Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Malpeque.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to this opposition day motion. I want to congratulate my colleague who put this motion forward.
The scrapping of the mandatory long form census has come out of nowhere. There was no stakeholder consultation. It did not appear to be part of a Conservative Party platform. There were no motions in committee. There was no public discussion on the issue. Instead, the Prime Minister's office chose a quiet time in June, during the summer parliamentary break, to introduce yet another example of what I would call divide and conquer politics and another concrete example of what we know as the I-make-the-rules regime in this country.
The country has never seen such a widespread and broad-based list of people and groups against this change. Over 370 groups are opposed to the changes brought forward by the government. There may be about a dozen who would be supportive of it. While I have a long list here of groups that I intended to read into the record, I think we have heard many from it, and if I have time at the end of my comments I will add to the list.
If the primary motivation of the Conservative government was to remove the threat of a jail sentence for refusing to respond to the mandatory long form census, one must ask simply why the government did not introduce legislation to remove this threat itself, as the Liberal motion does today.
Earlier this morning the Minister of Industry repeated that the opposition wants to criminalize those who do not complete the long form census. Yet once again I repeat that it is not the Conservative government but the Liberal caucus that has introduced legislation to amend the Statistics Act.
If we do not count people, they do not count, their problems do not count, and then a response by government is not necessary. I suspect this is the primary reason behind what the government is doing by removing the mandatory aspect of the long form census.
We all know the census is the fundamental source of information for the country, the fundamental source of information for society. The mandatory long form census has, since 1971, provided objective, reliable data that provides sometimes quite inconvenient information for governments. It provides information on unpaid work, women's wages, the status of disabled persons, and the state of Canada's housing stock. Is it inconvenient for the government to know that 16 people live in a 1,000 square foot house on a first nations reserve? Is it inconvenient to know that the housing stock in first nations communities continues to be a national disgrace? Is it inconvenient for a government to know that a newcomer requires resettlement support and help? Is it inconvenient to know that governments are delivering services less effectively and less efficiently than they might otherwise do?
On August 5 I met with members of my community in Winnipeg to discuss the removal of the mandatory aspect of the long form census. Participating in this discussion were representatives of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, not-for-profit agencies, university researchers, representatives of aboriginal communities, and disability communities. Some organizations said they would like to be there but because they receive government funding they were afraid to come. In a country such as Canada, they were afraid to speak about their concerns about not making the long form census mandatory.
It is important to note that at that meeting I heard things such as completing the mandatory long form census is part of civic duty, that it is not intrusiveness, it is citizenship.
I heard that the government's decision to scrap the long form is part of a trend by the government, as one of my colleagues quoted earlier, to seek out policy based evidence rather than making evidence based policy. I heard that administrative data is more intrusive than census data and far more expensive to access.
Regarding the validity of a voluntary national household survey, it is shocking to hear the Minister of Industry say earlier that the government was acting on the advice of Statistics Canada. We know that the chief statistician had to resign to make it clear that a voluntary household survey cannot become a substitute for a mandatory sentence. The government conducted no real consultation with Statistics Canada. Instead, it began with the premise that the mandatory long form would be replaced.
Other members have spoken today about the need for reliable data and that only a mandatory long form census can produce that data. I would point out that even the minister admitted that a voluntary census had selection biases and will have low levels of response from low and high income earners, as well as aboriginal Canadians. He also tacitly acknowledged the fact that we will pay more for less.
I will also point out that we take a census every five years, not only to see a snapshot of where we are in society at a point in time, but to make comparisons over time. A voluntary survey will be incompatible with previous long form census data and make this type of comparison impossible.
As well, even the Prime Minister knows or knew of the importance of consistent methodology. In his 1991 master's thesis, he used census data to make his case about political business cycles. He even noted how disruptive changes in methodology could be for long-term analysis in understanding how Canadian political behaviour changed over time.
The government says that it needs to try to balance the need for data with the need to remove the threat of jail time. I would ask the government to acknowledge the fundamental imbalance that it has created by choosing to scrap the mandatory long form census rather than remove the threat of jail time and keep the census.
As I stated earlier, never has this House seen such a broad-based range of stakeholders, such as a coalition, including other levels of government, against the decision to scrap the long form census.
I want to read into the record the words of the National Council of Women of Canada, when it, in a letter to the Prime Minister, said:
NCWC is a staunch supporter of recognizing unpaid work in contributing to Canada’s vibrant economy. We are now writing to oppose the proposed changes to Canada’s census. Through a voluntary census, information gathered becomes unreliable and unusable. Any other surveys on social services are also compromised without a reliable comparative demographic scale to be used alongside.
I will conclude my comments by referencing an editorial in today's Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail, in its conclusion to its lead editorial, said:
It is unfortunate that something as sensible and fundamental as the long-form census has to be hard-wired into law. But given that its abolition was born of political calculation, the political arena, where the consensus against abolition is so great, is where it should be settled.
I would ask members opposite, and particularly the Prime Minister's Office, to respect this institution, respect the vote that comes out of this debate here today and maintain the mandatory long form census. We have heard from Canadians from coast to coast to coast, from church groups, to business groups, to school groups, to women's groups and to disabled groups. Canadians right across this country know, use and need the mandatory long form census. I would ask members opposite to respect the decisions in this House.