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House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and a privilege today to rise to contribute to the debate on Bill C-568. I want to begin by thanking the hon. member for St. Paul's for taking the time and using her expertise to draft this legislation for our consideration.

It is not just a noble exercise, however. This is an exercise in actually saving taxpayer money. This will not require a royal recommendation because it will not cost more money. In fact, we estimate it will save $30 million for the Canadian taxpayers. That is a noble gesture in this time of wasteful government, wasteful spending, that we are not only going to get better information, but we are going to get it more cheaply. That needs to be said in the House.

The particular concern I raise today has to do with the multicultural communities of Canada, the ethnic, national, religious and cultural communities of Canada, which have expressed a great deal of concern about future programs, future government spending and the way we will live together as a country if we do not have accurate data that looks at population trends, ethnic trends and the way language will be develop in many parts of the country.

I raised this concern particularly after a meeting with government officials. I met with government officials when I was named multiculturalism critic. I had a number of senior officials from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration come to help me in understanding the multicultural fabric of Canada. They presented a deck, as they call it these days, with information about all the cultural communities both in rural and urban Canada. We went through pages and pages of information about the nature and the changing nature of the ethnic communities of Canada.

Toward the end of the presentation, I paused and I asked these officials where the information had come from. They said that information was collected in the census. I asked if the information was garnered from the short form census or from the long form of the census. They said that it came from the long form census. I asked them how they would get that information in the next census if we did not have a long form census. There was a long pause and finally, the officials acknowledged that they would not have the information to do the kind of programming they wanted to do. The director who was there stopped and said that they would have the information, but the officials corrected him and said that they would get information, but it would not be accurate.

Information that is not accurate is not information. In fact, it is dangerous because the wrong decisions can be made if we do not have the right information that we can look at the veracity of the information. It is more dangerous to have wrong information than no information.

Luckily the minister had a special assistant in the meeting who was monitoring the officials and the information they would give the critic for the official opposition. I asked the minister's staff member how the minister felt about this. Again there was a pause, and the minister's staff person said that I would have to ask the Minister of Industry that question.

This indicates to me that there is concern among cabinet members about this decision as well. Not only do the officials worry about it, not only do over 350 community groups worry about it, not only does every provincial government and municipal government in the country worry about it, not only do school boards worry about it, not only do service agencies worry about it and the United Way and the various other organizations across the country, but there seems to be concern in the government itself about this.

When a political staffer is worried that we might actually ask his minister about this and ensures that we talk to the minister responsible for this one program, there has been some dissension. I am glad there is some dissension because that shows there might actually be a spark of life on that side. There might actually be a spark of somebody thinking that what is happening is wrong. It is narrowly defined. It is ideologically based and it is just plain stupid.

We need the census data. We need the data that will inform Canadians about our future. Census is not about the past. It is not even really about the present. However, when it is scientifically gathered and scientifically analyzed, it is about the future. We extrapolate and we interpolate from that information so we can do planning.

In my riding of Don Valley West there is a neighbourhood called Thorncliffe Park, which is one of the largest areas for newcomers who come to this city. Thirty-five thousand people live in Thorncliffe Park. Right now Thorncliffe Park Public School has 1,900 children in kindergarten to grade 5. It is the largest elementary school in North America with 54 languages and kids from every part of the world. We want to know where those kids live, the languages spoken in their homes and how many live in apartments.

The Toronto Community House Corporation is responsible for ensuring we have appropriate housing for people in the city of Toronto. TCHC wants to know the information that is on the long form census. It has appealed to us. The Toronto District School Board has appealed to us. We are trying to decide if it is better to have a school that will be split into two or into three or whether we should build one in another area. The decision is probably firm that we will have a kindergarten school with 800 children in kindergarten in one school.

We would not know that if it were not for the 2006 census that gave us a projection so we can start to track. We do not build a new school unless we have the right information. We do not get the right information unless we have a long form census.

One of the reasons this is critical for newer Canadians is because some of them have come from regimes where they are nervous about giving information. They are nervous about government interference. We respect that, but they also know that if it is mandatory they will fill it out.

