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House of Commons Hansard #70 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It has been brought to the attention of the Chair that at the beginning of his presentation, the member for Windsor West asked if his time could be split with the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. That was missed by the Chair and the table officers, but it is my understanding that it did happen.

As a result, there are three minutes remaining in the NDP time slot, so at this point I would like to give those three minutes to the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan to make her comments. There will be no questions and answers. Then we will continue with the regular rotation.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate even the very short time I have to speak.

I want to acknowledge the good work that the member for Windsor West has done on the need to keep the long form census in place. My office has received a flood of emails, letters and phone calls from individuals as well as from organizations and city councils that are very concerned about the impact on their ability to plan long term in order to ensure they have services in place for their citizens.

I want to quickly refer to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I will refer to article 14, which states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.

I referenced in my question to the member for Windsor West the fact that the Métis nation itself has indicated that there is no other database that captures some of the issues facing the Métis nation. For others, there are also very serious concerns.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs sent out some information titled, “Census is key to our survival”. In the release by the grand chief, he indicated:

The importance of the census is that the federal government uses the numbers to determine funding to provinces as well as First Nations--

For First Nations, where younger populations and overcrowding mean the federal government must provide funds for education and housing, this information is critical.

Now the government is attempting to make the long form census voluntary, which means many people will not fill it out. In fact, a poll shows that the majority of people who are most likely to fill out the census accurately earn over $80,000 per year, have a university education and no children.

This is hardly a realistic depiction of First Nations in Canada. Further, it means that the federal government can point to census numbers to say we do not need funding for homes and education--

Because the federal government affects almost every part of our lives, every First Nation person must understand that in order to make change, they must be part of the change.

He went on to say that they needed to vote in federal elections and fill out the census.

Of course, I had a number of other initiatives I wanted to touch on, but I can only emphasize the importance of the mandatory long form census in terms of developing social and economic policy in this country. It is the reliability and credibility of the data that we collect on an ongoing basis that allows us the retrospective to see where we have come from and to do some projections about where we want to be.

I urge all members in the House to support this motion. I am hoping that the government, in its wisdom, will listen to the concerns that are being raised from coast to coast to coast on the importance of this long form census in terms of developing that very important policy for the future of our country.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Burlington.

It is my pleasure to rise today to talk about the recently announced change from a mandatory long-form census questionnaire to the volunteer national household survey.

Every five years, Statistics Canada conducts a national census on behalf of the federal government. Since 1971 it has comprised a short form, with basic demographic and language questions, and a long form, to obtain more detailed socio-demographic information.

The 2006 census long form was 40 pages and went to 20% of households. In addition to the short-form questions, it asked questions in such areas as language, education, labour market, housing, ethnicity, citizenship and immigration, and income.

Section 31 of the Statistics Act states that a person who refuses or neglects to furnish information or who knowingly gives false information required under the act, such as for census questions, is liable, on summary conviction, to a maximum fine of $500 or to imprisonment not exceeding three months or both.

Our government does not believe that this threat of a fine or jail time, or both, is appropriate when it comes to a long-form census. This is why our government announced that we would no longer punish Canadians for choosing not to complete the 40-page, 61-question plus 36-subquestion long-form survey sent to 20% of the households.

Critics of this decision believe that if a Canadian refuses to fill out the 61-question long form, that person deserves to be prosecuted and given a criminal record. Clearly, this is just not right.

The government asked Statistics Canada to provide options for administrating a voluntary long-form questionnaire. I want to be clear on this point. Our government took the decision to put an end to the concept of threatening Canadians with fines and/or jail time for not completing the 40-page long form. We then sought options from Statistics Canada on how to implement a reliable survey. This led to the creation and implementation of the national household survey.

This reasoned and responsible approach is about finding a better balance between collecting necessary data and protecting the privacy rights of Canadians. Furthermore, this government has announced plans this fall to remove the penalty of imprisonment from section 31 of the Statistics Act.

Now, as Statistics Canada has noted, a voluntary long-form survey offers challenges. In particular, efforts will need to be made to maintain quality data, and Statistics Canada provided options as to how to address these challenges. The options provided included increasing the sample size of the national household survey.

In 2011, the new survey will be sent to 4.5 million households. This means that one in three Canadian households will receive the survey, compared to one in five households who received the old long-form census.

