Evidence of meeting #58 for Industry, Science and Technology in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was mandatory.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Larry Shute  Deputy Director General, Economic Research and Policy Analysis Branch, Strategic Policy Sector, Department of Industry
Francis Lord  Committee Researcher

9 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

On division.

(Clause 3 agreed to on division)

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

Shall clause 4 carry?

9 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

On division.

(Clause 4 agreed to on division)

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

We will move to clause 5. We are at PV-2.

(On clause 5)

Ms. May, you have the floor.

9 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

This amendment again was one recommended from the evidence that the committee has heard. As much as one would like to think that Bill C-36 made it impossible for the political interference and the collection of statistics that we saw in the 41st Parliament from ever happening again, from the decision that was made by Tony Clement, one must pause for a moment and say that Munir Sheikh is probably one of the bravest, most dedicated civil servants this country has ever seen. He lost his job rather than see Statistics Canada fail to do a mandatory long-form census while the minister pretended that nobody had told him that it would be a bad decision. I would urge the government to consider bringing back Munir Sheikh, because there you have a person of such impeccable integrity that we would know that our Statistics Canada division was run by someone who is independent.

However, the law at this point, as drafted, won't ensure that we won't see that happen again, so my amendment goes to the issue of the potential for interpretations by the court, that the questions that go to a particular segment of the population, and not to every Canadian, are somehow not mandatory. As you see, after line 36, on page 4, I would insert PV-2:

The census of population and census of agriculture are mandatory even if not all the questions are addressed to all respondents and regardless of the method used to obtain the information.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

Thank you.

Is there any debate?

Mr. Masse.

9:05 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

To the mover, this would make the agricultural census a mandatory census. Is that correct?

9:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

It would make it mandatory to answer the questions in every part of the census that was sent out, including. This is to avoid a misinterpretation by the court, and this is based on evidence that Wayne Smith gave to this committee. So, yes, it would make all questions in the census addressed to all households mandatory.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

Mr. Longfield.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Thanks for clarifying that. I'm looking at this as something that we already have in paragraph 22(b). Agriculture is on the list of census, and our census procedures are outlined in paragraph 22(b). It looks to me as though this is something we're already doing.

9:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

The evidence of Mr. Smith was that there were still some loopholes in terms of specific questions that were not asked to every household, and it goes to an interpretation by the court that could be made. So I agree with you that on the reading of that section, one would think that every question goes to households and that all questions all mandatory, but the court had, in the 2011 case, said that questions are mandatory if they're part of the census, but to be part of the census they have to go to all households. The issue was that if you are asking specific questions that don't go to all households, are the sections with those particular questions not considered under the rubric of the general statement that you have to answer all questions on the census. It's not whether answering questions on the census is mandatory; it's whether questions that go to only some households are considered part of the general census.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Could I ask Mr. Shute to clarify that?

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

Yes.

May 4th, 2017 / 9:05 a.m.

Larry Shute Deputy Director General, Economic Research and Policy Analysis Branch, Strategic Policy Sector, Department of Industry

Under the existing act, both the census of population and the census of agriculture are mandatory. There is a long-established tradition of the long form being part of the census, so therefore it's mandatory. Under Bill C-36 we actually assign to the chief statistician the ability to make mandatory any request for information. He makes the long-form census mandatory. For example, he could make the national household survey, if it was continued, mandatory. It's his decision. It's part of the methodology for collecting that is assigned to him under Bill C-36.

For example, if you look at the long-form census from this year, which was mandatory after the government reinstated it, the title of it was “2016 Census of Population questions, long form (National Household Survey)”.

That power is now with the chief statistician.

9:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

On the potential for an interpretation remaining open for a court or government to claim that if it is only to certain households it's not part of the general census because it's not found in the law as opposed to it being at the discretion of the chief statistician, we're attempting to close off something for potential future court challenges around the mandatory nature of the survey of households and the long-form census.

I know that in practice, the statistician can say this is mandatory. In practice, some sections can be seen as being part of the general survey even though they go only to certain households. The reality of the threat is that there could be a future interpretation by the court to say that the act doesn't specifically say that questions that go to only some people by a different method are somehow still part of the general survey.

9:10 a.m.

Deputy Director General, Economic Research and Policy Analysis Branch, Strategic Policy Sector, Department of Industry

Larry Shute

Right, but in general the chief statistician would now have the authority.

In the current system, all business surveys are mandatory. On the household side, the census is mandatory, and the labour force survey is the only other mandatory household survey at this point. If the chief statistician decided for technical or methodological reasons that a mandatory survey for something such as health was required to elicit the information that the government wants, he could make it mandatory. The long-form census is a survey. He has the authority for the methodology, the survey methods, including it being mandatory versus voluntary.

9:10 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

I accept that this is your interpretation. I remain concerned. The benefit of the amendment that I am proposing is that there not be any room for a court to say that there is a difference between the survey methods, which then makes one set of questions different from another set of questions, and avoiding potentially political interference with the census process in the future.

Again, it's based on evidence that we have from our former chief statistician that such an amendment would be valuable.

9:10 a.m.

Deputy Director General, Economic Research and Policy Analysis Branch, Strategic Policy Sector, Department of Industry

Larry Shute

In my recollection, there were some court cases in the early 1980s of people refusing to fill out the census—the long-form portion—because it was a sample. Under the old act, there was potential for that to be contentious. Under the proposed amendments, that would no longer be the case. It would be clear that any survey—and that includes the long-form census, which doesn't go to the whole population—can be designated as mandatory by the chief statistician.

9:10 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

In a future court action, should there ever be one, the conversation we've just had will be on the record, and it is the legislative intent of Parliament that this be mandatory, affecting all questions as the chief statistician determines. Even though my concern remains, it is somewhat allayed by knowing that this committee, your evidence, and the legislative process around this bill confirm that the legislative intent is that questions be mandatory as the chief statistician sets them out, regardless of the method used and regardless of whether it goes only to a portion of the households. I hope it won't ever go to court again, but at least this conversation is part of the record of why we want to make sure that this census is mandatory.

Thank you.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

I see no further debate on PV-2.

(Amendment negatived)

We're going to move to CPC-1. Mr. Nuttall, you have the floor.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Alex Nuttall Conservative Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Do I need to actually move the amendment?

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

Yes, you have to move the amendment.

Go ahead, Mr. Masse.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Sorry. We have a series of competing amendments that are similar. Is there anything consequential with this one, with regard to the following motions?

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

It's similar to NDP-4.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

There is a procedural issue to find out whether it makes NDP-4 either inadmissible or inconsequential, or whether NDP-4 is still different enough to carry on its own. Anyway, I'll let the clerk....