Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-626, an act to amend the Statistics Act. I am pleased to enthusiastically support the bill.
I would like to thank the critic, our MP for Parkdale—High Park, for her work on this and also the staff who worked diligently on this and other files, including Florian Olsen, Stéphanie Haché, and from my office, Andrew Cuddy. They did great work in helping us understand the bill, and helping us with our speeches and procedures in the House.
I would also like to extend kudos to the member for Kingston and the Islands for bringing forward Bill C-626. It has been great to work alongside him in trying to make science, social sciences and hard sciences, better in this House. I am really sad that he is not going to be standing in the next election, because I think he has made a good contribution to Canada. I wish him well in his future endeavours and thank him again for putting this forward and allowing us to vote on it.
From my reading, this is a very good bill, which would bring back the long form census and empower the Chief Statistician. It would remove, as we have heard in speeches, the possibility of imprisonment for failing to complete surveys, which I think is something the British probably brought in when they were doing the survey census way back when, for tax purposes and that type of thing. Perhaps the mandatory requirements in those bills are past their day. However, I notice that there are still provisions for fining people if they do not complete these surveys, and I think that is something we have heard the Conservatives will be trying to change. I hope they at least make some incentive for people to fill out these surveys.
The bill put forward by the member for Kingston and the Islands is very similar to bills we have put forward in the past, notably Bill C-346 by our MP for Windsor West. Therefore, of course, we support Bill C-626, and I think all Canadians, with the exception of those sitting across the aisle, would support strengthening our most important data source for planning and business purposes in this country.
Good data is essential to make the economy work, as census data provides social scientists, governments, and businesses the information they need to make good policy and business choices.
The NDP fought to prevent the Conservatives from eliminating the long form census and bringing in the national household survey in 2010. However, the Conservatives went ahead, without really any consultation, and now we are feeling the effects.
If members look up their community in the census and look at the statistics that are provided with the national household survey, up in the top right corner, members will probably see a little yellow triangle that warns that the data is questionable. It is there for almost every community across Canada. In fact, I just pulled up Burnaby, and the non-response rate in Burnaby was almost one-quarter of the people. It means that statisticians do not have the kind of data they need to make accurate projections. Burnaby is not a big community, just 220,000 people. It should be fairly easy to collect information there, but because of the changes that have been made, now we do not know whether the information is credible.
In fact, the national household survey that has now replaced the mandatory long form census survey has caused quite an uproar. It not only had municipalities and researchers upset, but just after it was introduced, the chief statistician resigned.
I hang around with statisticians, and they are very dedicated to their jobs. They are not political people. In fact, scientists get quite nervous when partisan politics are brought in. Therefore, when a chief statistician resigns, it shows us that something very significant has happened, which was something he did not feel he could put his name to. In fact, I think if members asked any statistician in this country, they would see what a grave error the Conservative government has made.
There are very good reasons for complaints. When we had the mandatory long form census, we had a 94% response rate. This is a high enough rate for us to accurately say every five years what was going on in each community in Canada. Now we have a 68% response rate. I think a lot of people at home probably are not getting closer to their televisions wondering what that means, but it is very important for ordinary Canadians.
Local government is an area that I have studied in the past. I am just finishing a text book on local government in Canada. There are 4,000 municipalities in Canada, but now more than 1,000 of them do not have any census information.
I used to work in the planning department of the City of Vancouver. One of my jobs was to take the census information to create profiles of communities to show how age groups and ethnicities had changed. This allowed planners to say, “We need new facilities there”, or allowed businesses to say, “Maybe this is a place where we should locate or move”.
For thousands of communities across Canada, this information does not exist. We are basically back to the 1800s in planning where new facilities should go and where businesses need to locate. If a Tim Horton's is looking where to put the next Time Horton's, the first place it would go is to census information to find out where the market is that will buy its product.
For a lot of communities in Canada, that information does not exist any more. When companies go to the Election Canada website to pull up the statistics sheet, a little yellow triangle will now show up in the right-hand corner. That undermines their confidence in their ability to predict where they should locate their businesses. Over the long term, this will have very serious economic impacts. I really think the Conservatives should reconsider this and vote in favour of the bill to ensure that we do not fall behind the international community.
If they continue along this path and keep removing these kinds of requirements to report our statistics accurately, there is some potential for international ramifications; for example, we have to provide the International Monetary Fund and World Bank accurate unemployment numbers and those types of things. I hope they do not start tinkering with the labour force survey, as was suggested a little while ago, because we may very well get kicked out of these international organizations if we start acting like North Korea in how we collect statistics. It is not a very good idea.
In Saskatchewan, over 40% of communities have no census data, and because the Conservatives want to stick with this as we move forward through the next census-taking, once again, another 40% of communities in Saskatchewan will have no census data for more than a decade. If we think of the population that is exploding there, especially first nations, there will be no accurate census done. When we are trying to plan for education, where to locate schools and perhaps where to close schools, and all of those types of things, we are making our local planners fly blind. That is a huge mistake. More than 25 per cent of communities in Yukon, Newfound and Labrador, P.E.I., New Brunswick, Manitoba, and Alberta do not have accurate information either. This is a real problem.
Nowhere else in the world have they done this. In the U.S., the Americans tried it and immediately reversed course because it damaged their economy.
We debate the economy a lot here and hear a lot of rhetoric, but what is really important is that we base our economic projections, locally, provincially, and nationally, on the best data we can get. Unfortunately, this data source, our most important data source in the country, has been destroyed by the Conservatives who say they are protecting basic rights to liberty or whatever. We can do that in other ways, but messing with this census was a big mistake. I think the Conservatives will pay the price. This is what we hear from people on the ground who say they would like to get information about their community but cannot get it. They get angry hearing that the Conservatives abolished this for no reason.
It is not just municipalities, it is not just businesses, but it is also social scientists who are concerned about this. I think this move adds to the Conservative war on science. Not only do the Conservatives muzzle scientists, not only have they fired over 4,000 scientists from the federal rolls and cut a billion dollars billion from science funding, but this is also just another knock against intellectual work in this country. I really think this is building up to something. People have written books about this accumulation of attacks on knowledge and science in Canada.
Again, I would like to applaud my friend for bringing this forward. I definitely will be voting for the bill.
I would also like to call attention to my efforts to bring in a parliamentary science officer, an independent officer of the legislature, perhaps an auditor general for science, who would protect science and give us good, accurate advice on whether these types of actions are something we should be doing and ensure that we are making science-based policy decisions in the House.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you very much for your time today and, again, I congratulate my friend on a very good bill.