Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on Bill C-36 with regard to the census. One thing we can be clear about in the debate on this legislation is it is critically important how we spend taxpayers' money. That is central to the census itself. It is no laughing matter, especially when we look at some of the people involved.
Shame on both the Liberals and Conservatives for their actions in regard to former chief statisticians. It needs to be identified as quite a serious situation. Munir Sheikh resigned under the Conservatives and Wayne Smith resigned under the Liberals. These are key resignations. These are chief statisticians who are respected across the planet. They were seen to have had their integrity compromised by being senior bureaucrats in an administration. They ended up being whistle-blowers. We know not just domestically but across the globe, whistle-blowers often become martyrs. They often become targets. They and their families are often affected for going public with something where they compromised their own personal well-being versus that of the state or the job they do. That is what took place with our chief statisticians.
It is important to remember who they are. Munir Sheikh, for example, was a Canadian immigrant from Pakistan who later on became a doctor of economics and worked in the Department of Finance for many years as a deputy minister, later becoming a chief statistician, and resigning from his position at Stats Canada. That was the first time I had seen a resignation like that in the 15 plus years I have been here. I had never witnessed someone take on the administration like that. That came about because of a number of things related to Stats Canada and how it was treated and valued.
Therefore, it is important to review what is so important about the Statistics Act and why it is so important for Canadians. A chief statistician is responsible for the overall act and the administration of it. The issues they monitor across the country are where, at the end of the day, taxpayers' money is spent. It is about income. It is about the labour market. It is education, housing, transportation, languages, persons with disabilities, citizenship, immigration, aboriginal peoples, and ethnicity. They even determine where to place a fire hall for municipalities. There was discussion today about high-rise buildings. We have seen tragedies with high-rise buildings, most recently in London. However, we have the necessary data accumulation on municipalities to do the proper planning for allocating resources, because Statistics Canada knows where the populations are. If we do not have that information, we not only could knowingly set ourselves up for failure but we could unwittingly do so, because we do not have that information.
It is similar with economic growth. The latest census of 2016 shows 35% of Canada's population now resides in the Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal areas. That is a significant concentration of human population for such a geographic mass as Canada. That also makes it very important for us to attract investment and innovation for other areas. The more vulnerable communities, related to not having proper statistical information, are smaller communities and smaller pockets of population. It is how housing is decided. I mentioned fire halls for municipal service. There is all of that, and even affordable housing and the cost of housing, which actually translates into economic development, where businesses decide where and what type of business they should grow here in Canada.
When I came here, I had previously worked as an employment counsellor for persons with disabilities and youth at risk and I was a city councillor in Windsor West where I represented one of the great parliamentarians for 39 years, the deputy prime minister at the time, the right hon. Herb Gray. As a city councillor, my area that he represented was pegged to be part of what is called the complete count. In Windsor West there were many new immigrants and we had a lot of issues related to language and culture, so our statistical returns related to the census were lower.
That meant that we were missing out on valuable data necessary for Mr. Gray to advocate for housing, language services, a series of things that were necessary for the production, value, and contribution of the citizens of that area because of the challenges. Because we had English as a second language growing as a concern, at around a 50% return rate for our census, we were missing out on those opportunities. We also had people who wanted to participate, wanted to do better things, but they could not.
We were one of four areas across the country, at that time, of the 301 ridings federally that did a door-to-door campaign to help people get enumerated for the census. There is a litany of reasons why that is important, but it affects the funding and the contributions. If we are coming from a community that does not have those things, as identified, it is hard to advocate for that.
It is not just about government services, it is also about businesses. Businesses use this information from labour market surveys not only to identify customer populations, but also to identify concerns about shortages of workers with certain skill sets. The information in the census is used to identify that for investment. One of the number one things we hear to this day is the fact that we are going to be short certain types of workers, whether it be engineers or mechanical workers, and not having the people to staff in those regions and not preparing other populations to either get that skill set, or having to import that labour versus educating Canadians and invest in education to do so. That affects a multitude of things and diminishes our middle class.
We did that in Windsor West. Later on as a representative of Windsor West in this chamber, I understood quite clearly the value of a clean statistical database for advocating for my community and also for this country. I became very intimate with how it works. About 50% of persons with disabilities are not working in Canada. Many have given up and are not in the system. l was part of a group that was able to include more persons with disabilities. I want to note that the good work of the public servants in helping access jobs for persons with disabilities during that time was critical. I am still grateful today because I know some people are still working and can use the job to get something else.
Ivan Fellegi, a chief statistician at that time, was under pressure to privatize our census. England, for example, had outsourced the collection of data to different third parties and Canada was outsourcing its census to Lockheed Martin. A campaign I was part of looked to protect Canadians' data from Lockheed Martin because many people had ethical concerns about Lockheed Martin collecting our data. It was an arms manufacturer predominantly based in the United States that produced weapons which were banned under Canadian law like cluster munitions and so on. It was collecting our data and not only that, it would store and implement the data. At that time, the U.S. went through the implementation of the Patriot Act. We discovered it was going to assemble this data outsourced from Canada in the United States.
