serve one ideology—the Conservative ideology.

This bill is merely one of many cogs in the terrible system that the Conservative government has dragged us into, against our will. The member for Elgin—Middlesex—London said that his bill is meant to strike a balance, and I want to quote from his speech at second reading:

The changes in my bill would ensure that Statistics Canada's programs reflect an appropriate balance between the collection of useful information and guaranteeing that the privacy rights of Canadians are upheld.

I support that laudable objective. Unfortunately, this private member's bill from a Conservative member conflicts with all of the measures the government has passed. Allow me to explain. If the Conservatives were truly interested in protecting Canadians' privacy and personal information, why would they have introduced Bill C-51—to name just one of the more recent ones—which would enable intelligence agencies to use people's personal information and share it with whomever they please without a warrant and without informing people that information about them has been collected and shared? There is no oversight mechanism or accountability in Bill C-51, but the Conservatives went full speed ahead with this bill to make sure that nobody would realize what was going on.

There is obviously a huge difference between what the government says and what it does. It no longer respects Canadian institutions, from the Federal Court to senior officers of parliament, let alone experts, members of the House of Commons or the people. It does not consult anyone. When it does consult people, it discredits them if they contradict Conservative ideology. This really needs to change now.

Unfortunately, this government's battle against reason continues. The Conservatives have done a lot of damage over the past few years. The cuts that they have made to many federal departments and agencies, such as Statistics Canada, are depriving us of essential socio-demographic data—data that are needed to guide our public policy. By eliminating the mandatory long form census, the government is depriving us of these crucial data. Why are they so important? I will give a few examples.

The census is one of the tools that enabled Canada to become one of the most developed countries in the world. It is one way for the government to develop targeted, effective public policies. For instance, it tells us what the average age is in a given area, which helps in the creation of appropriate health care programs. It guides entrepreneurs who are looking for opportunities, by mapping out the average income in a given region. It also helps community organizations that want to reach out to a specific clientele. It helps us assess how francophone communities in Canada are doing and to determine the appropriate measures to defend linguistic minorities. It also helps us determine the employment rate for Canadian immigrants and set up hiring programs for visible minorities. It also shows the social and economic reality of women living in rural and urban areas and guides policy to improve gender equality.

Before I became a member of Parliament, I was a teacher. In my riding, Beauharnois—Salaberry, the schools are immersed in a rather underprivileged area. How could we know that? It is thanks, in fact, to Statistics Canada's long form census. From that census, we could develop tools and, as teachers, we were given extra resources to better teach our students, give them more tools to increase their chances of success in life, and truly provide them with a wide range of services.

By getting rid of this census, the government eliminated the possibility of giving our youngest citizens an equal chance, and that is very serious. Not everyone is getting the same quality of education now because we do not have all the information we need, thanks to the Conservatives.

My Conservative colleague's bill is truly a smokescreen, as I was saying. If the Conservatives really wanted to remove the possibility of imprisonment, then why did they not do that in 2011, when my colleague from Windsor West introduced his Bill C-346?

This shows a lack of political will and a lack of vision. This is pure partisan ideology that does nothing to serve the public's interests. Again, this is very serious. To not rely on scientific data from our experts, is to disrespect democracy. We are truly no longer living under the rule of law and that is unfortunate.

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

June 3rd, 2015 / 7 p.m.
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Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a bit of a trip down memory lane for me because I was industry critic back in 2010 when the whole issue of the long form census originally came up. As my colleague from Kingston and the Islands has said, we will support the bill.

I will do it in part because it is a legacy issue for my good friend from Elgin—Middlesex—London. However, I want to point out that this support in no way absolves the government of an extremely bad decision that it made back in 2010 and for which we are now paying a heavy price. We have made it very clear that we will change this if we become the government after the next election.

I remember back in 2010 when out of the blue the then minister of industry, who is now the President of the Treasury Board, said that we would no longer have a compulsory, mandatory, long form census questionnaire. Why? Because he thought it was intrusive. For example, he thought we should not be asking Canadians certain questions because it would be an infringement on their privacy.

That was the initial argument that was presented, and at the time, the opposition parties mobilized so we could have some extraordinary industry committee meetings, which occurred after Parliament had risen for the summer. An absolute flood of people applied to be witnesses to appear before the committee because they wanted to express themselves on this very badly reasoned decision on the part of the Conservative government.

