Bill C-626 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Statistics Act (appointment of Chief Statistician and long-form census)
This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.
Ted Hsu Liberal
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Defeated, as of Feb. 4, 2015
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends the Statistics Act to establish a process to appoint the Chief Statistician of Canada. It also prescribes additional duties for the Chief Statistician and increases the independence of the Chief Statistician in carrying out his or her duties.
Further, it provides for a long-form questionnaire to be used for taking the census of population under that Act.
- Feb. 4, 2015 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.
An Act to amend the Statistics Act (appointment of Chief Statistician and long-form census)
Private Members' Business
January 29th, 2015 / 5:15 p.m.
Judy Sgro York West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am sure you are glad that the previous debate is over and that this will be a much quieter period of time.
I am very pleased to rise, both as the representative of the people of York West and the Liberal industry critic, to lend my support to Bill C-626.
I would also like to congratulate my great colleague from Kingston and the Islands for his leadership and perseverance on a matter that is really of the utmost importance to all Canadians.
This is a perfect example of how science does matter in politics. Certainly there are those of us on this side of the House who understand the short-sighted actions of this government when it comes to census cuts. Bill C-626 would go a long way to righting many of those wrongs.
I think most would agree that in order to run a country that is fiscally prudent and socially responsible, which I know is very difficult for the government to understand, governments have to use real science and collect reliable data from the people they hope to serve. That is precisely what Bill C-626 is about.
The bill seeks to restore Canadians' trust in Statistics Canada by strengthening the political independence of the chief statistician over matters related to data sources, methodology, and professional standards.
Politicians need to focus on politics and leave scientists and statisticians to do what they do best. Muzzling and stymieing them serves no one.
In simple terms, Bill C-626 seeks to re-establish the role of internationally recognized best practices for official statistics in guiding the work of StatsCan. This reliability issue strikes to the heart of this discussion and many other discussions like the one we had today.
Census data allows governments to understand and become more aware of vulnerable sectors in Canadian society that require addressing. It allows governments to plan how and where to deliver services such as health care and education. If the information available is incomplete, skewed, or faulty, the ability of governments to respond effectively to the needs of Canadians is directly impacted. We are already seeing that on a daily basis.
The Liberal Party is committed to evidence-based policy. In order to develop this evidence-based policy, we must have access to reliable and trustworthy data. This is the bottom line and it is the spark that led to Bill C-626 being drafted in the first place.
The government's ill-fated 2010 decision to cancel the long form census was short-sighted and driven by a misinformed ideology again, but true to form this government plunged forward regardless.
Replacing the long form census with the national household survey has already compromised data quality and means that the data cannot be reliably compared with earlier census data. Worse than losing the ability to track population trends, the national household survey will cost taxpayers $22 million more than the census would have. This will not save even one penny for the public purse. Instead, the government is spending more than ever for incomplete and unreliable data.
Perhaps this back-of-the-napkin approach can help to explain why the Conservatives has been so hard-pressed to balance the books. Perhaps it is time to hire a real economist to help them out? In contrast, Liberal Party remains fiscally aware and committed to evidence-based policy.
So what does all of this mean from a public policy perspective? How would Bill C-626 help us to serve Canadians better? Put simply, in order to develop effective, evidence-based policy, governments need access to reliable and trustworthy data, but that is no longer the case and this government cares more about partisan advantage than about helping middle-class families, seniors, and students to get ahead.
Experts agree that the cancellation of the mandatory long form census has damaged research in key areas, from how immigrants are doing in the labour market to how the middle-class is faring. It is also making it more difficult for cities to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.
Sadly, the impact from the loss of the long form census extends far beyond Parliament Hill and the federal government. Everyone from planners and researchers to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce agree that the government has no idea where to credibly spend taxpayer dollars to best deliver key programs and services.
Worse yet, as the available data become more and more outdated, the problem will get worse. Unfortunately, we have seen the government's economic incompetence, but now the dearth of information promises to compound Conservative fiscal ineptitude even further. Yet again, Canadians of tomorrow will suffer because of decisions the government has made today.
Allow me to be clear. The government's decision to cut the long form census will have an impact in every single community in Canada. The switch to a national household survey has created difficulties in determining income inequality trends, housing needs, and whether low-income families are getting adequate services. I do not think the government cares an awful lot about any of those, though. What this means for a resident living on Jane Street, or Islington Avenue, or Hucknall Road in my Toronto riding is that they will potentially not receive vital government services in the years ahead, because no one will know what they need.
The people living in my riding and every other riding are expected to continue working and paying their taxes, but the government is taking steps to ensure that they will not get the help they need and deserve. Some may have trouble seeing the connection, but we are already witnessing the negative impacts caused by the lack of a mandatory long form census. This will only get worse in the years ahead. Broadly speaking, lack of reliable information has inhibited research on inequality and on identifying winners and losers from economic growth, research into understanding the national problems of the have-nots in the economy, and research into how best to help local government services.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, whose network represents 200,000 businesses across the country, knows this. The chamber is publicly calling on the federal government to restore the mandatory long-form census. I join it in that call.