The census has evolved over time. Questions are modified, added, and deleted, taking into account a number of factors, such as consultation feedback, support to legislation, program and policy needs, respondent burden, privacy concerns, quality, cost, operational considerations, historical compatibility, and availability of alternative data sources.

Collection methods have also evolved. For example, in 1971, Canadians began to complete the questionnaire themselves rather than provide answers to an interpreter or interviewer, as in the past. Beginning in 2006, Canadians were given the option of providing their answers via the Internet.

The content of the national household survey is similar to the 2006 census long form, with 66 questions. It will provide information on key populations for public policy, including aboriginal peoples, recent immigrants, youth, seniors, and visible minorities. The national household survey will include questions on income and housing, which measure crowding and identify housing needs, for example, leading to the development of community housing programs.

It also includes questions on commuting and place of work, which are used in commuting pattern studies, leading to improvements in transportation infrastructure, public transit, and support programs.

Our national household survey content includes education, labour market, language, ethnicity, aboriginal peoples, and immigration and citizenship. Information from these markets, then, analyzed together, can provide insight into the labour market integration of various segments of the population such as, for example, youth, recent immigrants, or aboriginal peoples. This will lead to the development of various programs, such as those related to foreign credential recognition, skills and language training for those lacking knowledge of official languages, and programs aimed at narrowing the education gap between various segments of the population.

New content on child care costs and child and spousal support payments, when combined with income, will help provide better measures of disposable income. This may be useful in developing new measures of low income.

Statistics Canada is internationally recognized as one of the top statistical agencies in the world. This is due in no small part to the professionalism and commitment of its staff members and to the strong leadership provided by its management. I am confident that Statistics Canada will show the same professionalism and commitment in implementing the census and the national household survey in 2011.

StatsCan will use a variety of methods to encourage people to fill out these new voluntary surveys. This is the first time the national household survey will be conducted, and Statistics Canada will monitor the results carefully, applying the same sound methods and standards used for all its voluntary surveys.

In summary, the 2011 census of population remains mandatory, and the new 2011 national household survey, which replaces the census long form, is voluntary.

I would like to take this opportunity to invite all of my colleagues in the House today to encourage all of their constituents to participate in the national household survey if their household is contacted.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, the agency responsible for the census in the United States of America tried this approach of going from a mandatory form to a voluntary one, and after seeing the results, decided to revert back to a mandatory questionnaire. This was done during the George W. Bush administration.

The question for my colleague is this: If a country very similar to ours attempted what we are proposing to attempt and realized that it was not working, that the information it was yielding had a built-in bias, why then are we not willing to learn from that experience and not go down that road, spending $30 million more to get less valid information?

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, indeed it is true. The Americans were involved in this type of procedure.

I would like to suggest that the culture in America compared to the culture here in Canada is different. I would like to believe that when we engage the Canadian population in this particular endeavour, we will have good results.

The other important point is something that was brought out in our committee study, which we attended during the summer. In the past, the result of the mandatory census was that we were getting all kinds of strange answers. Oftentimes people felt that because they were compelled to give answers, for whatever reason, and we have a number of suggestions as to why, they were not accurate.

I believe that when we present this to the Canadian populace, they will believe in and rightfully express their patriotic duty and will certainly fill these forms out as necessary.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find this situation very worrisome. I was at the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology this summer, and I heard the minister answer questions. It was not at all reassuring.

It is not complicated. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Association francophone pour le savoir, the Fédération québécoise des professeures et des professeurs d'université, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, as well as UQAM professors Jean-Pierre Beaud and Jean-Guy Prévost, experts on the census, are against this. And they are not the only ones. It is the science that is being threatened here.

Does my colleague want to do away with the science and make it so that we can no longer compare trends from one census to the next? That is very troubling.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his questions, and yes, we did sit across from each other during the proceedings this summer.

I would like to remind the member that the number is increasing. It will increase from two million to 4.5 million. That increase will have a direct effect on the answers we receive.

Yes, there will be some people who will choose not to fill out the form, but I really believe, as I stated in the last answer to the previous question, that when given the opportunity, when the people of Canada are asked to fill this out, they will respond. I think we will have a very accurate census, and I believe that the messaging we get back from that, the information we garner, will all be there. I am willing to even go a step further and say that it will be more accurate and that as a result, our citizens will give us better information.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague who just spoke. We are both on the industry committee. We sat through committee meetings this summer and it was a very interesting study that we did on the census.

