House of Commons Hansard #72 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was data.


Seniors CPI Protection ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-564, An Act respecting a Senior Consumer Price Index.

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Vancouver East for supporting me on this important bill.

When seniors get an increase because of CPI, they feel that they are being slighted because seniors do not buy electronic goods nor do they buy brand new cars. The way that the CPI is calculated, targeting what normal working people base their purchasing on, does not reflect the reality of seniors.

Therefore, I am introducing the bill today to try to target more efficiently to those areas that senior consumers need. I want to say that I am excited by this bill, which we call the seniors CPI protection act.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Passport FeesPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, my petition calls on the Canadian government to negotiate with the United States government to reduce U.S. and Canadian passport fees.

American tourists visiting Canada are at their lowest levels since 1972 and has fallen by 5 million in the last seven years, from 16 million in 2002 to 11 million in 2009. The passport fees for multiple member families are a significant barrier to the traditional cross-border family vacation and the cost of passports for an American family of four can be over $500. While over half of Canadians have passports, only one-quarter of Americans have passports.

At the recent midwest legislative conference of the Council of State Governments, attended by myself and 500 other elected representatives from 11 border states and 3 provinces, a resolution was passed unanimously that reads, be it:

RESOLVED, that [the] Conference calls on President Barack Obama and the Prime immediately examine a reduced fee for passports to facilitate cross-border tourism;

...we encourage the governments to examine the idea of a limited time two-for-one passport renewal or a new application; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this resolution be submitted to appropriate federal, state and provincial officials.

To be a fair process, passport fees must be reduced on both sides of the border. Therefore, the petitioners call on the government to: (a) work with the American government to examine a mutual reduction in passport fees to facilitate tourism; and (b) promote a limited time two-for-one passport renewal or new application fee on a mutual basis with the United States.

Animal WelfarePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to present a petition today with regard to Bill C-544.

The petitioners are saying that Canadian horse meat products that are currently being sold for human consumption in domestic and international markets are likely to contain prohibited substances and that horses are ordinarily kept and treated as supportive and companion animals.

Therefore, the petitioners call upon the House of Commons and Parliament assembled to bring forward and adopt into legislation Bill C-544, an act to Amend the Health of Animals Act and the Meat Inspection Act, thus prohibiting the importation and exportation of horses for slaughter for human consumption, as well as horse meat products for human consumption.

Bus DriversPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition to present today from my constituents concerning bus drivers, whether they be para-drivers, school bus drivers or just general transit drivers who, increasingly in this country, unfortunately, find themselves under violent attack.

It seems that no one is free from attack from a public that wants its service immediately and does not necessarily like the service it gets but continue to put these drivers at great risk.

The petitioners are asking that the code which protects police officers be enacted so that it would cover off public transit drivers, school bus drivers and so on.

One would think that those who are providing a service, like the public transit drivers and school bus drivers, that we would value that service, and I think most folks do. However, unfortunately, from time to time they are subject to the violence and, in some cases, severe violence that actually keeps them off of work and, in rare cases, prevents them from ever returning to their occupation.

Therefore, the petitioners are asking that the code be amended so that they be covered.

Animal WelfarePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I am pleased to present a petition signed in support of private member's bill, Bill C-544, as did my colleague from Beaches—East York.

The petitioners support the bill to amend the Health of Animals Act and the Meat Inspection Act to prohibit the importation and exportation of horses for slaughter for human consumption, as well as horse meat products for human consumption.

The petitioners are concerned that horses that are kept for sport and companionship and not for human consumption are often administered drugs that are prohibited substances and are not administered to other animals destined for human consumption.

KAIROSPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present. The first petition is with regard to funding for KAIROS.

As we have heard in the House, KAIROS received notice from the Canadian International Development Agency that $7 million in funding was denied. The petitioners are saying that this decision severely impairs the capacity of this respected ecumenical organization to improve the lives of millions of people living in poverty and conflict around the world and that hurts communities helped by these progressive projects. These petitioners come from around Nova Scotia.

Unsolicited MailPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, the second petition concerns junk mail or unsolicited mail.