Yet again we are seeing a government that is entirely out of its depth. It does not understand science, it does not understand long-term planning, and it does not understand the economic impact of its decisions. It only understands what is politically expedient for it to do.
The government may try to blame others, as it does every single day, for its woes, but this issue demonstrates that the government is out of its depth and struggling under its own incompetence.
An Act to amend the Statistics Act (appointment of Chief Statistician and long-form census)
Private Members' Business
January 29th, 2015 / 5:30 p.m.
Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise on this bill today. Bill C-626 concerns the Statistics Act and Statistics Canada.
I am glad to follow on the heels of my colleague on the government side because, frankly, the government has such a sorry record of denying science, ignoring evidence and silencing experts with whom it disagrees. It is more prone to ideologically based decisions rather than evidence based decisions, and the evidence of it stifling science is just proof of that.
Many of my constituents in Parkdale—High Park have contacted me. They are very concerned about the impact on the quality of the statistics in Canada and their impact on the important social programs that we deliver in Canada. They include everything from immigration and refugee policy and labour statistics, right down to whether we will charge fees for certain programs in local communities across the country.
The bill we are debating today follows on the heels of bills from two NDP colleagues during the government's time, my colleagues from London—Fanshawe and Windsor West. They introduced similar bills. It really comes down to the fact that the New Democrats believe in good data. We believe it is essential to have good data to make government work. Having good data allows a government to effectively target and evaluate programs in order to improve service quality and lower the cost of the programs we deliver.
The NDP fought tooth and nail to prevent the Conservatives from eliminating the long-form census. The NDP believes that the long-form census must be restored in order to provide social scientists, governments and business with the data they need.
Here is a brief bit of history. The modern census was created in 1971. It was taken every fifth year until 2006, and it included some very short, basic questions, such as age and marital status, as well as some longer questions on housing and socio-economic factors. Response to the census was mandatory, and it carried penalties, including fines and possible imprisonment, for failing to respond or knowingly providing false information. This was to ensure the integrity of the data, so people filled it out completely and accurately.
In June, 2010, the Government of Canada quietly announced that it would be eliminating the long-form census without any consultation with stakeholders, the users, or even government agencies, and it replaced it with a voluntary survey, the national household survey. This created a huge uproar from municipalities, researchers and others, including the chief statistician, who ended up resigning when the long-form census was replaced.
In the past, these mandatory surveys typically had a response rate of about 94%. That is a very high response rate. In contrast, the voluntary survey has a response rate of 68%. That is a lot of missing data. We are finding that rural communities are especially under-represented. There are also certain parts of the country out west, east and north, as well as first nations communities, and some very low and high-income people not filling out the census.
Under the mandatory census—and I remind my Conservative colleague across the aisle about this—not one person has ever gone to jail for not filling out the mandatory census. This census had a 94% response rate. There are a couple of people who refused to fill out the form because they disagreed with certain government policies and it went to court, but they were not convicted. Someone else received mandatory community service as a result of not filling it out, but not one person ever went to jail.
The Conservatives eliminating the long form census to avoid mandatory prison sentences was completely irrelevant. It is a red herring.
It seems as though the intended consequence is that we would not have reliable statistics telling us that in fact inequality in Canada is rising. We do not know the level of labour force participation on first nation reserves. We cannot tell where social programs would be best implemented and be most effective because we cannot get proper, accurate, up-to-date data.
Other countries have tried to eliminate their long form census. None has replaced it with a voluntary census, as this government has done. That is a big waste of money right there. The U.S. tried it, but found the data so unreliable it went back to the mandatory census. What do they know that these guys are ignoring?
We are finding that not only are the data unreliable and the results poor, but it also costs more than a mandatory census did. That is unbelievable. These guys are such bad managers. The Auditor General has reported that the national household survey, their voluntary survey, cost $30 million more than the mandatory census, not including the $22 million that was spent to switch over to the new format. These guys are great at spending money, at losing money and wasting money for nothing. That money could have been more effectively invested in creating jobs, in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in helping young people and taking people out of poverty. I do not know what makes these guys tick.
It is not just New Democrats who are criticizing the government on this. In the Report On Business in today's The Globe and Mail there is an article by Tavia Grant. She says:
The cancellation of the mandatory long-form census has damaged research in key areas, from how immigrants are doing in the labour market to how the middle class is faring, while making it more difficult for cities to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely, planners and researchers say.
She also references in the private sector the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, whose network represents 200,000 businesses across the country. It is publicly calling on the federal government to restore the mandatory long form census. We have been saying this all along.