I do not really have a speech. I have a few comments I would like to make and I am happy to answer any questions.

A reporter asked me why we were cancelling the long form census. In fact, we are not cancelling the long form census. If we look at the definition under the Statistics Act of what a census is, it must have penalties and there must be a requirement to do so. We can require people to do things but if there are no penalties at the end of it, in my view, it is voluntary. I think most people would understand that.

I think there is a bill coming that will get rid of all the jail term aspects of all census materials in this country, including the short form, which will still have a monetary penalty attached to it, but there is a penalty. That is what makes a census.

We are having a national survey which has the exact same questions. People have said that we are changing the questions. That is not accurate. It is the same set of questions that we would be asking in the long form census that had penalties attached to it. I will give one example.

Near the end of the census, it asks how many rooms are in one's house, how long one has been in the house and whether one is a renter or an owner. Under the present system, if an individual decides not to answer that question because he or she does not think it is the government's business, he or she faces either jail time, which we all know has never happened, or a fine, but the threat is there.

I want to give a concrete example of a question asked of a constituent, which I think is inappropriate for the Government of Canada. In the previous census, it asked for one's nationality. One of the options was native Canadian. This individual's parents, grandparents and four of his great-grandparents were born in Canada. He believes that he is a native Canadian. We know that this was talking about aboriginals and first nations, but he marked that off.

My constituent's wife received a call from someone at Statistics Canada who asked, “Can we have your husband's Indian number?” She said, “No, he is not an Indian”. The person said, “He filled out the census that he is a native Canadian”. She said, “Yes, he is, in his mind, a native Canadian”. The person said, “Well, he must be an Indian then”. She said, “I have been married to him for almost 40 years. I think I would know if he was an Indian or not. Call back and talk to him directly”.

Someone from Statistics Canada did call him back and they had the discussion about whether he was a native Canadian or not. The person from Statistics Canada said to this individual, “Sir, do you know that that carries either a fine or jail time for misrepresenting yourself on this census?” They agreed to change it and the information was changed. He was not going to go to court over it but he was making a point.

I think it was absolutely inappropriate that a government agency would call a constituent, a Canadian, because it did not like his information on the census and was threatening him with what the penalties might be.

All we are doing is removing the penalties, which will Canadians the option to either fill it out or not.

The NDP mover of this motion said in his speech that we are burdening more Canadians. If it is a burden, why is he supporting it in the first place? He called the census a burden in his speech. What we are saying is that it is not a burden. We are saying that it is a responsibility.

I agree with the member who spoke before me. I believe that Canadians will have the civic duty and the understanding that it is important information for policy-making at the government level. I think they are not so concerned that Wal-Mart buys the information in order to decide where to put a Wal-Mart so it is close to those who can afford to go there. I am not that concerned about the private sector.

However, I am concerned that we have good information. Let us look at the numbers. I am on the finance committee and I like numbers. We sent out about 2.5 million before and we had a 95% return rate. That is about 2.3 million back. Now we are sending out 4.5 million surveys and, based on the information we got this summer from all the experts, they think the return rate may be 70% at the low end. It may be higher but at the low end it was 70%.

Let us take the 70%. That return rate will be almost 800,000 more surveys that we did not have before. It is a huge increase. The argument is that those who have less education, those whose first language is not English and the poor will not fill it the survey. Are people saying that people only filled it out under the mandatory system of the census because of the threat of penalty? I do not think so. They filled it out because they knew it was right thing to do. In fact, the more information we have about those who are in need, the more ability we have to have policies and programs to help those people.

I am convinced that Canadians will fill out the survey at more than the 70% mark and that it will represent all income and education levels. It will not just be, as the NDP like to present it, the rich filling it out. Frankly, I think those who have more assets are less likely to fill it out because they do not want us to know what they have.

The difference between the survey and the census is the penalty piece, and that is it.

We had experts from the National Statistics Council tell us that they would talk about the volume and the quality. They said that if they send a survey in English to an all French community, whether they send 100 or 1,000, they will get lousy results. Of course they will. How can somebody from National Statistics Council talk about a built in bias in their survey? If a bias is built into the questioning in any survey or census, that bias will be there. That was a ridiculous answer. Let us be honest. We will get more back.

On the quality side, I believe we will get the quality back, although there was a concern about quality. In the second meeting we had this summer, I think most of the experts said that we would likely to get a decent return in terms of numbers and maybe even more than we got before, but it was the quality that they had an issue with. I disagreed with them and I still disagree with them.