Some 1,300 pieces of unsolicited mail yearly arrive at our doorstep. Therefore, the petition asks the federal Minister of the Environment to consider introducing some kind of legislation that would require unsolicited ad mail and flyers to be produced using recyclable paper, to phase in the use of hemp paper and that distributors of flyers also obey no flyer signs in Canada.

Oil and Gas PricesPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition today to enact Bill C-442 from the 39th Parliament.

Gas prices are a great hardship on everyone in northern Ontario, including small business owners and ordinary motorists. This past Sunday, I had an opportunity to speak with Mayor Dennis Brown of Atikokan and a number of people who live in Atikokan who are very concerned about these prices.

The petition contains 500 signatures from folks in my riding who are asking the government to give speedy passage to Bill C-442 so we can have a meaningful vehicle, so to speak, through average Canadians speaking up about the price of gas and to help consumers fight the high gas prices that we are facing in northern Ontario and right across the country.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members


Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.


Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC


That the House calls on the Government of Canada to reinstate immediately the long-form census; and given that no person has ever been imprisoned for not completing the census, the House further calls on the government to introduce legislative amendments to the Statistics Act to remove completely the provision of imprisonment from Section 31 of the Act in relation to the Long-form Census, the Census of Population and the Census of Agriculture.

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time this morning with my colleague, the hon. member for St. Paul's. Furthermore, I would greatly appreciate it if you could warn me one minute before the end of my 10-minute speech.

I am very proud to rise today on this first Liberal opposition day to speak about something that is very important to Canada. I would like to read the English text of my party's motion:

That the House calls on the Government of Canada to reinstate immediately the long-form census; and given that no person has ever been imprisoned for not completing the census, the House further calls on the government to introduce legislative amendments to the Statistics Act to remove completely the provision of imprisonment from Section 31 of the Act in relation to the Long-form Census, the Census of Population and the Census of Agriculture.

What happened this summer? I can guarantee that when all of my colleagues in the House today left Parliament in June, they never would have thought that come September, we would be here debating the census.

What happened this summer on this issue? When I entered politics, I entered because I had a vision, like that of my party, for this country. I recognize that other parties have different visions, but I never for one second thought that today I would be arguing for the government to back away from what is a ridiculous decision on its part to change the long form census questionnaire.

During the quiet of the summer, when people were not looking and people were at their cottage, the current government, as it does sometimes with other issues, decided that it would announce a change to the long form census, that it would take this priceless and extremely important database, which is used to get an accurate portrait of the Canadian mosaic, and it is a complex mosaic, and that it would jeopardize its future value by turning it from a compulsory census to a voluntary census, not realizing, perhaps initially, or at least it said, that this would jeopardize the value of this census.

The census itself is a database that allows government policy to be formulated in the most intelligent manner for the benefit of Canadians. It requires accuracy and completeness because the Canadian mosaic is composed of rich and poor and of minorities, whether they be linguistic, ethnic or our first nations. Canada is a complex mosaic and in order to have an accurate portrait of the country, we need to know the level of education of Canadians; their habits with respect to commuting, because we are very interested in trying to promote public transportation in this era where we are concerned about the environment; and a host of important answers to questions that allow us to put in place informed policy.

Why did the current government not realize that by switching from a compulsory census to a voluntary census that it would be jeopardizing this priceless database?

It was clearly a bad decision and one that we and all Canadians reacted to very decisively. In fact, as members know, over 350 well-respected groups have said, “Stop this insanity. Do not do this. This is the wrong thing to do. This is an essential tool for public policy. It is an essential tool for non-governmental organizations that are concerned about social and economic issues. Why disturb something that has been working extremely well for the past 30 years, essentially in the same form?”.

I have been asked by many people why the government did this. I have had great difficulty in answering that question.

The only one that makes sense to me is that the Conservatives thought they would get some political gain by announcing this decision, that they might be able to consolidate their base or find some new adherents to their party. Of course, this throws out the window the importance of scientific rigour, logic and truth, and replaces them with ideology and dogma. It takes us into darkness. This was a bad decision.

Let me quote some of the people who have talked about it. The Canadian Association of University Teachers said, “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”.