We kept a list, and by the time the committee meetings had finished that summer, over 300 organizations very clearly indicated that this was a very bad decision. In the process, we were jeopardizing the most important database for formulating social policy in our country.

We in the Liberal Party believe in the value of good science and good data with which to guide our decisions. Certainly for formulating policy, this is an important tool. Everybody said it, including people like Ivan Fellegi, who had become world renowned as the head of Statistics Canada because of the reputation we had for collecting this kind of a database that really helped us to make good policy.

Events have proven us right since that time. From a completion rate of 93.5%, we have now gone down to 68.5%. The problem is that the 31.5% of people who have not filled out the form, most of them are people on whom we really need to have data, people who are perhaps new arrivals in our country, people who are poor, people from certain ethnic groups or first nations groups on whom it is important to have accurate data.

Everybody knows today that we have paid a terrible price through the census that we did in 2011, using the national household survey, which was not mandatory. We hope a new government will have the chance to re-establish the way it was done by the time of the next census in 2016.

However, as these witnesses appeared before the industry committee and very clearly pointed out the error of the government's ways, it was very interesting to hear how the arguments were changing. As it evolved, the argument was no longer, “This is intrusive”, but “It's wrong to threaten somebody with sending them to jail if they decide not to fill it out”, hence the decision by the government today to try to make up for that. As we know, the Conservatives made a promise after the 2011 election that they would get rid of it because it was their primary argument for not allowing the compulsory long form census.

The reality is this. I checked at that time and was told that one person had gone to jail and that person had chosen to go jail. There had been some contempt in fact. The person wanted to make a point and did not want to pay the fine. The reality was that the Government of Canada was extremely reluctant to use that tool. It generally would try many other ways before getting to the point of even fining a person.

Therefore, it was not as if people were being thrown in jail left, right and centre because they were not completing the long form census. It was an argument that turned out to be a shoddy one because the reality is that Statistics Canada, in order to get the high rate that provides a thorough database, used to bend over backwards to try to get people to fill it out properly. That included deploying resources to enable them to do it. In some cases Statistics Canada clearly recognized that people had difficulty with the official languages. It recognized that certain people who were in the lower socio-economic levels did not have this as a priority, that they had bigger priorities in their lives, and that there was some encouragement and help that was required. There was a follow-through in order to try to make the database as complete as possible. Quite remarkable efforts were deployed for some of our first nations and Inuit who required some additional assistance from Statistics Canada so that they too would be part of this database.

Much effort was put into this in order to help Canadians fill out the form and very reluctantly would the government ever go to the final step of either fining or using the jail option.

This evening, by supporting a private member's bill, we are in no way condoning this government's very bad decision to eliminate the mandatory long form census five years ago.

As I mentioned, this form made it possible to have a top-quality database, which truly represented all of Canada and allowed us to formulate social policies based on real situations.

As we know very well, when the long form was mandatory, the participation rate was 93.5%. I believe that was the case for the 2006 census. However, after the government decided to make it voluntary, the participation rate dropped to 68.5%. Unfortunately, this has seriously affected the quality of data because, in reality, almost two-thirds of Canadians chose not to participate in the census.

In closing, I would add that at the time the government told us that its new method would cost much less. In fact, the method used for the 2011 census cost more money than what we spent in 2006, while the quality of the results obtained was vastly inferior.

Although we will support the bill before us tonight, we do not condone the government's decision, which was a very bad one. We are prepared to support this bill. However, if there is a change of government this fall, let us keep in mind that a Liberal government will definitely reinstate the long form census.

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

June 3rd, 2015 / 7:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my voice to this issue this evening. I must say, though, here we go again, yet another piecemeal legislative solution to a problem created by the same government's stubborn shortsightedness.

Worse yet, the Conservatives are contorting themselves to support this bill when they angrily railed against it just seven months ago. Members will remember how, on November 7 of last year, the Conservatives voted against Bill C-626 as proposed by the Liberal member for Kingston and the Islands.

They heckled the member for his work and said there was no reason for his bill to pass, but that bill contained this very same provision. Therefore, it is perplexing that the government would both oppose and support this measure. I am very interested to hear how some of the members opposite plan to justify their most recent flip-flop.