I think it is important for us to be advertising and promoting that Canadians should fill this information out, whether they like it or not.

However, under the census system, there was a penalty per question. It was not a penalty for the whole census but if people decided they did not want to fill out one piece of the survey, there was a penalty on that. If there was another piece of the census they did not want to fill out, there was the potential for additional penalty. We should not be penalizing Canadians for giving us this information. We should be encouraging them to do so, without penalty.

At the end of the day, there has been much misinformation about this. I will be frank. I do not think we did a great job in terms of promoting what we were actually doing from the beginning. However, if people are listening now, they will hear the actual facts. It is clear that this is the same survey as the census, the difference being that there are no potential penalties. As far as I understand, every party in the House agrees that there should never be any threat of jail time with any of the remaining mandatory census forms.

We do still have a mandatory short form that will tell us where people live and what they do. It will give us a demographic look at where this country is. It is useful information. That is mandatory. It has eight questions. It asks people which language is their first language, and other questions. It is just not right for us to require people to do it. It should be voluntary. I appreciate the government moving in that direction.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, as for the matter of official languages, we will see how that ends because the matter will be determined in court very shortly, so I will leave that one alone for now.

I love this debate because the more the member for Burlington is trying to rationalize this decision, the more he digs the hole for his party, which is fine by me, because the people who attended the committee, the experts, were really quite clear.

The number of people who respond to this is not the issue. If we have a sampling, and all of the sampling must respond because it is mandatory, we therefore create a situation where we establish a benchmark and, from that benchmark, everything flowing can be tested, measured and validated. However, if it is voluntary, we create a built-in bias.

Those wealthy people will tend to seek anonymity and therefore will tend not to respond. Those who are more vulnerable, poorer or who do not understand the language as well will tend not to respond and we end up with data that has a built-in bias. Every expert on census confirmed that and the member just puts it aside by waving his hand. However, it does not work that way.

This is not a question. It is a comment--

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. member for Burlington.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I completely disagree with my hon. colleague's comments.

After listening to the experts who came to see us, the concept that 95%, which means that 5% of the people did not fill out the mandatory survey, but that 95% of the people filled it out because of the threat of jail time or the threat of a fine is an erroneous argument. I think that 95% of the people of Canada who filled out the long form, filled it out because they thought it was the right thing to do for Canada. They knew it would assist us, social agencies and other agencies come up with good policies and programs.

I have confidence in Canadians that when they get the long form voluntary survey, they will also fill that out. We will get good quality information back and we will continue to provide the services those individuals need.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I will refer to a few of the statements that were made by the last couple of Conservative colleagues who said, “I would like to believe that this is the case”. Those words are not ones that inspire a lot of trust and confidence in what the government is doing. “I would like to believe that what I am doing is correct”. “I think that what I am doing is correct”.

We have heard evidence galore from every expert right across the country and from people who rely on the census who say that this is the wrong step, that even if we go in this direction we will skew the census for the next five years and we will end up with data that is not correct.

What we have is a situation where somebody who would like to believe or who thinks that this will work is running the ship on the census, and this is not correct.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would encourage the member who asked me the question to ensure that MPs understand and that they are telling their constituents the definitional difference between a census and a survey.

Under the law, a census contains penalties. All we are doing is removing the penalties. The form, the questions and the length will be the same. In fact, as I stated before, we are sending it to more people because, in my view, it is not a burden, like the hon. member's NDP colleague said, but a civic duty of Canadians to fill it out.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my hon. colleague from the NDP for raising this issue today. He knows that we will be debating this issue next Tuesday during an opposition day of the Liberal Party, but today's debate gives us some additional time to get into the matter and certainly there is a great deal to cover.

I came into politics knowing that as a Liberal my views would be the views of my party, but that they would not necessarily be shared by other parties. That is fair enough. We live in a democracy. But I certainly felt entering politics that we would do things in an intelligent way whether we had differences of opinion or not.

I have to say that earlier this summer I was really shocked by the government's decision to make changes to the long-form census and specifically to transform it from something that was compulsory, and I will get into why it is compulsory, into something that is voluntary and now called a national household survey. I found this very perplexing.