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

The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council said, “You're not going to have the same level of reliability” with a voluntary survey.

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.

Canada's professional planners depend on accurate, timely and consistent data to help build Canadian communities. Making the collection of this data voluntary undermines good public policy.

We know about the letter that was sent by two previous clerks of the Privy Council, Mr. Himelfarb and Mr. Cappe, as well as the letter sent by David Dodge, a highly respected former governor of the Bank of Canada. Ivan Fellegi, who was really the father of Statistics Canada, a widely respected organization, sent a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to please reconsider.

We have heard about evangelical groups and the Canadian Jewish Congress expressing very openly the fact that this was a wrong-headed decision.

We have heard the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, express recently that this may make it more difficult for the Government of Canada with respect to its fiscal policy.

The complaints that have been brought out in the past three months have been thunderous and overwhelming. Let me mention a few of them. Many of them are in ridings where members of the government actually reside. The cities of Calgary, Edmonton, Fredericton, Hamilton, Kelowna, Kitimat, Langley, Mississauga, North Vancouver, Merritt, Montreal, New Westminster, Ottawa, Penticton, Pitt Meadows, Prince George, Spruce Grove, Surrey, Toronto, Vernon, Victoria are just some of the municipal governments that have said this is the wrong thing for the government to do.

We have heard from a host of different groups. They have protested because they realize the voluntary survey will only be filled out by a fraction of Canadians, possibly if they work very hard at it, up to 65% of Canadians. The people who will not be represented are the ones who will not fill out the form. They are the ones who are most in need of the policies of the Government of Canada, the ethnic minorities and linguistic minorities. At the moment the Canadian Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities is taking the government to court to try to get it to reverse its decision.

I will give my place now to the hon. member for St. Paul's. We will be debating this motion all day long, but I certainly hope the arguments that are presented today will make the government reconsider this ill-advised step for the benefit of all Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.


Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, I would like the member to elaborate on the consultative process. In a decision as important and vital as this one, a decision that will affect every Canadian, every Canadian group, organization and religion, we would have liked to see a very extensive period of consultation with those groups and organizations.

Was there any consultation done with any of those groups, organizations and individuals? Is the hon. member aware of any consultation with Parliament, a parliamentary committee, his own cabinet, his own caucus? Was anyone in Canada consulted about this particular decision?

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.


Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the short answer is no. As far as I can make out, the decision to change it was made by the Prime Minister's Office. The government asked Statistics Canada how to make it work so that it looked okay. Statistics Canada, based on documents that we have seen, essentially said that it was a bad idea. The government decided that it was going to do it anyway and brought out its communication policy to sell it. We all know from listening to the Conservative government during the summer that it botched its communication. It brought up various bogus arguments over the course of the summer and did not persuade anybody.

The government did not consult the industry committee on which I sit. It did not discuss this in Parliament. The government did not present it to Canadians to see what they thought of it. The answer is no, there was no consultation.

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.


Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a question for the member from Westmount—Ville-Marie. I was very interested in what he had to say, and one word in particular struck me, the word “ridiculous” . I am sure that the member opposite will agree with me when I say that it is ridiculous to put honest citizens in jail for refusing to say how many bedrooms they have in their houses or even what kind of cereal they eat in the morning. That is the issue before the House. How can we collect useful data without infringing on individual freedoms?

I would like to know whether the hon. member is ready to work with the government, as he has done in the past. Two questions have been added to the short form to collect information for validation purposes, information that will be useful to all Canadians.

Is he ready to propose real solutions and to acknowledge that society and individual freedoms have evolved?

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member from Lévis—Bellechasse. I hardly know where to begin.

It makes me laugh to hear the Conservative government keep talking about prison sentences. Was my Conservative Party colleague asleep under a rock all summer long? Did he not hear the opposition parties say that they were ready to get rid of prison sentences? In fact, that is in today's motion. I do not know why he always has to make it all about prison sentences.

On the radio this summer, I remember hearing him say to listeners that the census asked people what kind of cereal they ate for breakfast. That is disinformation. It simply is not true. The 2006 census did not ask people what kind of cereal they ate for breakfast or how many toilets they had in their houses. But that did not stop the government from waging a disinformation campaign to promote its ideology.