She also goes on to say:
It’s now tougher to know whether free programs, such as swimming lessons or skills training, are being offered in the most high-need communities. It’s more difficult to plan subsidized child care. And there are now “huge gaps” in the ability to understand health trends in... [populations].
It is affecting city finances, because cities have to spend extra money to buy data privately, rather than having access to good-quality, more cost-effective public data. The government is downloading. It makes no sense.
Let me just conclude by saying that New Democrats believe that good data is essential to make government work. We also believe in science, unlike our counterparts across the aisle. We believe that good data allows government to effectively target and evaluate programs and thus improve the service quality while lowering costs.
We fought tooth and nail to prevent the Conservatives from eliminating the long form census. We believe the long form census must be restored to provide social scientists, governments, and businesses the data they need.
We also believe that the world is not flat. It is round, and we believe that greenhouse gas emissions are being created by the activity of people in the world. We know some really good scientists who could help our counterparts on the other side understand these things.
An Act to amend the Statistics Act (appointment of Chief Statistician and long-form census)
Private Members' Business
January 29th, 2015 / 5:55 p.m.
Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-626, an act to amend the Statistics Act. I am pleased to enthusiastically support the bill.
I would like to thank the critic, our MP for Parkdale—High Park, for her work on this and also the staff who worked diligently on this and other files, including Florian Olsen, Stéphanie Haché, and from my office, Andrew Cuddy. They did great work in helping us understand the bill, and helping us with our speeches and procedures in the House.
I would also like to extend kudos to the member for Kingston and the Islands for bringing forward Bill C-626. It has been great to work alongside him in trying to make science, social sciences and hard sciences, better in this House. I am really sad that he is not going to be standing in the next election, because I think he has made a good contribution to Canada. I wish him well in his future endeavours and thank him again for putting this forward and allowing us to vote on it.
From my reading, this is a very good bill, which would bring back the long form census and empower the Chief Statistician. It would remove, as we have heard in speeches, the possibility of imprisonment for failing to complete surveys, which I think is something the British probably brought in when they were doing the survey census way back when, for tax purposes and that type of thing. Perhaps the mandatory requirements in those bills are past their day. However, I notice that there are still provisions for fining people if they do not complete these surveys, and I think that is something we have heard the Conservatives will be trying to change. I hope they at least make some incentive for people to fill out these surveys.
The bill put forward by the member for Kingston and the Islands is very similar to bills we have put forward in the past, notably Bill C-346 by our MP for Windsor West. Therefore, of course, we support Bill C-626, and I think all Canadians, with the exception of those sitting across the aisle, would support strengthening our most important data source for planning and business purposes in this country.
Good data is essential to make the economy work, as census data provides social scientists, governments, and businesses the information they need to make good policy and business choices.
The NDP fought to prevent the Conservatives from eliminating the long form census and bringing in the national household survey in 2010. However, the Conservatives went ahead, without really any consultation, and now we are feeling the effects.
If members look up their community in the census and look at the statistics that are provided with the national household survey, up in the top right corner, members will probably see a little yellow triangle that warns that the data is questionable. It is there for almost every community across Canada. In fact, I just pulled up Burnaby, and the non-response rate in Burnaby was almost one-quarter of the people. It means that statisticians do not have the kind of data they need to make accurate projections. Burnaby is not a big community, just 220,000 people. It should be fairly easy to collect information there, but because of the changes that have been made, now we do not know whether the information is credible.
In fact, the national household survey that has now replaced the mandatory long form census survey has caused quite an uproar. It not only had municipalities and researchers upset, but just after it was introduced, the chief statistician resigned.
I hang around with statisticians, and they are very dedicated to their jobs. They are not political people. In fact, scientists get quite nervous when partisan politics are brought in. Therefore, when a chief statistician resigns, it shows us that something very significant has happened, which was something he did not feel he could put his name to. In fact, I think if members asked any statistician in this country, they would see what a grave error the Conservative government has made.
There are very good reasons for complaints. When we had the mandatory long form census, we had a 94% response rate. This is a high enough rate for us to accurately say every five years what was going on in each community in Canada. Now we have a 68% response rate. I think a lot of people at home probably are not getting closer to their televisions wondering what that means, but it is very important for ordinary Canadians.
Local government is an area that I have studied in the past. I am just finishing a text book on local government in Canada. There are 4,000 municipalities in Canada, but now more than 1,000 of them do not have any census information.
I used to work in the planning department of the City of Vancouver. One of my jobs was to take the census information to create profiles of communities to show how age groups and ethnicities had changed. This allowed planners to say, “We need new facilities there”, or allowed businesses to say, “Maybe this is a place where we should locate or move”.
For thousands of communities across Canada, this information does not exist. We are basically back to the 1800s in planning where new facilities should go and where businesses need to locate. If a Tim Horton's is looking where to put the next Time Horton's, the first place it would go is to census information to find out where the market is that will buy its product.