As a person with a technical background who has always felt that whatever we approach we must do it with scientific rigour and must fully understand the consequences of our actions, I was staggered at the thought that instead of having a compulsory long-form questionnaire that gathered essential data about the Canadian mosaic on a host of topics and which therefore allowed governments at all levels, non-profit organizations and various other bodies to make intelligent decisions, we would now be left with a very imprecise and potentially misleading tool. I characterized it as a stupid decision the day that I first heard about it. I do not like to use the word “stupid”, but it is, unfortunately, the word that fits on this particular occasion.

I have spent the summer on the issue of the census because the Conservative government announced this initiative in the dead of summer. The Conservatives tried to sneak it by. Who would have thought in June that the long-form census put out by Statistics Canada would be an issue throughout the summer and now into the fall, one which has riled up, inflamed passions, drawn a huge amount of criticism from a large number of respected organizations? Who would have thought that this would happen when if the government had left well enough alone, nobody would be talking about the census today? However, it is revealing of the way the government operates because it did so on a number of fronts this summer. Of course, one has to mention the joint strike fighter announcement as another example of something that was brought out in the quiet of summer. This is something that the government has a tendency to do and it bothers me greatly.

What bothers me also is the fact that the Minister of Industry, whom I consider to be an intelligent person, made the comment that Statistics Canada was evaluating a number of options. He left the impression that Statistics Canada was very much on side with the alternative that was being proposed as though absolutely no impact would occur in terms of the accuracy of this information. Of course, this put the Chief Statistician in an untenable position. He quite rightfully said that it is his duty to carry out directives from the government, and no one is quibbling with that. However, for the Minister of Industry to leave the impression that Statistics Canada acquiesced fully with the alternative that was being proposed by the Conservatives and that it would yield the same quality of reliable data in its database is, in my opinion, an extremely misleading statement. It is a statement that he continues to propound even today.

Mr. Munir Sheikh, who is a very respectable and dutiful public servant, is only one example of many people who have fallen by the wayside under the Conservative government because they dared to speak up.

We all know about Linda Keen, president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Her appointment was terminated two years early. Adrian Measner, president of the Canadian Wheat Board, was gone because he defended the board's monopoly. Pat Strogan is not having his mandate renewed. Sheridan Scott, head of the Competition Bureau, ran afoul over a brewery takeover. We know about Steve Sullivan, the first victims of crime ombudsman. His term was not renewed. The list goes on. I will not go any further into that.

I had the opportunity this summer to be on the industry committee when it held two extraordinary meetings and received witness testimony. It was very clear to me that an overwhelming number of professional organizations argued against the government's decision. One recent example is the letter that was co-signed by Ivan Felligi, an extremely respected chief statistician who built Statistics Canada into the world-leading organization that it is today, as well as two former privy councillors, Mel Capp and Alex Himmelfarb. A highly respected former governor of the Bank of Canada, David Dodge, sent a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to reconsider this decision.

There is a well-known website that publishes the names of organizations that have come out against the decision by the Minister of Industry and the Prime Minister with respect to the census. These are some of them: Alberta Health Services; Alberta Professional Planners Institute; Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services; l'Association des Retraité-e-s de l'Alliance de la Fonction publique; the Anglican Church of Canada; l'Association des statisticiens et statisticiennes du Québec; l'Association du Barreau canadien; Canadian Economics Association; l'Association des Soeurs du Canada; Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives; the Association of Ontario Health Centres.

I will get back to some more. It is just a staggering number at the moment. The list contains the names of 362 organizations that have said to the government that they do not want it to make changes because of what is going to happen to that database.

What is it that happens to that database that the Conservatives either do not understand or refuse to understand when we switch from a compulsory system, and about 95% of Canadians filled it out last time, to one that is not compulsory, now a household survey, and voluntary? If I do not want to fill it out, I can just throw it in the garbage and nothing would happen. That is the situation at the moment. As a Canadian, somebody who has worked and served in government all my life, I am going to fill that form out, but the point is that a lot of people will not. What will happen when that happens?

Statistics Canada said, and the minister is aware of this, that only about 50% of people would fill out a household survey if it was voluntary and then, if a big push was put on, and that is where the extra $30 million is coming from to try to educate Canadians, that number might be brought up to 65%. That is a far cry from the 95% that would allow it to be an accurate database.