I would suggest that the member read the census. That way, he will know what questions are in it and will understand that those questions are important for policy-making in our country, and for helping people in Canada, including the residents of Lévis—Bellechasse.

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague has made some excellent arguments supporting the mandatory census questionnaire and the elimination of jail time.

As the critic for democratic reform, and as the proposer of a private member's bill to enshrine the mandatory long form census in the Statistics Act, I want to use my time today to demonstrate that the decision of the Conservative government to eliminate the mandatory long form census is an affront to our democracy and the parliamentary process. We disagree with what the government has done and also how the government did it.

This morning the Globe and Mail editorial said that the census is for Parliament to decide.

However, according to this morning's edition of Le Devoir, the Minister of Industry has already said that he will ignore the result of the vote. Yesterday, he told reporters that his government typically takes the stance that a motion is simply a motion and does not commit the government to anything.

As the member for Parkdale—High Park said, the decision is something that is on the Prime Minister's bucket list. There has been no consultation, no support, and it is based on a libertarian ideology. It has nothing to do with the evidence and expert opinions, nor the opinion of those who use the census data.

Canadians need to know that this decision was made in secret. The groups that use these statistics were not consulted. Even worse, the committees appointed by this government, such as the National Statistics Council, were not consulted either. The council is mandated to advise the Chief Statistician on Statistics Canada's activities. It is also implicitly responsible for program priorities. It was not even consulted. And now we find out that all of these people disagree with the government's decision.

The decision was taken by a minister without consultation, in secret, without even the advice of the committee established to advise the minister and the chief statistician, while Parliament was not sitting. Now, regardless of what Parliament votes, the minister has stated that he will not abide by the will of Parliament.

It seems that the minister has made the decision on the direction of the PMO and is fulfilling the ideology of a Prime Minister who prefers there be no role for government, and who particularly dislikes the idea that there would be a government agency that could track the numbers and expose the government policies based upon ideology that fly in the face of the facts.

When the statistics show that crime is going down, better to shoot the messenger. Statistics Canada provides the facts. The government would prefer not to have those facts, so punish the agency that collects the data that the government does not want.

The mantra of management is: if it is measured, it gets noticed; if it gets noticed, it gets done. The government refuses to manage, to govern. The government only campaigns, criticizing the opposition and fearmongering. In fact, it refuses to abide by the principle of good government, which would be evidence-based policy.

However, there is no government in the country of peace, order and good government. We are governed by a party that does not believe in the role of government. Since its data often will show the need for government to interfere, better not have the data.

As we heard at the AFN annual general meeting, Professor Brenda Elias told us at our round table that if one is not counted, one does not exist. The census is the count in accountability; be counted.

On July 21 at the industry committee, we heard from the wonderful Elisapee Sheutiapik, a board member of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, who said:

You have to remember that in the long form census there are questions such as how many bedrooms are in a house. In Arctic communities it's too cold to be homeless. There's hidden homelessness. We'll never get that data if the long form is not filled out.

She went on to say:

...yes, because in northern communities, they're still very much intimidated by forms, especially the elders, because some of them can't read English, so they're intimidated. But if you have someone who has been trained through Stats Canada going house to house, they would be very comfortable having the person come and help to fill out those forms.... As Inuit, because of our small numbers within our great nation, sometimes we fall through the cracks, but this data brings real information that's needed in all levels of government and non-government organizations.

And that is why francophones are presenting their case in court today. If one is not counted, one does not exist. The Conservative government is abdicating its constitutional responsibilities.

The Canadian Council on Social Development has over 370 groups in favour of the census, as are, as my colleague said, the Bank of Canada, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, bishops, and churches. Against it are the Fraser Institute and the National Citizens Coalition. We believe they will have a great deal of difficulty explaining to people why they are advising that the government spend $30 million more to get less reliable information. It is the conceit of the Prime Minister.

We believe Parliament has the right to direct the government to save $30 million.