I do not say this lightly, but let us not forget that it was the current government that created the problem in the first place. It was the Conservative government that attacked the long form census and rendered the information collected scientifically skewed. It did this all based on the argument that scores of people were being put in jail because they refused to fill out the paperwork.

We have heard from my colleague. We have yet to see any people, other than the one individual, ever end up in jail and he went there clearly because he was making a point. Of course, this is not true. There were not a lot of people put in jail.

However, the Prime Minister never lets the facts get in the way of an ideological position. That is right, the government's 2010 decision to cancel the long form census was shortsighted and driven by pure ideology again. Short of old-fashioned incompetence, there is no other explanation for the long-standing process that has led us to this moment today.

The bill verifies what I am saying and tries to correct a handful of the many faults exposed and created by Conservative incompetence on this particular matter. Conservatives just do not get it. Perhaps this is a great example of why committees are supposed to actually consider the thoughts and opinions of expert witnesses.

Functioning committees are a device that most Conservative MPs would not recognize, but they do, indeed, serve a purpose. That is when we get a chance to thoroughly debate a variety of issues and look at legislation for the pros and cons. When committee members work together, they make the kinds of changes that are necessary.

Perhaps the Conservative members opposite would do well to remember this example the next time they vote down reasoned amendments from the opposition parties, en masse, in committee, which is done every single day that the House is sitting and committees are meeting.

The strangest part of this entire mess is that the measures contained within this legislation were also contained within the 2011 Conservative election platform. Clearly, the government is so embarrassed by its own legislative and policy ineptitude that it has relegated the matter to a private member's bill rather than in government legislation as a priority. We all have to be honest about how and why it is here.

Again, this is a trend with the government. We saw it with gun control and countless other subjects that are introduced through private members' bills rather than dealing with them properly within a solid piece of legislation that would be debated. However, I guess it would probably be subject to the same thing that 98 other pieces of legislation were, time allocation and all of the other things that mess up everybody's schedules.

What is the government so afraid of? I am trying to be fair. It is true that the government has messed up the policy process, the committee process, the collection of the census data and most of the legislative process, which is the reason there has been closure on legislation 98 times.

It is not all bad news, though. The Liberal caucus is committed, as it always has been, to evidence-based policy. In order to develop this evidence-based policy, we must have access to reliable and trustworthy data. This legislation is a small step in the right direction.

That is right, Liberals are okay with what is being proposed here today, and that is precisely why we proposed it last November through my colleague, the member for Kingston and the Islands. It was a good bill. We had expected the government to support it.

That would have shown some level of co-operation here in the House, but because it was a Liberal member who introduced it, there was no way the government was going to support it. Therefore, by piecemeal legislation, the Conservatives end up today, at the last minute before the House adjourns for the summer and for the next election, trying to get a private member's bill in to handle that other small part when it comes to sending someone to jail.

As embarrassing and uncomfortable as this must be for the Conservatives, who try to give the impression that they know what they are doing, I am actually happy to see their flip-flop. I only wish they would reverse themselves on a few more matters that could really make a difference for all Canadians, particularly their current attack on the Canada pension plan.

As members know, the Conservatives have long hated the Canada pension plan. They voted against it when it was created, and at every opportunity since. Now they want Canadians to think they have changed their ways and have seen the value of a voluntary Canada pension plan. However, that is nothing more than an avenue to start talking about it to say that we should eliminate the mandate of the Canada pension plan and have the whole thing voluntary. Companies could then contribute if they wanted to, and individuals could contribute if they wanted to.

Between having no CPP and the $30,000 Canadians will lose by having to wait until age 67 to get their pension, just imagine Canadians out there struggling. Clearly, they will be working much longer, because they will not have much of a pension plan if they do not have the Canada pension that they rely on today. Of course, Canadians are not so foolish as to believe this line.

I am still hopeful that the Prime Minister will one day make the leap and actually start to support seniors in this country rather than just leave them as an afterthought, or only when it is election time and he needs their votes as he makes promises.

The same could be said for the Conservatives' so-called economic action plan. Canada is halfway to yet another recession, consumer confidence is down and jobs are bleeding from the manufacturing sector, yet the government continues to spend taxpayer dollars on TV ads saying all is well. Even the member for Nepean—Carleton, the government's most accomplished and shameless spin master, has admitted that forcing bureaucrats to film partisan videos on the weekend was a bad idea, but I guess almost anyone can change.