For a lot of communities in Canada, that information does not exist any more. When companies go to the Election Canada website to pull up the statistics sheet, a little yellow triangle will now show up in the right-hand corner. That undermines their confidence in their ability to predict where they should locate their businesses. Over the long term, this will have very serious economic impacts. I really think the Conservatives should reconsider this and vote in favour of the bill to ensure that we do not fall behind the international community.
If they continue along this path and keep removing these kinds of requirements to report our statistics accurately, there is some potential for international ramifications; for example, we have to provide the International Monetary Fund and World Bank accurate unemployment numbers and those types of things. I hope they do not start tinkering with the labour force survey, as was suggested a little while ago, because we may very well get kicked out of these international organizations if we start acting like North Korea in how we collect statistics. It is not a very good idea.
In Saskatchewan, over 40% of communities have no census data, and because the Conservatives want to stick with this as we move forward through the next census-taking, once again, another 40% of communities in Saskatchewan will have no census data for more than a decade. If we think of the population that is exploding there, especially first nations, there will be no accurate census done. When we are trying to plan for education, where to locate schools and perhaps where to close schools, and all of those types of things, we are making our local planners fly blind. That is a huge mistake. More than 25 per cent of communities in Yukon, Newfound and Labrador, P.E.I., New Brunswick, Manitoba, and Alberta do not have accurate information either. This is a real problem.
Nowhere else in the world have they done this. In the U.S., the Americans tried it and immediately reversed course because it damaged their economy.
We debate the economy a lot here and hear a lot of rhetoric, but what is really important is that we base our economic projections, locally, provincially, and nationally, on the best data we can get. Unfortunately, this data source, our most important data source in the country, has been destroyed by the Conservatives who say they are protecting basic rights to liberty or whatever. We can do that in other ways, but messing with this census was a big mistake. I think the Conservatives will pay the price. This is what we hear from people on the ground who say they would like to get information about their community but cannot get it. They get angry hearing that the Conservatives abolished this for no reason.
It is not just municipalities, it is not just businesses, but it is also social scientists who are concerned about this. I think this move adds to the Conservative war on science. Not only do the Conservatives muzzle scientists, not only have they fired over 4,000 scientists from the federal rolls and cut a billion dollars billion from science funding, but this is also just another knock against intellectual work in this country. I really think this is building up to something. People have written books about this accumulation of attacks on knowledge and science in Canada.
Again, I would like to applaud my friend for bringing this forward. I definitely will be voting for the bill.
I would also like to call attention to my efforts to bring in a parliamentary science officer, an independent officer of the legislature, perhaps an auditor general for science, who would protect science and give us good, accurate advice on whether these types of actions are something we should be doing and ensure that we are making science-based policy decisions in the House.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you very much for your time today and, again, I congratulate my friend on a very good bill.
Private Members' Business
November 7th, 2014 / 1:15 p.m.
Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON
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.
Private Members' Business
November 7th, 2014 / 1:35 p.m.
Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-626 and its proposed amendments to the Statistics Act.
Our government is committed to balancing the need to collect reliable statistical data, while protecting the privacy of Canadians and reducing costs to taxpayers.
Canadians expect their government to put in place meaningful statistical programs that provide the information needed for governments, businesses, municipalities, associations and university researchers, while reducing the response burden and cost to taxpayers.
This government understands the importance of collecting reliable data in order to make informed decisions. We are not, however, prepared to force Canadians to give detailed private information to government officials at a great cost to taxpayers.
As with all activities across government, Canadians deserve to see clear lines of accountability in the programs their government puts in place. It is the government's responsibility to ensure these programs respond to the needs of Canadians. The amendments my colleague across the floor is proposing would negatively affect the governance and accountability of Statistics Canada and the timeliness of data collection. They would be costly to taxpayers and would reverse steps the government has already taken to alleviate this burden on Canadians.
This bill attempts to change the method for appointing the chief statistician, shifting part of that responsibility from the Governor-in-Council to other players. This government is committed to ensuring clear lines of accountability for all Governor-in-Council appointments.
These amendments would blur the accountabilities of the chief statistician, who is currently appointed like other deputy ministers. Canadians expect accountability in government decisions, and we have continued to make appointments in a fair and consistent manner.
The bill also attempts to shift decision-making powers from the minister and the Governor-in-Council to the chief statistician with regard to the overall statistical program.
The bill would see the chief statistician rather than the Governor-in-Council deciding on content for any census. Any questions that are asked on a mandatory basis, with legal penalties for non-compliance, should be approved by our elected officials. The change my colleague is proposing would upset the current balance between the advisory and implementation role of officials and the decision making accountability of the minister to Parliament.
Moreover, the chief statistician already has a broad range of powers and responsibilities to ensure the integrity of the statistical program and to protect the privacy rights of Canadians. The proposed changes will strip accountability away, changing what is already a robust and balanced process.