At the Women Deliver conference in Washington, the Guttmacher Institute called Canada an evidence-free zone and lamented that they were once one under George Bush. Now our Prime Minister has relegated Canada to an ideologically driven policy backwater.

It is embarrassing to the experts, to community-based organizations that need the data with which to plan their communities. It is embarrassing to economists. For the sake of ideology, the Conservative government is prepared to spend $30 million more in order to get data that is less reliable, but more important, impossible to compare with previous censuses. It is impossible to determine if things are getting better or worse. It would be like me as a physician dealing with a lab that changed the tests so that I can no longer figure out if a patient's sugar levels or cholesterol are going up or down.

The Prime Minister wants to pay more to get less. He has already cancelled the invaluable PALS, the participation and activity limitation survey that tracks the needs of Canadians with disabilities.

We need to remember that if the government thought the expanded voluntary census was better, it could and should have said so. Instead, on July 28, the government quietly gazetted the 2011 census questions. Thankfully, the conscientious CP journalist Jennifer Ditchburn noticed that the mandatory long form census questions were not there, and buried in the Statistics Canada website was a national household voluntary survey. She raised the alarm, and then the people who used and needed the data were shocked. They had not been consulted at all. The decision had been made unilaterally. They could not believe the government had made this decision with absolutely no consideration to those who need the data with which to plan.

As we have heard, from the Bank of Canada to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, all felt undercut, their needs ignored. Even more alarming, the very council appointed by the government to advise it on matters related to the census had been excluded from the decision. It was not consulted. The advisory council was not allowed to advise. The council members were not amused and have been very clear that they do not agree.

The government yet again in a secretive, sneaky manner tried to impose a decision in the middle of the G8 and G20 visit, with Parliament not sitting, hoping that Canadians, the users of the census data, indeed the advisory committee, would not notice. Yet again the government treated Canadians as though they were stupid; Father Knows Best. People were not to worry their little heads. The Conservatives hoped that when they were caught and it was noticed that it would be too late for the 2011 census. It is not.

The Conservatives then misrepresented the chief statistician as though he had given this advice, and I will quote from Munir Sheikh's statement:

I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census.

It cannot.

Dr. Fellegi said that the government had misinterpreted the imposition of this long form census when in 1971 and before 1971 there was only a long form census. The short form census was introduced in 1971.

The government continues to show contempt for Parliament and for Canada's democratic institutions. Parliament is being treated like a suggestion box decorated with Christmas lights once a year.

The Minister of Industry said yesterday that he will not abide by the will of Parliament. This has been the conduct of the last two Parliaments.

This long form census is a test of the government. Now that Canadians are watching, will the Conservatives finally listen? Will they listen to the experts and to the communities? For this once, will they let Parliament decide as The Globe and Mail said this morning: “The census is for Parliament to decide”?

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Madam Speaker, I am really surprised at the umbrage and the hyperbole expressed by both of the Liberal members who have spoken, members for whom I have a great deal of respect.

The member for St. Paul's just mentioned data about Inuit housing. It is as if all of this priceless data will be lost. I am sure with the expanded voluntary census that will be going out that such important data will be put forward by the communities that value that information getting into the system.

The issue here is not about eliminating the long form census. It is about eliminating those penalties, including fines and imprisonment. The Liberals are now asking for some of these penalties to be changed. Is that not interesting?

The member spoke about the priceless data. There have never been penalties for false information in the database, and this priceless data that so many scholarly people refer to may not be as accurate as they like to think. For example, I understand some 26,000 Canadians listed their religion as Jedi Knight.

So I wonder about the member's umbrage and hyperbole on this issue that we seem to be getting closer to consensus on fixing.

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, they just do not get it. There is no way that a voluntary census will give us data as usable as the mandatory one. A mandatory census is not just whether we decide to fill it out at our dining room table, it is actually whether there is an obligation for the government to follow up if people have had trouble filling it out, as the wonderful member from ITK said at committee. It is a matter of the resources to the government to help someone who does not speak English, help other people to be able to fill out this data that ends up being in their best interest.

It is irresponsible for the government to try to pretend that the voluntary census, for which it will spend $30 million more, can in any way be a replacement for the mandatory long form census as was said at committee by Munir Sheikh.

