An amusing take on the census controversy. What do you think?
Can I let you in on a little secret? Hold on, let me just look around a sec to make sure no one's listening . . . OK, I think we're alone.
So here it is -- I hate the census, especially that long form. Hate it. Always have. Always will.
Shhhhh . . . don't yell! Boy, are most Canadians such compliant little citizens when it comes to the census. I know what some of you are going to say -- you have to be "counted in" so your province can collect federal funds, it's critically important for us to know how many Ethiopian speakers live in Canada or how many of us immigrated here from Transylvania, or own a goldfish, or whatever.
But I'm not buying it. The government already knows the important facts about us, and when they go after the smaller, private details of our lives with that dreaded long form they become like the worst kind of bullying, nosy neighbour.
While I appreciate that Ottawa needs a certain amount of data upon which to make policy decisions, the fascist methods employed by Sadistics Canada have always got under my skin.
The conflict stems from the bully boy way in which Ottawa collects census data. Basically, Parliament gave StatsCan the right to ask any question they want about our private lives and then forces us to answer upon threat of fines and prison. Is it just me, or doesn't that sound more like something Darth Vader or maybe Stalin would dream up instead of a supposedly free democracy?
I may be committing professional hara-kiri in saying this publicly, but I may be the only journalist in Canada who was pleased to learn last week that the Harper government was replacing the mandatory long form with a voluntary survey that will be sent to 4.5 million homes during next year's census.
Most journalists love census data, which they consume with nearly the same enthusiasm that their lungs consume air. On a slow news day, nothing perks up the typical journalist more than a fresh news release from StatsCan reporting on the latest divorce rate, life expectancy or per-capita jelly bean consumption. You don't even need to leave your desk to find something to write. Trust me, I've been there.
Since Industry Minister Tony Clement removed the threat of jail for people refusing to reveal their secrets, commentators have been falling over themselves to denounce the move as a Tory plot to undermine the creation of rational government policy, ignoring, of course, that we didn't have the long form until 35 years ago and apparently developed the country just fine.
One Vancouver commentator, David Eaves, suggested the move would be the end of "smart government." Really? The census has been around since 1871, and . . . sorry, I can't go on, I'm laughing too hard. "Smart government." Great joke.
And I just about wet myself when I read further to learn that Eaves, who describes himself as a "public policy entrepreneur," one of the better oxymorons I've heard recently, is on Vision Vancouver's board and is some sort of policy wonk to Gregor Robertson, our mayor for drug addicts and chickens.
Clement is right when he says the data from a voluntary form may be more accurate than under the current forced scheme, which resulted, for example, in 55,000 Canadians listing "Jedi" as their religion in the last census. It makes you wonder how accurate the rest of it was despite its $567-million cost. For that kind of money shouldn't those StatsCan folks be curing cancer or something? My definition of privacy is pretty simple-- it's information about myself and my family that we keep to ourselves. Privacy isn't something Ottawa benevolently grants us by promising not to tell others. I'll control my privacy, thanks very much. I don't mind being counted, but why do they need to know who lives in my house?
Then there are the actual questions, which are way too intrusive.
Do I have difficulty walking, seeing or bending? Well, I know I'm seeing red. As far as bending, it mostly feels like I'm being bent over.
Am I a landed immigrant? Isn't that something Immigration Canada keeps track of? And if they're not, exactly what are they doing?
What's my cultural origin? Again, who cares. I'm Canadian. It's about time we stopped being so focused on that one.
Am I an Eskimo? OK, again with the questions. Aren't status natives kept track of by an entire federal department that gets $7.3 billion a year?
Do I operate a farm? In Vancouver? Yeah, it's a 33-foot-wide, one-dog farm. Are you happy now?
How much education do I have? Is Ottawa offering me a job?
And the questions keep coming. Who do I work for, how many hours do I work a week, what's my income? OK, that last one is just way off base. Didn't the mothers of those StatsCan geeks not teach them that it's rude to ask someone how much they earn?
Income from government? OK, now I am worried. Doesn't Ottawa know how much they're paying people?
What are my property taxes? Ask the damn city! See what I mean? The whole thing is one long make-work project for stats freaks.
Any way, I'm glad the Tories are putting an end to the foolishness. And as for me, if they send me a survey, it's going straight to recycling, so don't even bother Mr. Clement. And while you're at it, how about refunding from my tax bill the price of the stamp you now won't need.