The bill also unrealistically would commit Statistics Canada to adopting ambiguous international best practices regarding data collection and ethical standards and guidelines. Statistics Canada already employs international standards when these standards are suitable to the Canadian context. To prescribe the adoption of international best practices in law would not give Statistics Canada the flexibility it needs to apply best practices, ethical standards and guidelines that meet Canadian values and norms.
The bill also seeks to mandate the publication of all surveys in the Canada Gazette that meet the same ambiguous international best practices. This is an unnecessary and unrealistic requirement as Statistics Canada already publishes detailed information on all surveys on its website. To force the publication of over 350 surveys per year would significantly increase costs and red tape associated with surveys and reduce the timeliness of data. This obligation would grind Statistics Canada operations to a halt, would increase the cost of operations, and would seriously limit its ability to respond to user needs for data in a timely manner.
Bill C-626 also attempts to reverse the important decisions this government has made to reduce the burden on Canadians and to protect their privacy. It prescribes that all Canadians be forced to respond to a long form questionnaire and also defines the parameters of such a survey. This would be a regressive step as it would legally compel Canadians to respond to all census questions however intrusive.
This government has already taken steps to ensure that certain census questions, the ones pertaining to establishing the population, calculating transfer payments and determining government policy, remain mandatory. The government has also decided that other questions are unnecessarily intrusive and a breach of the privacy of Canadians.
The bill fails to respect that balance and seeks to reverse these decisions, compelling Canadians to answer mandatory questions with legal recourse if they fail to comply. Therefore, these aspects of the bill cannot be supported.
Our government committed to removing the jail-time penalties for Canadians who refused to participate in mandatory surveys. The bill before us would partially accomplish this, yet it does not go far enough in removing this threat. When Canadians respond to surveys about their private lives, they should be able to do so without the threat of jail time. They should be able to provide their responses without having to face the threat of jail should they choose not to answer private questions.
Canadians expect their government to be tough on crime and to stand up for victims. Prison sentences are penalties meant for criminals—murderers, drug traffickers, and child abusers—not for people who do not comply with mandatory surveys or who fail to provide administrative data.
As promised during the last election, the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London has brought forward legislation that would go further in removing this penalty. I would encourage my colleagues to support that bill when it comes forward for debate.
This government takes the statistical program seriously and has taken many steps to establish a fair balance between the collection of relevant data and protecting the privacy rights of Canadians. Statistics Canada has long been one of the world's most respected statistical agencies, and Canadians deserve an institution that continues to remain at the forefront of its field.
This government will continue to work hard and ensure that statistical programs remain relevant and cost-effective while respecting the privacy rights of Canadians.
Private Members' Business
November 7th, 2014 / 1:40 p.m.
Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill C-626, an act to amend the Statistics Act, regarding the chief statistician and mandatory long-form census. As I said in my question to the member, New Democrats will be supporting the bill and look forward to discussion at committee, if the Conservatives will agree to support the bill.
Over the years where this conversation has been happening in the House, the New Democrats have been consistent that we support the maintenance of the mandatory long-form census. We think it is an important document in terms of evaluating government programs and services and providing information for all levels of government when they are developing programs to address social policy issues. We believe that this form does need to be restored in its 1971 format.
I heard the member opposite talk about how effective this national household survey was. Let me read into the record some of the problems with it.
Mandatory surveys are typically used when taking a census due to high response rates. The mandatory census response rate was approximately 94%, whereas the voluntary national household survey response rate was 68%. Rural communities were especially under-represented, causing Statistics Canada to withhold data on 1,128 communities. In Saskatchewan, over 40% of communities have data of such low quality that it will not be published. This figure is over 25% in the Yukon, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Alberta. Voluntary surveys typically also have lower response rates for visible minorities, including aboriginal people and women.
Although many of us do get called at home for polls and surveys, and so on, I would argue that some people will respond to voluntary surveys and some will not. Therefore, the voluntary survey approach that the government has taken has failed to provide the kind of year-over-year comparable data that is very useful in terms of developing policy.
When this discussion was happening about cancelling the long-form census, there were outcries from across the country from all kinds of different organizations, academics and governments. I want to read something from 2010, prior to this decision taking effect. An op-ed by the C.D. Howe Institute was called “Cancelling the 2011 Census Long Form: Libertarians Take Out the Wrong Target”.
It is an interesting article because the focus is the fact that this kind of information gathered year over year allows citizens to hold their governments to account, and it gave a couple of very concrete examples of this. The C.D. Howe Institute said:
...the case for the long form is still strong. Not just because the voluntary survey will provide a less reliable picture of how Canadians live and work but because Statistics Canada's information—much of it based on the long-form census—is an essential tool for Canadians seeking to ensure that the state's use of its vast powers is effective and benign.
Take education. Most Canadian students receive instruction in public schools, and virtually all follow a curriculum, write tests and accept certification mandated by governments. Census information is invaluable for judging how well these systems work. C.D. Howe Institute research on aboriginal education, and on how students at particular schools do compared to what neighbourhood characteristics would predict—key tools for parents and taxpayers to demand better performance—would be impossible.