This brings us to today. The government's most recent flip-flop is a real demonstration of the vison and leadership that the Conservatives have been able to bring to the table. In contrast, the Liberal caucus is committed to evidence-based policy, and we propose to put in place the tools needed to allow governments to do just that.

The government has its eyes closed and the Conservatives are hoping that no one is going to notice. However, Canadians are starting to see that the current government and Prime Minister are out of ideas.

The bill before us is the most recent in a very long line of government missteps and failures that are the benchmark of the Conservatives' record over the past decade. Canadians deserve better.

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

June 3rd, 2015 / 7:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill tonight and to some of the issues, which I think are important to put on the record, around the changes in the Statistics Act that the bill will put into place.

The bill amends the Statistics Act to protect the privacy of Canadians by requiring their consent for the release, after 92 years, of the information that they provide in a census-related household survey. It also removes the jail term from two of the Statistics Act's offence provisions and provides that a jail term is not to be imposed for default in payment of a fine imposed under those provisions. I will be supporting this bill. It is quite legitimate to remove the jail terms.

However, even though the bill removes the threat of a jail term, it is very important to understand why certain surveys should be mandatory. It is important to understand that, since we are removing one of the points that a Statistics Canada field worker might bring up to encourage somebody to fill out the census.

The jail term aside, it is important to get people to fill out surveys. It is important to reduce sample bias. That is the kind of error that occurs when certain groups do not answer the national household survey. We know that certain groups of people—single parents, renters, rural Canadians, very rich Canadians— tend to fall into this category, and it is really important for us to have good information in order to govern ourselves wisely.

It is not enough to simply threaten people. It is very important to explain to people. It is important for field workers to have the time to explain to people what the census data is used for and explain how they are helping the country by filling out the census.

People are very busy, and that is one of the reasons people would choose not to fill out the national household survey. It is important to have field workers out there who can use other methods of persuasion, including just going and helping somebody fill out the survey by explaining the questions and explaining what the answers to the questions are used for. They could explain how it helps the country and how it helps decision-makers make the right decision for the people they are serving by giving policymakers a clear picture of the country. Last of all, I think it is important to simply appeal to people's sense of duty to fill out the census.

One thing that Canadians may not know is that 2016 is the next census year. The current plan is to have automatic linkage of income and benefit data. The Canada Revenue Agency will automatically link that data to the census. What this means for Canadians is, in effect, that Canadians will have automatically filled out the questions about income that were previously on the long form census.

There will be no questions on income, but what is happening now is that there will be something called data linkage between the data at the Canada Revenue Agency and Statistics Canada. This has happened in the past. In the past there has been an optional box that people could check off to use that linkage. It was optional in the past, and now it is going to apply to everybody.

This particular step is okay, but it is really important for there to be a much broader discussion among our population about data linkages.

As some people might know, some European countries do not even have a census. They rely completely on data linkages between different government databases. They rely on people reporting to the government every time they change addresses, for example. If a student goes away to school or somebody changes apartments, they have to report their change of address to the government.

The government's plan is to rely on more data linkages, but it is important to have a discussion in the population about the extent to which Canadians are willing to rely on more and more data linkages, because their personal information is going to be shared more and more among government agencies.

The Privacy Commissioner has said that there are definitely privacy issues that have to be understood by the public before we proceed too far. There is a balance. However, Canadians need to talk about where they are comfortable having that balance.

I want to look at some of the reasons for having good census data, including data that used to come from the long-form census. Currently, those questions are being asked on the national household survey. However, the data is probably being collected in a biased manner. We know that, because the users of the data are noticing that there are problems.

I recently went to visit the Halton region in Ontario. I sat down with officials who use data to make decisions. I met with economic development officials, urban planners, not-for-profit agencies, social service providers, school boards, and public health officials. They were all very upset about the loss of the long-form census.

One of the reasons for having the long-form census is that it gives us high-quality, local data, because it is such a big survey. If we can get rid of the sample bias, it gives us really good local data. That allows local decision-makers to make smart decisions, because they know their community.

If we believe, which I think probably a majority of the members in this chamber do, that decisions should be made at the local level whenever possible, that we should try to avoid a one-size-fits-all government from Ottawa, and that if local governments can make decisions better they should make the decisions, then we should support the idea of local governments and local decision-makers having good data in order to make those decisions. That is what we are losing by getting rid of the long-form census.

