Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-626 and its proposed amendments to the Statistics Act.
Our government is committed to balancing the need to collect reliable statistical data, while protecting the privacy of Canadians and reducing costs to taxpayers.
Canadians expect their government to put in place meaningful statistical programs that provide the information needed for governments, businesses, municipalities, associations and university researchers, while reducing the response burden and cost to taxpayers.
This government understands the importance of collecting reliable data in order to make informed decisions. We are not, however, prepared to force Canadians to give detailed private information to government officials at a great cost to taxpayers.
As with all activities across government, Canadians deserve to see clear lines of accountability in the programs their government puts in place. It is the government's responsibility to ensure these programs respond to the needs of Canadians. The amendments my colleague across the floor is proposing would negatively affect the governance and accountability of Statistics Canada and the timeliness of data collection. They would be costly to taxpayers and would reverse steps the government has already taken to alleviate this burden on Canadians.
This bill attempts to change the method for appointing the chief statistician, shifting part of that responsibility from the Governor-in-Council to other players. This government is committed to ensuring clear lines of accountability for all Governor-in-Council appointments.
These amendments would blur the accountabilities of the chief statistician, who is currently appointed like other deputy ministers. Canadians expect accountability in government decisions, and we have continued to make appointments in a fair and consistent manner.
The bill also attempts to shift decision-making powers from the minister and the Governor-in-Council to the chief statistician with regard to the overall statistical program.
The bill would see the chief statistician rather than the Governor-in-Council deciding on content for any census. Any questions that are asked on a mandatory basis, with legal penalties for non-compliance, should be approved by our elected officials. The change my colleague is proposing would upset the current balance between the advisory and implementation role of officials and the decision making accountability of the minister to Parliament.
Moreover, the chief statistician already has a broad range of powers and responsibilities to ensure the integrity of the statistical program and to protect the privacy rights of Canadians. The proposed changes will strip accountability away, changing what is already a robust and balanced process.
The bill also unrealistically would commit Statistics Canada to adopting ambiguous international best practices regarding data collection and ethical standards and guidelines. Statistics Canada already employs international standards when these standards are suitable to the Canadian context. To prescribe the adoption of international best practices in law would not give Statistics Canada the flexibility it needs to apply best practices, ethical standards and guidelines that meet Canadian values and norms.
The bill also seeks to mandate the publication of all surveys in the Canada Gazette that meet the same ambiguous international best practices. This is an unnecessary and unrealistic requirement as Statistics Canada already publishes detailed information on all surveys on its website. To force the publication of over 350 surveys per year would significantly increase costs and red tape associated with surveys and reduce the timeliness of data. This obligation would grind Statistics Canada operations to a halt, would increase the cost of operations, and would seriously limit its ability to respond to user needs for data in a timely manner.
Bill C-626 also attempts to reverse the important decisions this government has made to reduce the burden on Canadians and to protect their privacy. It prescribes that all Canadians be forced to respond to a long form questionnaire and also defines the parameters of such a survey. This would be a regressive step as it would legally compel Canadians to respond to all census questions however intrusive.
This government has already taken steps to ensure that certain census questions, the ones pertaining to establishing the population, calculating transfer payments and determining government policy, remain mandatory. The government has also decided that other questions are unnecessarily intrusive and a breach of the privacy of Canadians.
The bill fails to respect that balance and seeks to reverse these decisions, compelling Canadians to answer mandatory questions with legal recourse if they fail to comply. Therefore, these aspects of the bill cannot be supported.
Our government committed to removing the jail-time penalties for Canadians who refused to participate in mandatory surveys. The bill before us would partially accomplish this, yet it does not go far enough in removing this threat. When Canadians respond to surveys about their private lives, they should be able to do so without the threat of jail time. They should be able to provide their responses without having to face the threat of jail should they choose not to answer private questions.
Canadians expect their government to be tough on crime and to stand up for victims. Prison sentences are penalties meant for criminals—murderers, drug traffickers, and child abusers—not for people who do not comply with mandatory surveys or who fail to provide administrative data.
As promised during the last election, the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London has brought forward legislation that would go further in removing this penalty. I would encourage my colleagues to support that bill when it comes forward for debate.
This government takes the statistical program seriously and has taken many steps to establish a fair balance between the collection of relevant data and protecting the privacy rights of Canadians. Statistics Canada has long been one of the world's most respected statistical agencies, and Canadians deserve an institution that continues to remain at the forefront of its field.
This government will continue to work hard and ensure that statistical programs remain relevant and cost-effective while respecting the privacy rights of Canadians.