Why that is important is because once the Patriot Act was implemented, the hard reality was that all our census data, personal and private information we thought was protected, was now susceptible to the United States. Under the Patriot Act, the way it worked at that time, and most of which still exists in this format today, is that if a court order was issued for information, the company could not tell the actual proprietor of that information that the information was actually being usurped and used by the American government.
It would have been against the law for Lockheed Martin to disclose to Canada that the information it gathered in Canada would be used. Credit card companies and others have faced some scrutiny since then. The Privacy Commissioner has piped in. From British Columbia, and other areas, there is quite a record on this. We fought quite hard to get that information to stay in Canada, which we were able to do.
Getting past that, we continued to have a fairly stable census, until the Conservatives came into power and created the voluntary national household survey. It was put out there as a cost-cutting measure, in many respects, and also as privacy protection for Canadians. Not having the bully of government telling people they have to disclose information or they were going to kick in doors, make people fill in the census form, or send them off to jail.
I remember the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka getting up a number of times in the chamber, talking about people being intimidated. The jail aspect was certainly the heightened element that received media attention from many facets for many months, more than a year. To this day, it is still one of the more laughable things ever pronounced by a minister in the history of Canada: that people were going to be locked up and have the key thrown away for not completing their census. The essence of it was really a side distraction, which worked.
The national household survey came back with around a 26% response rate. That 26% response rate meant that our statistics, which had been the envy of many industrialized worlds, were now a diminished response. We lost a significant portion of the reliability of that data to make decisions on income, labour market, education, housing, transportation, languages, disabilities, citizenship, immigration, aboriginal people, and ethnicity. All the intel on those things went down to 26%.
The other interesting thing about that is that it cost us an additional $22 million. We received a quarter of the results, paid an additional $22 million, and then it became very worthless in many respects. This is more the technical aspect of it that some people may not care for, but it is important. Think of the centrepiece of our census as a backstop for other labour market surveys, whether it be polling, labour market agriculture, labour market related to industrial development, or labour market for investment. All those different things would be targeted in smaller surveys, but the overall sample of the statistical census would provide some of the best statistical information. Poof, that was gone. All that continuum we had was basically disrupted by that introduction.
That is when Munir Sheikh, and I discussed some of his qualifications as an economist and a deputy at the Department of Finance for many years, resigned. He resigned because he could no longer do his job.
We pressed for changes and then the Liberals and opposition agreed with changes as well. I tabled a member's bill, as did a couple of other members, to restore the independence. This bill would do some of that. It would provide some of those elements, but it would not go far enough.
Wayne Smith, the latest chief statistician in terms of Service Canada, resigned because of that. He resigned because Service Canada has become a large, encompassing agency for intelligence and support services. The problem it has is that much of our census information that is used now has to flow into this information of shared services, creating an independence issue about the data falling in there, then getting data back and the use of it. This created quite a problem, and Wayne Smith has now resigned.
We now have the bill which will make Statistics Canada somewhat independent. I say somewhat independent, because overall it does fulfill the things I described in the first part of my speech relating to information gathering, creating the lineal information necessary for statistical information use, the gathering, and how it restores those elements. That is critically important.
We are very grateful we will have that, but it does not actually go the full nine yards, so right now we still have a situation where the minister can still make political decisions about the questions that are asked in the census. It still takes away from the scientific approach we would like to have, and the independence, because we do pay, and we do actually ask someone to come into this position. It is very much a sought after career position to have. If it is independent, we get some of the best in the world. We will still have the minister's control over that, so I worry about the fact we could have some politicization of it.
It has been mentioned, and there has been banter back and forth between the Conservatives and Liberals about patronage and the appointment process, but it is a serious thing to consider. We are just dealing in my neck of the woods right now, a patronage appointment, the Gordie Howe Bridge, and Dwight Duncan becoming quite controversial, because there is a partisanship past appointment and there are partisanship attacks, including Ontario Progressive Conservatives, the American administration, and so forth. I get the seriousness of that, and what is at stake there, but what I am worried about is, what happens next time? Now that this is enshrined in law, it becomes very difficult for us to get that independence.
The Statistics Canada Department is one of 42 agencies that are supposed to be at arm's length from the government, but unfortunately, with this legislation, it is still within choking distance. Yes, it is at arm's length, but a choking distance away. I am concerned about the fact we will not see that happening. Wayne Smith identified some of those issues and concerns.
We will eliminate the jail time. It will be completely eliminated, so it can no longer be a distraction, and in the future there will be no ability for the minister to say something that would make people run, or think about something different from what the real serious issue is, which is actually the increased cost, or the change of the census, which is important. There will also still be 92 years of census information before it goes public.
In his testimony, Wayne Smith said that Bill C-36 moves the Statistics Act substantially in the right direction, creates no new problems, but fails to fully address independence, the need for full quinquennials, mandatory census of population, or the modernization of the legislation to build a statistical system adapted to the rapidly evolving needs and challenges of the 21st century. He concluded that there is still work to be done. We proposed some amendments given to us in committee by Mr. Smith and others, but they were not taken into consideration.
We will be supporting this. It is a good step forward, but it is a missed opportunity. We get to hit a double instead of a home run out of this one, so we will take it. We advance the case, and most important, Canadians and the use of our money will be better off served with data that is reliable than not.