One of the things I found out in the Halton region is that more and more not-for-profit groups are required to provide reports to funders on the value for money given by funders. In fact, even the current Conservative government is looking at something called social finance, whereby we very carefully measure the impact social service agencies or other agencies are having so that philanthropists, for example, know the impact their donations are having. When the federal government tries to implement social finance, it has to be able to measure the effect that someone who gets a contract is having on the community. To collect that local data, it needs the long-form census to help.

There is a famous example in the province of New Brunswick. The premier of New Brunswick said it was having trouble evaluating the effects of its five-year anti-poverty program because of the current government's elimination of the long-form census.

I found out that school boards need good information to see growth trends in order to plan ahead. For example, Milton is a very fast-growing part of the Halton region. It needs good information before it commits bricks and mortar, before it spends a lot of money building schools. It also needs good information before it hires special needs teachers.

I found out that the 2006 census is still being used to calculate grant dollars for first nation, Métis, and Inuit student populations in the Halton school board. It is not using the 2011 census results, because those census results are unreliable.

I have heard that people who work on poverty are not getting good enough information. Poverty intervention works best if it is done and targeted at a local level. I found out that in 2006, the census said that the difference in life expectancy between people living in the richest and poorest neighbourhoods in the Halton region was eight years for men and four years for women. That is a very sad statistic, because it means that poor people are paying the penalty of dying earlier. In the 2011 voluntary household survey, the eight year difference for men went down to four years, and the four year difference for women went down to zero years.

This sudden change can only be attributed to the fact that the voluntary national households survey was a poor substitute for the long form census. Not being able to see the problems that the marginalized in Canada have to face is a shame.

To conclude—

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

June 3rd, 2015 / 7:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I trust that maybe at a future time I will be able to get the extra two minutes if in fact it is deemed necessary

It is with pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill C-625. It is an interesting bill, to say the very least. Just listening to some of the debate, I can appreciate why members would be expressing a great deal of concern in regard to census material. My colleague from York raised other issues, but was able to bring it around so that we could understand the relevance of the way in which the government has changed in its behaviour in regard to the whole issue that Bill C-625 is trying to deal with.

Numerous thoughts come to my mind that I think are worth sharing with members. When I think of what the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London is attempting to do here, I have a great deal of admiration in terms of why the member has seen this as something that is important. I suspect that if we were to canvass constituents, many would find it somewhat odd, maybe a little peculiar, as to why it is that someone could ultimately end up in jail if in fact he or she did not fill out mandatory forms.

I understand, through listening to some of the debate, that the member for Kingston and the Islands introduced a bill of a somewhat similar nature. However, I suspect that at the time the government's opinion on the issue had been different than what it appears to be today. That is why we would encourage members of the Conservative Party to better explain the rationale or their positioning on Bill C-625, given the response that we had to an earlier piece of legislation that would have done the same thing.

It almost goes without saying that the current law as it states, as someone has pointed out, has really, with the exception of one occasion, never been acted on. I can understand why it has not been acted on. However, at the same time, it is worthy to note that someone did ultimately have to go behind bars, but I understand, based on what I have heard this evening, that incident was based on protest more than anything else. That does not necessarily mean that the bill does not merit being passed.

As I indicated, on the surface I look at the bill and it is worth supporting, given that it is a private member's bill. The Liberal Party caucus has been fairly transparent and open in encouraging members of the Liberal caucus, in fact all members, in dealing with private members' bills of this nature and we encourage having free votes on it. I also see that as a very strong positive.

I want to pick up on the issue of the long form census and that is where I would like to spend some time. I do not really believe the Government of Canada understands the importance of what StatsCan did and the impact of the government's decision to get rid of that mandatory component and downsizing Statistics Canada in its ability to provide the type of results that it was known for.

It is second to no other institution in the world. In fact, there were many other countries that looked at Canada and the way in which we conducted StatsCan through the long form census, and found that it was done in a world-class fashion.

That information is of critical importance. My colleague made reference to schools. The impact that the census had on school divisions is an example of where a school board might be planning to have a school. In certain situations, it has an impact on where it might decide to look at either closing or using a school for an alternative purpose.