Newer Canadians will be grossly under represented in the government's planning if there is no mandatory long form census. They will not be counted.

In previous governments, Statistics Canada had the motto, “Count Yourself In”. The present government is saying “Count Yourself Out”. No Canadian deserves to hear that from their government. We cannot count ourselves out. We will be spending more money but getting less information. We will be spending more but every statistician around the world has said that it will not be valuable information.

I cannot believe that members opposite are not hearing from their constituents the same thing I am hearing from mine. I am not convinced at all that they have not heard from their school boards, their city and municipal councils and their provincial governments about the folly that is going on in this decision.

This is critical to the people of Don Valley West and to the people of Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park where newcomers live. These people want to participate in this country and they want to know that schools will be built for their kids and hospitals will be built. Everything that government money is spent on needs to be spent wisely, carefully and effectively. It is based on information.

The plural of anecdote is not information. We cannot just take anecdotes and decide government policy. We cannot take information that is unreliable and think that it will actually have an effect. What we need to do is stop.

We need to support this private member's bill and we need to thank the member forSt. Paul's. We need to press the pause button on this. It is never too late to do the right thing. It is never too late to honour the commitment to the future. It is never too late to build a government program that will actually work and save taxpayer money.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Kenora Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, in the time I have left I will highlight a few technical pieces around the sections that the bill seeks to amend, sections 19 and 31.

The proposed amendment under section 19 would provide that the census of population include a long form questionnaire. This questionnaire would be distributed to 20% of the households or the percentage determined by the Chief Statistician to ensure an accurate statistical representation of the Canadian population.

The proposed amendment under section 31 would provide for the removal of the penalty of imprisonment.

By virtue of section 8 of the Statistics Act, all census are mandatory. It is the government's responsibility to determine the content of that census. For the 2011 census, the government decided that the census would have 10 questions on demographic and language information such as birth, gender, marital status, mother tongue, home language and knowledge of official languages, obviously placing a real priority in those regards, as well as a question on the consent to release personal census information after 92 years.

It is the government's duty to examine the options presented by Statistics Canada as well as to listen to Canadians and other concerned groups and organizations.

Based on all the available information, the government decided that asking the long form census questions on a voluntary basis in the national household survey would provide a better balance between collecting necessary data and protecting the privacy of Canadians.

The government does not believe that citizens who may have a conscientious objection to giving private information to government representatives should be forced to do so in the long form census. This reflects the government's strong commitment to protecting privacy.

We need to ask ourselves if a mandatory long form census questionnaire is the best way to obtain this information. While there is undeniably great value attached to census data, we must also consider the important principle of privacy protection. Is it right to force people to provide personal information under the threat of jail or fines?

I believe that asking the long form census questions on a voluntary basis in the national household survey provides a better balance between collecting necessary data and protecting the privacy of Canadians. We do not believe that citizens, who may conscientiously object to giving private information to government officials, should be forced to do so in the long form census.

We understand that the national household survey will have an impact on data quality. Nevertheless, I am confident that this new survey will establish a balance between the requirement of governments, businesses, municipalities and associations for good information and the willingness of Canadians to provide that information. This government is also well aware that without good information, informed decisions are difficult to make.

The national household survey will produce accurate estimates for a wide variety of geographic areas and populations of sub-groups. These areas range from very large, such as provinces and census metropolitan areas, to small, such as municipalities. It will also include groups such as aboriginals and immigrants.

Statistics Canada will monitor the results closely by applying the same thorough methods and standards for the national household survey as it does for all of its voluntary surveys.

As I close, I would like to inform my colleagues that the government intends to introduce legislation this fall to remove the threat of jail time in section 31 for persons refusing to fill out the census and all mandatory surveys administered by Statistics Canada. The government bill would remove the threat of jail in section 32 for persons refusing or neglecting to grant access to information or wilfully obstructing or seeking to obstruct Statistics Canada officials.

Statistics ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 2:10 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, November 15 at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:10 p.m.)