I move that the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, presented to the House on Wednesday, September 22, be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on the motion. I will be sharing my time with the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.
This is very important. We are coming to a crossroads in our history. The motion calls for the reinstatement of the long form census. It is a very critical part of Canadian culture, society and business. What has taken place has been a debacle with regard to scrapping the long form census and replacing it with a survey in which the data will be skewed.
Universally, there has been outrage about this from all sectors of society. When we have the Chamber of Commerce all the way to the Canadian Labour Congress agreeing on something, then we know there is a problem. The Minister of Industry did a disservice to the House and to Parliament by introducing this change at a time when the doors of the House were closed over the summer.
I want to start by acknowledging that this will be the second time the New Democrats have fought to save the census. Back in 2004, we raised concerns when the Liberal government of the time brought forth a contract with Lockheed Martin. Through freedom of information requests and a series of different information gathering, we were able to determine that the government would privatize this, which it did. It cost more money and it also made sure it created a problem. In 2006 I warned the government of the day that there would be a problem. The information would be gathered and compiled outside of Canada's borders, which made it vulnerable to the patriot act.
What ensued was a campaign to have that information gathered, assessed and stored in Canada, where it was done, to ensure that there would be greater privacy protection for the census. That cost Canadians more money as well because of the ideology of privatization.
With this census, the Minister of Industry said, during his testimony at committee in the summer, that he had worked on this for months. He did this at a time when the doors of Parliament were closed. We reconvened the committee to hold hearings on the issue, at great public expense. Ironically one of the meetings was totally unnecessary, but the Conservatives wanted to make a point and it cost us more public money to have a brief meeting.
We had testimony from experts from all across the country, experts who looked at this issue quite seriously. They noted that if we can't count our nation properly, if we can't have the proper information, we would not only lose this census, but, more important, we would also throw away the hundreds of millions of dollars that we had spent on the previous census, because there would be no comparable data.
That has a major impact. It has a major impact on the francophone community. It has a major impact on housing issues. It has a major impact on municipalities. It has a major impact on businesses that rely upon this information.
It is almost embarrassing to watch the Minister of Industry in the House of Commons when he tries to defend this. He says that the opposition wants people to be put in jail if they do not fill out the mandatory census, because that is one of the penalties. Ironically it is the Conservative government's policy. It has been in power for four years and it has not changed that, so it creates this straw man. To suggest that we will lock people up, that Dog the bounty hunter will go to their doors, knock them down and drag them off to jail is absolutely absurd. It is not true. It is almost pathetic to see the Minister of Industry's response on this issue being solely based on that. It is embarrassing to watch because it is not real.
It has been clear that this party and the other opposition parties do not agree with that. Many experts do not agree. In fact, nobody has ever been arrested and locked up for not filling out the census. That is the government's policy. It did not change it. For the minister to use that is purely pathetic.
The second argument the government tries to use, with fearmongering, is related to the fact that some people feel the census violates their privacy. There is a big privacy conspiracy hatched by the minister. One of the first things I did was call the privacy commission and I talked to the deputy minister. I found out there had been very few complaints over the years. In fact, they had a 25-year working relationship with the privacy commission and Statistics Canada. That relationship was described as excellent working conditions.
What came to light, and it is important to note, is the census that the minister was saying had a privacy issue and was a problem, had to pass a Board of Internal Economy audit and a privacy audit with the Privacy Commissioner. The work has already been done. The complaints were not coming in. In fact, the office works on a regular basis to improve it.
What is critical about the census is getting accurate information from Canadians from all different economic and social backgrounds so we can use that information for our economy, for our culture and for planning our future. The census is important. It was brought in many years ago. Egypt, China, all developed countries do a census. People want to plan for the future. How can we do that?