There are some really big numbers to be thrown around. We are talking about billions of dollars that are provided to provinces in the form of social transfer payments, whether it is social services, health care, equalization, all of which rely heavily upon the census material that is provided to them. Ensuring that as many Canadians participate in the census process is of critical importance. We are not talking about thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars, we are talking about the transferring of literally billions of dollars from Ottawa to the different provinces, recognizing the many different inequities that are scattered throughout virtually every region of our country.

If I were to focus on the province of Manitoba alone, I can recall a very heated debated inside the Manitoba legislature. There was a question as to whether we were getting the appropriate amount of money through equalization and transfer payments based upon some of the demographics in the province of Manitoba. There was a dispute between Ottawa and Manitoba in trying to come to a better understanding of what the actual numbers were.

When we look at equalization payments, many different things are taken into consideration. It is not only the population of each individual province. We need to have an understanding of the needs of each of the different provinces when we talk about federal policy changes. We saw the impact on changes in health care policy. Provinces that have an older population will be penalized more than provinces that might have a healthier population. I can give a good example. Some communities are better known as retirement communities and have a much higher senior population. Where there is a senior population, there are many more demands upon social services, in particular, health care services.

It is the nuances that are so critically important when we make government decisions. We need to have the best information possible. One of the things we have become very dependent on is the fine work that Statistics Canada has done for generations, and we have all benefited from that.

When we talk about the importance of individual Canadians contributing to that data bank of information that is so vital in the determination and development of good, strong, healthy social policy, it is absolutely critical that this be taken into consideration

I suspect I will have another two minutes when the House gets the opportunity to debate the issue again.

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

February 27th, 2015 / 1:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

moved that Bill C-625, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (removal of imprisonment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, today, I have the privilege of rising in the House and speaking for the first time to private members' bill, Bill C-625, an act to amend the Statistics Act.

The bill would amend the existing law and address two very important issues. First, it would eliminate the threat of jail time for those who refused to complete the census and all mandatory surveys. Second, it would ensure that historians would have the access to census related records, where permission had been granted, 92 years after the information is collected.

Our government recognizes the importance of collecting quality statistical data. Census data serves as a key resource for government departments and agencies when designing their programs and services. It is also important information for businesses in the private sector when planning ahead for future growth and success.

However, Canadians should not be threatened with jail time in order to take part in this important civic exercise. Back in 2010, our government committed to removing the penalty for jail time for anyone who refused to complete the census or any mandatory survey administered by Statistics Canada.

With this bill, I am proud to say that our government is again delivering on its commitments. My bill would remove the jail time provision from under two sections of the Statistics Act, sections 31 and 32. First, we would remove jail time for those who personally refuse to complete the census and mandatory surveys by failing to provide Statistics Canada with their personal information. Second, it would remove jail time for anyone who denies access to any administrative records that Statistics Canada may require. It would also eliminate the threat of jail time for those failing to pay a fine under those two sections.

The threat of jail time in these scenarios is simply inappropriate and it must be removed. Our government has a strong record of being tough on crime and standing up for victims. We have taken decisive action in pursuing measures that combat serious crime and ensuring that penalties and sentences reflect the gravity of the crime committed.

Our record since 2006 includes establishing the youth gang prevention fund, which provides support for successful community programs that assist youth at risk.

We have introduced mandatory prison sentences for serious gun and organized drug crimes. We have implemented mandatory prison sentences for drive-by or reckless shootings. We have toughened bail provisions and penalties for crimes that are committed with guns and linked to organized crime. We have passed new offences to target auto theft and the trafficking of property obtained by crime. We have cracked down on street racing and drug-impaired driving.

We have also announced that we are taking action so that a life sentence will truly mean life behind bars for the worst of the worst criminals.

We have established the anti-drug strategy to help prevent illicit drug use and support access to treatment for those with drug dependencies.

We have included the tougher penalties in the child predator act, which will ensure that those convicted of multiple child sexual offences serve their sentences consecutively.

We have strengthened the National Sex Offender Registry and the National DNA Data Bank to better protect our children and our communities from sexual predators.

We have established the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to provide information on victims' rights and the services for victims. We have strengthened the sentencing and monitoring of dangerous, high-risk offenders. We have introduced the Canadian victims bill of rights, giving victims of a crime a more effective voice in the criminal justice system.

