Mr. Speaker, as an economist by training, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-36, which deals with amendments to the Statistics Act and of course pertains to the operations of Statistics Canada.
This House will recall that, when the Conservatives were in power, the decision to eliminate the long form census provoked quite a public outcry, which came from nearly every sector of civil society. The scientific community was particularly vocal, including social scientists and economists in general.
Eliminating the long form census created problems with respect to the analysis of demographic data. Even though the long form census is being restored, the disruption means that, ultimately, vital information will not be available to study societal changes.
Just as we had done during the election campaign, the Liberals also promised to bring back the long form census. We have to credit them for that. They have done so, and we must thank them for that, at least. The scientific community is also very grateful.
However, this bill is not about the long form census as such. According to the Liberal government, this bill seeks to strengthen the independence of Statistics Canada, and make changes and modernize it. We will not oppose the measures that are included in the bill. They are good. Unfortunately, they do only half of what was promised during the election campaign. Hon. members will certainly remember that during the election campaign the Liberal Party promised to give Statistics Canada full independence.
When the then Conservative government cancelled the long form census, the chief statistician resigned in protest of this interference. In September, many Canadians were surprised to see his successor, Wayne Smith, also resign, this time over the Liberal government's decision to force Statistics Canada to used Shared Services Canada's information technology services.
The government did not waver despite the fact that for three months there were intense discussions between the government, Shared Services, and Statistics Canada. During those discussions, Statistics Canada clearly demonstrated that being forced to use the agency's IT services would compromise not only its independence, but also the efficiency of data collection.
Although the bill makes public the cabinet decisions or ministerial orders that the statistician is opposed to and removes the possibility of imprisonment for those who refuse to fill out the mandatory survey, it still falls short. It does not make Statistics Canada independent, particularly when it comes to the process for selecting the chief statistician. In that regard, I would like to point out the work that has been done by my colleague from Windsor West, who introduced a bill to address that issue.
The bill also does not make it mandatory to complete the long-form census; does not make it possible to modernize the Statistics Act so that information can be better disseminated to the public; and does not, as I mentioned, do anything to prevent the interference of Shared Services Canada, which compromises Statistics Canada's independence and is the reason why Wayne Smith resigned.
In September 2016, La Presse published an interview with the chief statistician, which clearly demonstrates the importance of this issue. The article states that:
In a June report [so three months before the chief statistician resigned] obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, the [National Statistics] Council wrote that the Liberals' intent to have Statistics Canada find new ways of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data was inconsistent with their insistence that the federal agency use the new centralized platform...
On one hand, the Liberal government is asking Statistics Canada to do a better job of collecting the data it needs to better inform the public, as well as the federal and provincial governments, on what measures ought to be taken. On the other hand, the Liberal government is trying to force Statistics Canada to use the Shared Services Canada computer system, which will prevent Statistics Canada from doing what the government asked it to do in the first place.
If there is one element that needs to be included in Bill C-36, it is independence and the ability of Statistics Canada to make its own decisions, because it knows best what it actually needs, in terms of data collection, to report and to inform the population better, and not only the population, but all levels of government.
Did the government actually listen to the chief statistician? Of course not. That is why he resigned.
We have, at this point, a process to replace him. He was actually replaced by his assistant, but to fully replace him, we have a process that still involves the government, so it is still not independent and autonomous. This means, by extension, that the process remains politicized.
Given all the upheaval that Statistics Canada has gone through since 2011 or 2012, the government should have addressed directly the serious promise it made during the election campaign. It was to make Statistics Canada fully and not just partly independent, give it a few more powers, and provide direction for the rest.
The Liberals promised to make Statistics Canada fully independent. Bill C-36 does not do that and the government has not yet indicated that it is willing to do it after this bill is passed.
I would like the various Liberal members to tell us, in their speeches, what the government intends to do with Statistics Canada. This is a fundamental issue that affects the fabric of our society.
As I said before, I would like to commend the member for Windsor West, who has presented a bill that would address the issue of the selection of the chief statistician at Statistics Canada. The reason he did so is that he felt there was reluctance by the government to abandon some of the powers it currently has over a service that is traditionally viewed as independent and whose services are critical for the elaboration and analysis of the policies government puts forth. It is also of use to provincial and municipal governments, because they need to have information on the composition of their societies and the evolution of their societies and communities.
The member for Windsor West saw this very important element that was, once again, promised by the Liberals. He felt that the government was not going in that direction.
I have the feeling that other members on this side of the House will actually do the exact same thing on other commitments regarding Statistics Canada, and general commitments made by the government, on which it does not seem to be willing to deliver.
The issue of the long form census received a lot more public attention, but the independence of Statistics Canada is also deemed important by scientific communities.
I believe that this type of half measure brought forward by the government not only fuels the cynicism of Canadians, but also the cynicism of the people whose work relies on these government organizations.
Statistics Canada has gone through all the decisions.
Considering all the turmoil that Statistics Canada has been through, we would have expected the government to address this issue immediately, but it refuses to do so.
We will be voting in favour of this bill at second reading. In committee, of course, we will try to ensure that the commitments dealing with Statistics Canada that the Liberals made during the election campaign are included in the bill. That would be an improvement and, in that sense, we could help the government meet the commitments it made during the election campaign.