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to raise a point that has not yet really been mentioned here today. As usual, the government has a habit of coming up with statements and we never know how or what they are based on. It makes certain statements about crime, for instance, and would have us believe they are supported by facts and statistics. For example, the government says that crime is on the rise and is a real problem. However, just today, a Statistics Canada survey shows that victimization rates have not increased since 2004.

Does my colleague agree that this attack on the census is nothing more than the government's underhanded way of ensuring that the facts are less reliable in the future, so that it can continue saying whatever it wants about any topic, without ever being contradicted by data from researchers or Statistics Canada? Does my colleague believe that this is a way for the Conservatives to open a door for themselves in the future, so they can say whatever they want without being refuted by statistics?

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, I totally agree.

Basing one's decisions on ideology without any evidence is completely irresponsible. I truly believe that the Conservatives' decision to scrap the mandatory census is an attack on reason.

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario


Tony Clement ConservativeMinister of Industry

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to talk about the changes that this government announced earlier this summer regarding revisions to the 2011 census process, including the move from a mandatory long form census questionnaire to the new voluntary national household survey.

Before I begin that, I think it is important to note the contrasting positions between the opposition and the government. The difference could not be made more clear.

This government believes we must strike a balance between the need for information and the threat of jail and/or fines to gather that information. The opposition instead brushes those concerns aside and demands that Canadians provide detailed information on over 40 pages of questions whether they want to or not.

It is our position that the opposition's position does not provide balance. That is plain and simple.

We have always been and continue to be fully supportive of the census in terms of its objective. Yet we must strike that balance between Canadians' rights to refuse answering those questions and the government's needs or desires to know the answers.

It is in this context that the government announced its decision to move away from the mandatory long form census to the voluntary survey. This change reflects our government's belief that no individual should be coerced on threat of imprisonment or fines into surrendering the answers to the 40 pages of questions that make up the long form.

Let me put this question perhaps a little bit rhetorically to any member of the Liberal, Bloc or NDP coalition partners. If someone in their riding does not want to complete the 40 pages of personal, private questions about their ancestry or parts of their belief system, about their day-to-day routines or about the state of repair of their homes, is it the appropriate government response to harass them until they relent and comply?

The members opposite have been clear that this is what they believe. That is what they stand for. It is not what I stand for, nor is it what this government can support. Asking someone how many sick days they took last year, under threat of imprisonment or massive fines, is quite rightly seen by some as incredibly intrusive on the part of the state.

It is because of this issue that our government compromised by creating the voluntary national household survey.

It is my belief and the belief of this government and representing Canadians who believe this way as well that this new approach achieves the appropriate balance between the need to collect information on households for informed public policy purposes and the removal of undue legal penalties on Canadians who choose not to do so.

What I have found most profoundly disappointing in the course of this debate over the last couple of months is the casual acceptance of coercive tactics to acquire more and more personal information from Canadians. It is a form of data farming.

We know there is appetite for more information from business and from other organizations, but under this 40-page form, government becomes the strong arm of enforcement to get this information by using threats.

I know the opposition says no one has been jailed, but quite frankly, when Canadians have someone at their door saying, “You're going to go to jail” and that person represents the government, that is a threat of jail. It is a threat of massive fines. Those threats are delivered by agents of the government.

Just think of this. For many in our society, many Canadians, our friends, our neighbours, perhaps family members, this is their only encounter with the government and it is not a pleasant one.

I have spoken to some of our hired census takers. One of them was in tears as she told me how new Canadians, terrified, thought they would be deported if they did not answer the long form questions.

Some members on the other side of the House are laughing at me right now. I do not think this is a laughing matter. They laugh and they interrupt. That is their casualness toward this issue.

Another census taker said that despite the best efforts of Statistics Canada, because it has a policy on this, some census takers were hired from the same neighbourhood as the responders, meaning our neighbours could know some of our most personal and intimate information.

For the opposition and other segments of our society, these are but trifles. They are of no major concern. Their position is information is key and the desire and demand for that information is to be balanced by nothing. However, we believe this is a terrible degradation of the social contract between the governors and the governed. We need to restore balance.