Let us look at the one-third of Canadians who are not going to fill it out. It is the one-third of Canadians who stand to gain the greatest amount from having the census available--

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Useful and usable data. That is what StatsCan said. Why don't you quote StatsCan fully? What are you afraid of? Why do you want to throw people in jail? Why do you want to threaten fellow Canadians with jail? Answer that.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie has the floor. I would urge all hon. members to listen to what he has to say. There will be an opportunity for questions soon.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, what happens for the third of Canadians who do not fill it out? They are not white, middle-class Canadians. We know this from scientific evidence. We know that those people who are less likely to fill out the questionnaire are the disadvantaged. We are talking about the linguistic minorities, first nations, poor people, ethnic minorities, and they are precisely the people we want to target with government policy, but unfortunately, they will not be represented.

That is what the chief statistician called bias. It is a technical term, but one that is relatively easy to understand if one actually pays attention.

What happens is that the data is skewed. We cannot afford not to continue on our five-year plan to collect important information on the Canadian mosaic so that we have an accurate picture of what Canada is really like and so that we can target policies in an intelligent manner to help those who are most in need. That unfortunately is not going to happen.

I remember the very eloquent testimony of one of the witnesses who appeared at the first industry committee hearing. She represented the Inuit community and was also the mayor of Iqaluit. She spoke about what would happen if it became voluntary. Essentially, she said that if it became voluntary, nobody in the Inuit community would fill out the household survey. Why? Because they have difficulty understanding the questions in the English or French languages and need some help to do so. It is quite an involved process.

People from the Government of Canada go to those communities, which is why they start earlier in the year, in February versus May or June. They sit down with them, ask them the questions and help them fill out the questionnaire. This provides vital information that helps us have an accurate portrait of what the Inuit community is like. That is a dramatic example of why it is important to continue to support making the filling out of the census compulsory.

Let me quote the Minister of Industry who said in July, “I don't accept the fact that every time you make a change on every matter of government business you have to shout it from the rooftop”. I guess he realized this summer that whether he whispered it or shouted it from the rooftop, he sure provoked a reaction, because there was one heck of a reaction across Canada on a subject, as I say again, that I thought would never, ever be on the minds of Canadians as most Canadians dutifully filled out their questionnaires.

Even today the Minister of Industry raised the spectrum of jail time. Does he not know that for a long time now all of the other parties have decided to get rid of that notion? Why? Because nobody has ever been sent to jail. He should know that. Why is he bringing up old-fashioned answers when he is asked questions?

This statement is by James Turk of the Canadian Association of University Teachers:

—we are deeply concerned about the disastrous consequences this will have for the scientific understanding of Canadian society, and for the ability to make informed decisions about social and economic policies.

An economist with SRC Atlantique said:

We will no longer be able to know whether the gap between young and old or the gap between regions has grown. These kinds of analyses will not be possible.

The president of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council said:

You're not going to have the same level of reliability with a voluntary survey.

The executive director of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women said:

This makes us even more vulnerable to a government or an interest group that claims something, because we will not have the data to contradict them.

I could go on with quotes. I want to name some of the other organizations. I will flip to another one of the 12 pages that I have of groups that have protested the government's decision: the Canadian Association of Journalists; the Canadian Association of Midwives; the Canadian Association of Public Data Users; the Canadian Association of Retired People. If these are groups that the government cares about, or at least pretends to care about, why is it not listening to them?

The Canadian Historical Association, the Canadian Institute of Actuaries, the Canadian Institute of Planners, the Canadian Library Association and a countless number of municipal city councils have spoken out against the decision by the government to make the changes about which are talking.

The Canadian Population Society, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Society for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Canadian Sociology Association, the city of Brampton, the city of Calgary, the city of Edmonton, the city of Fredericton, the city of Hamilton, the city of Kelowna, the city of Laval, the city of Moose Jaw, the city of Montreal, the city of New Westminster, the city of Ottawa, the city of Vancouver and the city of Gatineau have also spoken out against the government's decision

And it goes on. It is never-ending.

Why is this government not listening? These are the people it wants to talk to, the people whose interests, supposedly, are important to it. Why is the government not listening to them?

Despite a sustained outcry from a broad cross-section of Canadians against axing the mandatory long census and the unprecedented resignation of Canada's chief statistician, a man of honour who was forced into that essentially because he could not stand by and pretend that Statistics Canada acquiesced with the decision of the government and was made to look as though it agreed with something with which it did not agree, the government has not listened.

