Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Bill C-568, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (mandatory long-form census).
This bill is a direct response to the government's desire to abolish the mandatory long form for the 2011 Census. Recently, Quebeckers and Canadians were very surprised to learn that the government had decided to change the long form questionnaire. In fact, it had been used for 35 years and, as a member, I had never received any complaints from my constituents. I have held office since 2000 and 20% of the population receives this form at some point according to the statistical requirements. People do not find it to be a problem. Otherwise, as they do in other circumstances, they would complain to their MP. Thus, it was very surprising. I asked my Bloc Québécois colleagues and none have received complaints about the mandatory long form questionnaire. It was a surprise.
When the Conservatives surprise us like this, we have to look at what is behind it all. I was listening to the Conservative member read the text prepared for him. It was all right. He concluded by stating that we must encourage Canadians to fill out the new short form. That is a fine idea. It has not gone well for them. People are unhappy that the Conservatives are making these changes. What the member did not talk about was the political strategy behind it. In fact, when the Conservatives announce this kind of surprise it is because there is a political strategy that masks the Conservative ideology. That is the reality. Once again, the Conservatives dare not openly state the reasons for this decision. That is the Conservative way: they always try to hide the reality and are never transparent.
I was very surprised by another fact as well. First of all, we are no longer hearing anything from the hon. member for Beauce, who spoke out saying that he had received thousands of emails, although that was not true. He is so embarrassed that he has not said another word about this issue since. That is true. We might try to understand what is behind this policy, which no one asked for. It was quite something to see. The Chief Statistician of Statistics Canada resigned because the minister had the nerve to say, during his first speech on the issue, that it was at the request of Statistics Canada. It has since been clearly proven that Statistics Canada definitely did not ask for the change.
Thus, it was a political decision based on Conservative ideology. The Conservatives probably realize that certain categories of people would rather not answer the questionnaire. This is even more serious. Indeed, the accuracy of the information requested, provided and compiled by Statistics Canada was recognized around the world.
In addition, some people might still believe that possible jail time was a problem, since jail time was included in the legislation. The Conservatives say they want to eliminate such sentences. So be it. We can agree easily, simply because no criminal charges have ever been brought against someone who did not fill out the form.
Quebeckers, Canadians and members of Parliament have to live with a government that pulls rabbits out of its political hat and thinks it will win votes by allowing people not to fill out the long form. That is what the government bill comes down to. The form is now shorter, but it is not mandatory. In keeping with its ideology, the government is telling people that it will not force them to fill out a form, despite the fact that many organizations want it.
I do not have much time, so I will list just a few of the organizations that have asked the government to keep the long form. First, the Province of Quebec needs these statistics, which are a very important tool with respect to language of work and language used at home, for example. The government shortened the five questions on the mandatory form and added others. The Government of Quebec, the homeland of francophones in North America, needs statistics about the language used by the people who live in Quebec.
Other provinces have opposed this move for other reasons. Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba have all asked Ottawa to maintain the mandatory long form. They are all important members of what my Conservative colleagues call the Canadian federation. Once again, the federation is not based on negotiation, particularly not with the current Conservative government, which negotiates nothing.
A number of major stakeholders have reacted. These include the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Association francophone pour le savoir, the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d'université, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau-Brunswick, the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the Canadian Association for Business Economics.
Many organizations do not understand the government's decision and are asking it to reconsider and not go ahead with this bad idea, which would change a good way of doing things. People respected the mandatory long form and filled it out. No charges were ever laid against anyone for failing to comply. The long form provided information of great importance to society.
The Conservatives have made a big deal in the House about asking why it would be necessary to know the number of rooms in a house. For a furniture retailer or a company selling renovation materials, it is important to know future trends in these areas. Do homes have fewer or more rooms?
The Conservatives do not get it. That is why we always come back to the question: what is the political reason behind the Conservatives' decision to change the census form? Again, they are trying to please a segment of the population that is not in Quebec. Quebeckers did not complain about having to fill out this form. If we ask, perhaps the Conservatives will tell us what category of people they were targeting when they decided to remove the mandatory nature of the long form.
I agree with them on replacing criminal sentences with a simple fine, given that such sentences have never been handed down. The Bloc Québécois would have gladly supported the government on that.
Because of all the important information that was being used by both Quebec's and Canada's civil society and corporations, we are supporting the bill before us to reinstate the mandatory long form census, as Quebec, Ontario and other provinces are calling for.