I recognize, for the purposes of debating this motion, that some critics have come to the table by calling on the government to introduce legislative amendments to the Statistics Act to remove completely the provisions of imprisonment from section 31 of the act in relation to the long form census, the census of population and the census of agriculture.

Colleagues will be pleased to know that I have already announced that we will remove this kind of heavy-handed punishment upon acceptance by this chamber and the other place. The new legislation will remove the threat of imprisonment for a citizen who chose to exercise the right to refuse to participate in any and all mandatory Statistics Canada surveys.

It has always been the position of any government, regardless of political stripe, historically in the country that the government of the day has always determined which questions are mandatory and which are not. This is not the first time changes have been made to the census. In fact, the census has evolved over time. Questions are modified, added and deleted with each new cycle to take into account a number of factors such as consultation feedback, support of legislation, program of policy needs, historical comparability and alternative data sources.

Although the census dates back to 1871, the long form has existed only since 1971. The amount of private detailed information the government is asking of Canadians has increased considerably.

Remember that the basic long form census questions have remained constant for decades, but the additional 40 or 50 questions that suddenly appeared in 1971 have been continually modified with new ones added each census. Not only the questions have changed, but the collection methods for the census have evolved over time. Some changes are definitely on the plus side, including, for example, the fact that in 1971 Canadians began to complete the questionnaire themselves rather than the previous approach of giving oral answers to an interviewer, although that practice exists in certain extenuating circumstances, or that beginning in 2006, Canadians were given the option of providing their answers via the Internet. It is our hope that in 2011 even more Canadians will choose to respond online to both the census and the national household survey.

However, not so welcome has been the probing questions under a mandatory regime and they seem particularly less welcome in a technological environment where Canadians are more and more sensitive about privacy issues.

The short form census continues to be mandatory, but the short form questions are much less invasive. Because it is short, the form is considerably less onerous to fill out. It contains questions on core demographic information such as date of birth, gender, marital status, mother tongue, which previous short form censuses included. Although there is an element of compulsion to fill out the short form, the questions, by virtue of what they are and the fact that there are only 10 of them, make filling out the form much less of a privacy concern for most citizens.

I want to repeat for the record that all households in Canada will receive the short form census in 2011. As hon. members might be aware by my answers in question period this past week, our government further compromised, by being the fair and reasonable government that we are, by adding two additional questions on official languages in the short form. I can assure the House that all questions relating to the official languages asked in the 2006 census will be maintained in the 2011 version, including knowledge of official languages, mother tongue and languages spoken at home.

The 2011 census includes additional questions on Canadians' ability to speak both official languages and on the language spoken at home. These questions will allow the government to respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act.

I truly believe a voluntary survey combined with the census for which the threat of jail time is removed in instances of non-compliance is an approach that strikes a reasonable balance between the privacy of citizens and the need for these data. This does not mean that the national household survey will be any less comprehensive than the current mandatory form. The questions will virtually be the same and will include queries on income and housing which, for example, measure crowding and identify housing needs, leading to the development of community housing programs.

One of the key issues in the public debate on these changes to the census has been the issue of data quality. I can report in this place that Statistics Canada believes, rightly so, that the national household survey will result in usable and useful data that can meet the needs of many users.

On the advice of Statistics Canada, which recognizes the sample size would decrease as the long form becomes voluntary, the government has agreed to send the national household survey to nearly double the number of Canadian households as compared to the 2006 long form census. This will be the largest survey distributed to the Canadian population in our nation's history in terms of volume with the long form being distributed to more households than ever before.

Statistics Canada would administer the NHS in close coordination with the census. It will use a variety of methods to encourage people to fill out the new survey, methods similar to those used in its other voluntary household surveys that have already proved to be very useful. This includes direct mail outs, highlighting the importance of the NHS and reminders to non-respondents to complete their forms. The agency will also pursue the best approach to encourage Canadians to complete both the census and the national household survey.