Or immigration. Canada's economic and social success is intimately linked to the economic and social success of new arrivals. Alarmingly, the average experience of immigrants in the Canadian labour market is deteriorating. Long-form data brought this problem to light; other long-form information on education, language and country of origin can help us address it.
The state plays a huge role in Canadian health care: Good information on personal and neighbourhood characteristics can help us know if we are healthier or sicker as a result. It redistributes income on a colossal scale: The long-form census can reveal much about the successes and failures of these programs. In all these areas, good information helps Canadians hold their governments to account.
Many critics of the decision to drop the census long form are talking past the people they need to persuade. Mandatory collection of such data is intrusive. The information it yields is imperfect. The question is whether we should put up with the costs and defects for the sake of the benefits—among the most vital of which is empowering Canadians with knowledge about how well, or poorly, they are governed.
For those who want government to do less but do it better, good information is indispensable. If the census long form is gone for good, libertarians will have won the wrong fight.
I thought that was a very interesting, telling article, because what we have seen from the current government is a continuing erosion of the ability of not only parliamentarians but other organizations to gain access to information. Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer has been forced into courts at times in order to get information to determine whether the government's figures are accurate.
It seems there are many who are saying that despite the potential for intrusion into Canadians' lives, that type of information is essential in determining how effectively government is operating. Therefore, a government that talks about openness, transparency, and accountability surely would want to make sure that the information is there to allow Canadians to determine that it is in fact open, transparent, and accountable.
With regard to the long form census and its impact on aboriginal communities, The Globe and Mail published an article in 2013. The article is headed “The lost long-form census means shakier insight into aboriginal issues”. This is what it says:
Canada’s public policy concerning aboriginal peoples continues to be perplexed, and the country needs more rather than less significant and reliable information about their lives and circumstances; many communities are afflicted by social problems. Consequently, the loss of the mandatory long-form census is acutely felt in Statistics Canada’s National Household Survey on First Nations, Métis and Inuit, which was released on Wednesday.
Several passages in the NHS allude to the difficulties of assembling solid statistics about aboriginals. The understandable ambivalence of some members of aboriginal communities about Canadian institutions can lead to a reluctance to answer census questions; a legal requirement was a real help. As Statistics Canada rightly says, “the characteristics of those who choose to participate” may – indeed probably do – differ from those who refuse, which undermines the information value of the survey as a whole.
I have an article from Dr. Janet Smylie, who talks about the importance of the long form census. I will not be able to read all of this document because I know I will be running out of time, but in it she indicates that the “social data systems in Canada are extremely deficient” with regard to aboriginal peoples:
We all know that First Nations, Indian, Metis, and Inuit health and social data systems in Canada are extremely deficient. We also all know that capacity (especially Aboriginal HR capacities) and infrastructure issues are a real challenge. We also all likely agree that historically and currently there have been/continue to be challenges in the way that Statistics Canada has interfaced with Aboriginal communities.
This said, the long form census is one of the key tools that we do have to understand the size of our populations and assess the conditions in which our peoples live, including the level of social disparity.... Without it our current data systems, weak as they are, will be severely disabled. While there are many problems with the national surveys run by Statistics Canada, including the APS and ACS, all of these surveys required the long form census to develop their population based sampling frame. For non-Status Indian, First Nations/Status Indians living off-reserve, Metis and Inuit communities the impacts of no long form census will be devastating, as this is the primary source of social and demographic information for our communities--and in most situations the only source, since we are otherwise hidden in the large majority of data sets. For example, the recent studies that demonstrated life expectancy disparities (including for the Inuit disparities of infant mortality in Inuit inhabited areas of up to four times those for non-Inuit inhabited areas) for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples would not have been possible without the long form census.
I know that in the past much of that long form census data has been used to shape policies with regard to health care, with regard to housing, with regard to education. With the loss of that data comes a major concern that the absence of good information will allow decision-makers to make up policy based on ideology rather than information.
One of the things I am hoping the member who proposed the bill will be open to at committee, if it gets to committee, is to look at the fact that gathering information on a year-over-year basis that would allow for comparability is not specifically included in the bill.
Any of us in this House who have tried to deal with estimates and with the changing formats in which they are presented know how critical it is to be able to look at historical data. We can look to see if there have been trends or changes and we can see if programs and services are having any kind of impact through some of the legislation and programs that have been developed.
I am hopeful that perhaps the Conservatives will see the light of day and allow this bill to go before committee so that we can hear testimony from witnesses, possibly amend the bill, and reinstate the long form census in Canada.
Private Members' Business
November 7th, 2014 / 1:50 p.m.
Emmanuel Dubourg Bourassa, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Bill C-626, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (appointment of Chief Statistician and long-form census), introduced by my colleague from Kingston and the Islands.