We know what ends up happening with a voluntary census. We found out that during this process, Statistics Canada had run some tests on the minister's plan for a voluntary census and it showed that Canadians would not respond to this. The minister wants to increase the number of people who will get the census and voluntarily respond. He is going to bother more people. Supposedly the census is a problem, yet the minister is going to send it out to more people across Canada. On top of that, the minister's own little scheme is going to be a $30 million expense. It is going to cost Canadians more money to get the census on their doorstep, yet the test drive model failed.
We will get skewed data as a result of this. Interestingly enough, all the statisticians and experts agree that we will lose information on the lower and the upper income brackets. This will affect everything from social housing to transit, a whole series of things for municipalities. This is an absolute debacle when it comes to public planning and the use of taxpayer money.
Of the over 3,000 contacts to the minister's offices, through a freedom of information request, we found out that only a few hundred supported the minister. Over 90% of those individuals who called said that they disagreed with the minister's plan to pay more money to get a worse census and to throw away the data that we have accumulated over the last number of years. That is important.
As the Conservatives were doing their privacy fearmongering, as they were threatening people with jail, they were also saying that ordinary Canadians were the ones who did not want it. They were saying that the elite wanted this census, but they were not even paying their fair share, suggesting that a number of different research branches, a number of different municipalities, a number of different businesses were not paying the proper amount for the census and that they were freeloading on the public purse.
It turns out that the vast majority of the people who were complaining, over 80%, were just ordinary citizens who were concerned about our changing society, concerned about not having the proper information. They want to participate in this and not have a plan that will cost more, will get worse results and will cost them more in the long run.
I want to touch briefly on the fact that I helped with the 2000 complete count census in Windsor West. One of the reasons for the complete count was we were one of the few places that had door to door campaigning to increase the response rate. It is because it is a multi-cultural community. Windsor and Essex County is the fourth most diverse in Canada. The area has a lot of individuals who speak English as a second language. There are a lot of newcomers. There is also a university and a college, so we have a transient population of students, depending upon where they are in their careers. We are also a border community where people are active on both sides of the border.
We found we had poorer results in this area, so a plan was paraded for three ridings in Canada, and Windsor West was one. We worked with the multi-cultural community. We worked with many organizations. We increased that number. Why was that important? So we could plan the necessary services.
This is not just an issue related to poverty and health. It is also related to the economy, because we can actually plan out things, such as skill sets. That is critically important when we look at an area like Windsor West where there is a high unemployment rate. We have been hit hard by these economic times. We need to have that statistic information to plan and try to turn things around.
That is why so many experts are pleading with the government not to spend the money but to do the census the way it was actually designed. Do the census the way that it went through the privacy audit, when it went through the Board of Internal Economy audit. It has been through all of those different things that have now provided it a good stable base to get out the door. Do not print more censuses. Do it the way it was done before so Canadians will have the stability that is necessary
The government in all its candour and attempts to appease even tried at one point to misrepresent the chief statistician in this matter. The Chief Statistician stepped down during this process. That is terribly unfortunate. One of the most important things is we have some independence with this position. I believe this position should eventually be hands-off.
The government has a record of interfering in third party government agencies. There is no doubt about it. This is one where somebody stood up and said that this was wrong, that it would be wrong for the operation he was leading and for the men and women who served him diligently every day. He could not stand there with any credibility as a scientist and maintain his position anymore. The person then left and now we do not even have a chief statistician in place, as the government tries to run through the census really quickly. That is really sad.
Once again, it is like divisive wedge politics, trying to scare and spook on different things that are outside of facts. That is why we have seen so many people really upset about this issue and that is one of the reasons we think it should be returned. Quite simply, turn this around now.
The motion calls upon the government to cease its behaviour, stop and go back to what we have been doing. It is prepared, and Canadians need to know, understand and appreciate this. The census, in the old form, is ready to go. It has been audited and it can be done properly to gain the information necessary.