Jail time is a punishment for the most serious and heinous offences. We should reserve jail time for those who truly deserve it. It is meant for real criminals, terrorists, child predators and murderers, not for Canadians who fail to complete mandatory surveys. When Canadians are asked to provide their personal information and to participate in any survey, they should be able to do so without threat of imprisonment.

Our government is committed to re-establishing Canada as a country where those who break the law are held accountable for their crimes, where punishments are proportionate to the crime committed and where we defend the rights of our most vulnerable citizens.

The changes in my bill would ensure that Statistics Canada's programs reflect an appropriate balance between the collection of useful information and guaranteeing that the privacy rights of Canadians are upheld.

With that said, I come to the second purpose of the bill. The second major change to the act that I am proposing in Bill C-625 would deliver on another government commitment. An amendment would ask Canadians for their consent to release their personal information in statistical records. Once their consent is given, 92 years following the collection, Canadian information would be released to Library and Archives Canada. It is important to leave a record of present-day Canada for future generations, researchers, historians, and genealogists. The information from today will be valuable for our children and grandchildren, who will contribute to the future growth and prosperity of our great nation.

This change mirrors a 2005 decision that was debated and passed into law by the House to release census records after 92 years. My bill before the House today would simply extend this provision so that it applies to all surveys related to the census of population.

However, I will reiterate that this would not change the consent provision. It would ensure that Canadians continue to have the right to privacy and are able to decide whether their private information should be made available. With this amendment to the Statistics Act, we would be giving Canadians a choice.

In closing, I will say that this bill is good old-fashioned common sense legislation. I would encourage my colleagues from all parties to join me and our government in showing Canadians the respect and confidence they deserve. By removing jail times and maintaining records for future generations, our government would be fulfilling its commitment to continue to collect reliable statistical data while maintaining the privacy of everyday Canadians.

I hope all members will support this piece of legislation.

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

February 27th, 2015 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I support the principle behind this private member's bill, but I am puzzled by it, since we know that no one has ever been imprisoned for refusing to respond to the Statistics Canada census. It is a problem that does not exist.

The real problem is that since the Conservatives took power, they have made cuts to Statistics Canada, which has prevented this agency from collecting high-quality data. The Conservatives also eliminated the long form census, which severely impaired Statistics Canada's ability to gather reliable data to help federal and provincial governments make decisions and provide services to the public.

Could my hon. colleague speak to the fact that Statistics Canada can no longer provide data to assist with making fact-based decisions? Can he also speak to the fact that Munir Sheikh, the former chief statistician of Canada, resigned in 2010 because of the Conservatives' attack on Statistics Canada and because Statistics Canada was no longer able to gather reliable information?

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

February 27th, 2015 / 1:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member started off by saying she is confused, and I can hopefully help with that just a little.

This bill, as I have said more than once, would remove jail time and the chance that anyone could ever go to jail for not filling out a survey for Statistics Canada. She may be right that it is not an oft-enforced piece of legislation, so it should not be hard for us to collectively decide to remove it. A great compassionate government like the one that Canada currently enjoys would of course never use that legislation, but why leave it in place to provide an opportunity for bad governments that might follow in the far distant future?

On top of the other statistical data that she asked about that comes from the long form census, the short form census, and the other pieces of information collected by Statistics Canada, we currently have the household survey, a volunteer form, that complements the short form census. Ridings like Elgin—Middlesex—London, where I come from—and many members in the House have ridings exactly like it—run on volunteerism, on people being able to voluntarily help their government by supplying information or doing other things in their communities that are voluntarily driven. The national household survey would continue in that long practice.

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

February 27th, 2015 / 1:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

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?

Removal of Imprisonment in Relation to Mandatory Surveys ActPrivate Members' Business

February 27th, 2015 / 1:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his kind comments about some of the better legislation that our government has been able to bring forward; some of it has been very large in structure. I thank him for suggesting that we can put anything we want in any of those pieces of legislation. I would be happy to quote him the next time somebody from his party gets up and talks about omnibus bills.

I ran in 2011, and I ran in three elections before that, but this was an issue in the 2011 election with many of the members in my riding. I made a promise that we would get rid of it. As the member knows, we use a lottery system to pick when private members' bills come forward. It is my time. It is my topic. It is what we need to do.