As parliamentarians, we have a duty to develop the best possible policies for the governance of our nation. We also have a duty to adjust our way of doing things and adapt our public institutions to society's progress. Our society is growing, both in terms of population and institutions, and we also want it to grow economically.
As society evolves, the policies that govern it must also evolve. Developing the appropriate policies requires an ever increasing degree of expertise and information.
As we go through our own renewal, we in the Liberal Party strongly believe that progress is critical to our public institutions and the democratic process. We believe that the holders of this expertise, whom we need to listen to rather than stifle, must be actively consulted. This expertise comes not only from Canadians all across the country who experience these realities, but also from scientists and specialists from every area that we choose to focus on.
The information, which is getting increasingly complex, comes primarily from reports, think tanks, experts and studies. The people we represent deserve to have us consult a greater variety of experts to ensure that we are best equipped to develop the policies that affect them. That is what we call evidence-based policy.
My colleague's bill is entirely consistent with this approach, which I wholeheartedly support. Since this government came to power, it has been opposed to the idea of developing evidence-based policy. While Canadian society continues to evolve and progress in terms of novel ways to access information and to develop commercially and intellectually, the government is trying to slow us down and limit the flow of information. The government has decided that information and its purveyors—such as scientists, the media, academics and even charities—are enemies. What does it prefer over evidence-based policy? It prefers politically based policy.
That is exactly what the government was trying to do when it abolished the long form census. Let us look at the merits of this census compared to the National Household Survey, which the government tried to use to replace the census in 2011.
First of all, one of the Conservatives' main arguments for getting rid of the long form census was the associated cost. In that regard, the verdict is clear: even in inflation-adjusted dollars, the administration of the 2011 survey cost $30 million more than the previous census.
The next issue is the government's oversight or the oversight it permits. Another one of the Conservatives' populist arguments was that abolishing the census would counter the surveillance of Canadians by major federal institutions. This argument alone must be assessed by weighing the loss of privacy against the collective good to society of the census.
Before discussing this issue, I would like to point out the extent to which this government, whose surveillance agencies are busy spying on Canadians here and around the world, is inconsistent. It does not hesitate to share Canadians' confidential information with Revenue Canada, other departments or even other countries. This government refuses to establish parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies. That is another example.
Therefore, it makes absolutely no sense for the government to tell Canadians that they are overly concerned about their privacy. Canadians do not ask questions about that, whereas the government does not hesitate to snoop on them without their knowledge.
Statistics are very useful. In order to understand why I believe we should bring back the long form census, we must understand the usefulness of the data collected. I already mentioned that not only the federal government, but also the provincial and municipal governments need reliable data to develop sound policy. The government cannot afford to base its policies on bad data.
For example, we need to know where in Canada people speak certain languages, especially French and English, in order to know where and how to provide services to Canadians. It is not just governments that need these data. The data are used by businesses to identify potential markets and by labour to assess job opportunities. When deciding how to manage their growth or provide their services, NGOs need to know who really needs their services and who can contribute.
Academic researchers, who shape our understanding of society and demographic or sociological phenomena, must also be able to refer to reliable data on the Canadian population. I have not even touched on the main value of the long form census. It is the anchor for every other study conducted by Statistics Canada and any other organization on the Canadian population. It is absolutely crucial to the reliability of every other study that is based on it.
In a completely ironic turn of events, the 2011 national household survey, which the government tried to use as a replacement for the long form census, used the data from the 2006 census to adjust its results.
If there was any need for another argument in favour of reinstating the long form census, the 2011 national household survey certainly provided it. Despite the hard work of experts at Statistics Canada, that study was terribly unreliable and in no way indicative of what we are capable of producing. The reason for that is quite clear. Because the study was voluntary, not enough people participated. Participation was about 65% and as low as 0% in some communities and for some groups. My colleague's bill aims to reinstate that anchor, the long form census.
Since time is running out, I wish to conclude by saying that I commend the thorough process followed by my colleague, the member for Kingston and the Islands, in fine-tuning his bill. The bill went through many versions and was improved at every stage of the consultations with, for example, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, as the member just said in his speech. The member also heard criticisms of the original legislation, particularly concerning possible prison sentences, which are no longer part of this bill. I wish to congratulate him on that.
That is how a consensus is built around a bill that is needed and that Canadians deserve. We must move forward with this bill if we want to have a reliable statistical base in order to better understand the population we represent, to develop more sound, thoughtful policies, and to provide services that will meet the specific needs of Canadians. If we want businesses to be able to recognize and take advantage of opportunities, if we want to understand the impact of our policies on Canadians, if we want to know the people who elected us to represent them and if we want to better serve them, we need to know these statistics. That is what Bill C-626 proposes.
We are quickly approaching 2016, and the brave staff at Statistics Canada will have to get to work soon to restore their pride and joy, the long form census, and to strip it of any political interference.