Liberals support the long form mandatory census and I am delighted that my colleagues in the other opposition parties also feel the same way. We have been together all summer on this issue and we will be on this issue during the fall as we present a private member's bill and as we raise this issue again next Tuesday, at least for the first time, and as many times as we can thereafter.

At the moment, the long form census has been shelved and has been replaced by the national household survey. The scheduling is that this is supposed to go out initially next winter to northern communities and then, I believe in June, to the rest of the population. Approximately one-third of Canadians will be receiving this.

I would like to urge the government to reconsider the decision that it has taken and that it persists in holding onto throughout the summer. It is damaging a vital database. It is not too late for the government to change its mind, even though the formulas are being printed as we speak.

We know very well that if a decision were made to reverse the government's decision, an additional page could simply be included with the questionnaire that is going to be sent to constituents, explaining that the government changed its mind and that the questionnaire is mandatory and not voluntary.

It is not too late to reverse the decision. And you can be sure that we will not stop pushing that message.

Munir Sheikh's resignation exposed an attempt by the current government to eliminate the mandatory long form census based on false arguments. Now the Conservatives are grasping at straws to defend their unpopular and unwarranted decision. I appeal to them to recognize that this should not be a triumph of ignorance, ideology and dogma over scientific rigour, common sense, truth and enlightenment. I hope they will take that seriously.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his speech. I was at the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology this summer, at least at one of the two meetings at which this matter was discussed. As we know, the census has been mandatory since 1918. This summer, the Conservatives decided to throw a monkey wrench into this well-oiled machine.

The hon. member for Beauce, a former industry minister and former foreign affairs minister, has said he was receiving up to 1,000 complaints a week concerning the long form census when he was industry minister. In committee, however, the commissioner responsible for complaints told us that less than 10 complaints were received during the latest census period, that is, 10 in 10 years.

I wonder if my colleague could talk about this kind of misinformation concerning something as important as the mandatory long form census?

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Bloc member for his comments.

Yes, during the summer, we heard all kinds of misinformation about the census, including a comment from a member of the Conservative Party, the member for Beauce, who claimed that he had received 1,000 complaints a day when he was Industry minister and minister responsible for Statistics Canada. When someone asked him to back up those claims, he had nothing.

We also had a chance to speak to the Privacy Commissioner. As the Bloc member just said, she told us that in the past 10 years, she had received a few complaints. That is vastly different from the image painted by the member for Beauce.

Providing misinformation is part of this government's strategy, and we would like to hear the truth.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's comments. I am curious what he thinks about the decision of the American government for its 2010 census to no longer have a long form included with their short form and to have a survey similar to what has been proposed by this government.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I remind the hon. member that there was a pilot project, adopted by our neighbours to the south in 2003, to go toward a voluntary form of data gathering. We heard very clearly during the testimony over the summer that they gave that up. Why did they give it up? Because they could not, for the very reasons I have spoken of today, assure themselves that they would get valuable data.

Therefore, I urge my colleague from the Conservative side to read the report that dealt with that decision.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, when we come to this chamber, we bring different skills that help us in certain files. The hon. member's past has helped on this one and gives some credibility to some of the arguments that have been made. During the member's debate, once again, the minister was heckling and yelling, asking why we wanted to put people in jail. That is an absurd response to the situation.

First, it is the government's policy, and it has had it since it took office in 2004. The government is not changing that with regard to other types of surveys, such as for agriculture. It is something it could have done a long time ago. It is not the member's fault.

He rattled off a series of good examples of different organizations that were supporting our position.

Also, 3,695 responses were received by the minister about his plan. Of that, 3,456 opposed the minister's plan, and 90% of them were ordinary Canadians. I would like the member's thoughts on that.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is no question about the overwhelming amount of outcry and letters to the Prime Minister and to the government. If one puts that alongside those who support the government on its decision, it is really comparing a very giant list compared to something that is infinitesimal. In fact, we became aware of that during the course of the summer. The list for those who supported the government just did not grow. It had an initial bounce, but the one for those who opposed the government kept growing throughout the summer.

There is no question in my mind that the government has decided to dig its feet in and not listen to reason. Consequently it is trying to find arguments to justify its decision, but the arguments do not make sense. The minister today raised the spectrum of jail. That has been dismissed and put aside for quite some time now. This shows to what point the government is desperate and without any arguments with respect to its decision.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings on the motion at this time. Accordingly, the debate on the motion will be rescheduled for another sitting.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from May 14 consideration of the motion.