Inherent in this approach is a reasonable compromise that gives us the ability to get what the chief statistician has called “useful and usable data” to meet the needs of many users. To ensure that the sample size is sufficient in order for the data to be useful and usable, we have to actively work with individuals and groups. The government has a plan to do just that, while relying on Statistics Canada's ability to conduct voluntary surveys, its experience, professionalism and rigorous methods.

Through the methodologies I just described, I think they meet head on some of the issues of survey bias. However, our government is focused on finding an appropriate balance between the needs of organizations of governments to use the data, as I mentioned, and the needs of ordinary Canadians who do not like being threatened at their door.

I have often heard members of the opposition attempt to set aside the government's concern about the threat of jail by citing the number of Canadians actually sentenced. I refer to the survey in my remarks. As I mentioned, this misses the point entirely. Canadians who refused to fill out the long form census in previous years have been threatened with fines, jail or both. I have heard this not only in my own personal encounters, but at the committee hearings that were held this summer in this place.

I would be wrong if I did not acknowledge publicly that some unknowns exist out there. We still have to fight against selection bias, although no one really knows until we actually do the survey. We know that some groups tend to under-sample, the very rich, the very poor, new immigrant groups and so forth, but we can then work with those groups and those individuals to get those numbers up.

What the government will not do, however, is compel Canadians, under threat of a criminal record, to complete the national household survey. I want to be clear on that point. We took a principled decision, and I believe the right decision, to put an end to the concept of threatening Canadians with fines and/or jail time for not completing the 40-page census long form, and we stand by that decision.

In short, the government wants to protect our citizens from invasion of privacy and not be the source of those invasions. Be it our neighbours, friends or family members, simply some do not want to fill out the form based on those privacy concerns. I simply cannot agree with those who endorse any sort of a coercion as acceptable and indeed desirable government policy for the long form census

We believe that our new approach of combining a mandatory short form census with a voluntary long form survey achieves that appropriate balance between the need for data to inform public policy research, while respecting those hard fought for privacy rights of Canadians.

For hon. colleagues, I reiterate that the 2011 census will provide a high level of demographic and economic information as it always has. I am also confident that the change to our collection process for the new national household survey will provide that useful and reliable data for the government and indeed for all Statistic Canada's clients. This is an important point and it is a point that our government remains steadfast, that we have not only taken the time to seek the reasonable balance, we have found the reasonable balance.

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Chair, we are aware that every justification just given by the minister has already been debunked by organizations and experts, including the former chief statistician who resigned because he believed he had been misrepresented by the minister.

This costly, damaging change to the census will undermine important information required to provide services. The minister claims to be speaking for Canadians in making these changes. However, we also know that zero privacy complaints were received by Statistics Canada for its 2006 census and only three complaints were received by the privacy commission in the past decade, none of which were upheld. Therefore, there has not been consultation. There has been no record of complaints.

The minister mentioned that this was a principled decision. Is this a decision based on the Prime Minister's principle as expressed in his comment, “I make the rules”?

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Madam Speaker, I hope the hon. member listened to me as I outlined, for 20 minutes, the rational and reasonable basis for making the decision.

Let me spend a few moments to respond to the privacy complaints issues because this is an important and valid issue.

It strikes us that if people have privacy complaints against a government agency, the last thing they will do is go to that government agency to register those privacy complaints. The more normal thing to do is to approach their members of Parliament who are elected to represent their values and interest in this place.

That is what individuals across the country have done. Whenever there is a census, we get the complaints. The number of complaints to MPs has grown throughout the years. With each census, there are more and more complaints.

An hon. member is shaking his head. He has not had a complaint. That is great but others have had those complaints and we are acting on those complaints because we think there is a valid way to meet the concerns of those complaints, while still getting the useful and usable data for which some in our society hanker.

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, I am saddened and I am worried that the minister and the government do not believe in democracy or in government. However, almost worse than that, they do not believe in science-based public policy.

I am a scientist and I know and I agree with the Statistics Canada, the Canadian Association for Business Economics, the Canadian Economics Association that a voluntary census has little if any statistical validity.

Will the minister vote to eliminate the silly punitive coercions and restore the long form census immediately and will the government return to putting science-based policy formulation ahead of petty politics?