Private Members' Business
November 7th, 2014 / 2:05 p.m.
James Bezan Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-626 and the proposed amendments to the Statistics Act.
First and foremost, the government has consistently been committed to balancing the need to collect reliable statistical data while protecting the privacy of Canadians and reducing costs for our taxpayers.
Many aspects of the bill would negatively affect the governance and accountability of Statistics Canada, the timeliness of data collection, and would force Statistics Canada into adopting standards and practices that may be unsuitable for the Canadian context. Moreover, it would increase costs to taxpayers and impose an unnecessary burden on Canadians that has already been lifted. For these reasons, it is impossible for this government to support the bill.
Our government committed to the removal of jail-time penalties for not filling out mandatory surveys. The bill before us would partially accomplish this; however, the bill does not go far enough. While the bill seeks to remove the threat of jail time for Canadians refusing to respond to mandatory surveys, including the census, it would not remove this threat from other portions of the act.
We believe that when Canadians respond to surveys about their private lives, they should be able to do so in complete confidence, without the threat of imprisonment for failing to comply. We also believe that when Canadians take part in the survey, whether as an individual citizen or on behalf of an organization, they should never have to respond to questions or provide administrative data under the threat of imprisonment.
This government has committed to being tough on crime and has brought forward many measures to meet this commitment. We have also made standing up for victims a priority, to ensure that Canadians feel safer in their communities. We have worked to combat serious crimes, protecting some of the most vulnerable members in our society against harm and abuse.
We believe that our criminal law should be focused on actual criminals and should reflect the gravity of the crimes committed. Prison penalties should be reserved for criminals, drug traffickers, murders, and child abusers, but not for people who fail to comply with mandatory surveys or fail to provide administrative data. It is just like the Liberals: they want to turn law-abiding Canadians into criminals, either through this bill or with what they tried to do under the long gun registry.
There is no utility in threatening jail time for Canadians who refuse to fill out surveys, especially when this disciplinary measure has scarcely been enforced. There is only one individual in the history of the census who has ever been sentenced to custody for failing to complete a mandatory survey. In all other cases, which are few in number during each census cycle, the penalty of a fine or community service has been sufficient.
Canadians understand that their participation in the census is important. Their responses are necessary for establishing the population of the country, which is information that we need to define electoral districts and determine transfer payments involving billions of dollars to the provinces.
Canadians value the census, and this was no more evident than in the response rate of the last census in 2011, which was 97.1%. This highlights Canadians' commitment to helping us collect the information that we need to inform policies and programs right across the country.
However, it is this government's view that no Canadian should ever face the threat of imprisonment for refusing to fill out a census or a mandatory survey, or for refusing to grant access to administrative information. This is why, in keeping with our election promise, the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London has introduced Bill C-625, which proposes to remove the threat of jail time for all forms of data collection.
It was this government that stood up for Canadians and made the necessary changes to the census so that no Canadian would ever feel forced to answer intrusive questions that challenged their right to privacy. It was this government that worked to find a balance between the need to collect reliable, relevant data and the obligation to protect the privacy that Canadians value.
We have taken numerous steps to ensure that fundamental information, the information that is so important to Canadians in communities across the country that it must remain mandatory, continues to be collected.
The government has also decided that Canadians should not be forced to respond to detailed questions about their private lives, and has since adopted the national household survey. This survey provides a better balance between collecting reliable data and protecting the privacy rights of Canadians.
This government has the utmost respect for the right to privacy that all Canadians deserve, and we believe that when Canadians participate in mandatory surveys, they should be able to do so without the threat of imprisonment. Prison is meant for criminals, not for those who do not comply with mandatory surveys or fail to provide administrative data.
The current bill would not take the issue far enough and would not remove the unnecessary imprisonment threat for all forms of data collection.
September 22nd, 2014 / 3:10 p.m.
Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-626, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (appointment of Chief Statistician and long-form census).
Mr. Speaker, in the game of chess it is said that if one sees a good move, look for an even better one.
After feedback from experts and stakeholders, I am pleased to present a refinement of my Bill C-562, an act to amend the Statistics Act. This amended bill explicitly acknowledges that new sources of data or data collection practices would be available in the future and would not simply reinstate the long form census in its recent form. It would require what was really important, the continuity of data series and the maintenance for improvement of data quality.
The proposed bill will also clarify that not all ministerial orders to the Chief Statistician or to Statistics Canada shall be published in the new Canada Gazette, but only if they fall within the scope of technical or methodological guidelines and ethical standards, which the Chief Statistician is required to post, maintain and archive on the Statistics Canada website.
The amended bill will expand the duties of its Chief Statistician to include keeping the public informed about the importance of gathering accurate statistical information and consulting with stakeholders on matters pertaining to the census.
I hope all members will see fit to support the bill to safeguard the quality of the information used for managing this country.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)