If we do not do this, the back door of all of this will be the Conservatives being able to cut measures for the weak and most vulnerable. This is really what it is going to be about. We will lose out on a series of studies and important measures that prove some of the important social measures that are necessary for a country. We know the government is not necessarily interested in doing some of those things, but it is still the responsibility of a government to know who is in the country, how they are, how they are doing, what their behaviours are and what the trends are.
As well, it is important for our economy. When we have businesses that will no longer be able to appeal to this information in a reliable fashion, it will undermine our competitiveness. There is no doubt about it that productivity and planning will suffer and we will lose investment as well.
A key component to all of this is at least having some type of a landmark, a picture, a frame of what a country looks like and what a country needs to do to go forward. Unfortunately the Conservative government is interested in neither.
We call upon the House to pass this motion. We call upon the minister to reverse his direction and to listen to the non-partisan experts who have inundated him with calls. Listen to Canadians. The government made a big to-do about the registry and voting with our constituents. When over 80% of those who called in as individuals are opposed to the minister, and it was in the thousands in a few weeks, the government should listen to them.
If the government wants to do what is right and does not want to be a hypocrite, it should listen to those people who have taken the time to say that they want to do this, instead of this madness plan where we will spend $30 million sending out the census to more and more people. More money will be spent on advertising, and we know the Conservatives are fond of that. There will probably be some billboards, a number of TV ads and a whole series of things, all to try to convince people of what we know scientifically does not happen, and that is when there is a voluntary census, the response rates do not go up.
Ironically, the government has not changed the law on the short form census. There is actually still prison or jail time for that. We had testimony in front of our committee. The agricultural survey is still mandatory. In cross-examining a witness who was a farmer, he complained about the fact that the census was too long. He had to take a couple of days off to file it out. He had to get an accountant and pay for that as well. It turns out he was talking about the long form agricultural survey, which the government is still maintaining.
At the end of the day, he did not appear too upset about the fact that this is still something he has to do. It is contributing to Canada. His concern was the cost. However, nothing changed for him in his world. It was all counter to the arguments that the government was putting forth. In fact, the government had a hard time finding witnesses who would come forward to talk about this issue. It was fairly interesting. It even brought radio personalities in, which was fun to a certain degree, but at the same time it was not the type of testimony that we would expect. In fact, the witness wondered what he was doing there.
I find it particularly strange that the minister would be working behind the scenes on this, that he would be scheming about doing this, and then when the House closes, take the first opportunity to go out with this and try to actually prevent the proper channels of democracy from working. We had to reconvene the committee itself and that cost taxpayers more money. Apparently the Conservatives are quite comfortable with this type of an atmosphere and this behaviour. We have seen it again this week.
I would say that it is the wrong way to do it. If we are going to try to create an environment with all the huff and puff about creating a Parliament that works, taking it easy and working in a more collegial way, why would the government start that off by basically trying to sneak something through the back door, especially something so important? We need to have those issues examined.
I think this is very important for Canadian society. If we are going to lose out on this particular census form, we are going to lose an opportunity to reverse a trend that we have seen with the government. I would hope that it would see things through and reinstate the census.
Many Canadians would simply just move on from this and would accept it. They do not want to have the additional information put forth to them at more cost, another $30 million, and they do not want to lose out on all the information that was necessary for this to go forward in the past and be able to compare that data.
In conclusion, I am hoping this motion is going to be passed in this chamber and that the government is going to live up to it. The Prime Minister at one point said that there was a moral and ethical responsibility to pass motions in the House of Commons. He has not lived by the mantra that he had often proposed when he was in opposition. I am hoping that the government reverses this, we work together and just move on.
There is a lot of stuff that we have to do in the industry committee. There is a lot of other information and bills that we have to press on. I certainly want to move on, but at the same time, if the government wants to kill our census and destroy some of the things that the census really helps to evolve, then it is going to have a fight, and we are going to stand strongly by it.
We have done it in the past with the Lockheed Martin and New Democrats will do it again with this particular issue.