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Lies, lies, lies: the Conservative census strategy revealed

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Maxime Bernier

C'mon, people! The complaints provided the excuse.

Scrapping the mandatory long-form census questionnaire never had anything to do with Canadians' wishes, fears or concerns.

If that wasn't clear before, it should be obvious now that the Toronto Star has revealed Prime Minister Stephen Harper's so-called Conservative government made the decision to scrap the long-form census on the basis of fewer than 100 complaints from Canadians.

Of that minuscule sample of complainers, the Star gently hints, more than a few were certifiable (in every sense of the word) members of the Tinfoil Hat Brigade, Canada Division.

Oh, and not only that, but the cautious Star story makes it windowpane-clear the Harper Conservatives willfully lied about the level of public concern. The results of the Star's access-to-information request for the letters, the paper reported, were "a far cry from the thousands of complaints that former industry minister Maxime Bernier said he was receiving."

Obviously, Bernier knew the true number of responses. Luckily for the Conservatives, I guess, he didn't leave this information at his girlfriend's place.

Of course, on the basis of this piece of the evidentiary jigsaw puzzle it couldn't be proved to the standards of a court of law that just because the Harper Conservatives were lying about the number of complaints they received, they are also lying when they claim to be responding to what Canadians have told them. Still, the balance of probability strongly suggests they are.

After all, if there were fewer than 100 letter writers from the type of people who check nightly under their beds to ensure no members of the Bavarian Illuminati are hiding there, plus a few more gestures of support from the usual suspects in the mainstream media, that hardly compares with the thousands of Canadians in business, government, education and private life who expressed the opposite view.

Really, the government can lie about the number of letters they received, but they can't quite yet make the thousands of letters to the editor, blog posts and articles calling for the quick restoration of the mandatory census form disappear down the Memory Hole!

To quote that judiciously worded Star story again: "At last count there were more than 400 groups, including municipalities, experts and individuals, opposed to the Harper government's decision to replace the mandatory form with a voluntary long-form census."

Of course, Harper's drive to drop the mandatory census long-form questionnaire never had anything to do with opposition from Canadians. From the start, it had everything to do with Harper's ideological perspective.

As has been argued in this space before, if the Conservatives' census policy promoted ignorance and confounded democratic discourse, that was the idea.

More clearly than ever, the decision to emasculate the Statistics Canada was intended to make it harder for Canadians to fight the ideologically based pro-market bromides advanced as Harper government policy dogma.

As University of Ottawa political studies professor Paul Saurette has observed, the policy is intended to reduce "not only the availability but also the credibility of data" that social advocacy groups can use to back their arguments.

"As the climate debate has recently shown, even the merest suspicion of the reliability of statistical numbers is often enough to muddy any debate into a tie, even when the vast preponderance of scientific opinion is on one side of the debate," Saurette wrote. "In this sense, the less available and reliable the StatsCan numbers … the harder it will be for advocacy groups to convince Canadians that these are important issues."

It's also worth repeating the observations of Harper advisor Tom Flanagan, nowadays best known as a proponent of murdering people who would publicize information that might be inconvenient to neo-conservative governments: "If you control the government, you choose judges, appoint the senior civil service, fund or de-fund advocacy groups, and do many other things that gradually influence the climate of opinion,"  Flanagan famously wrote.

In other words, neo-conservative governments are justified using the machinery of state to mislead the people to advance their agenda, which voters would never support if they understood the facts. Presumably that includes shutting down the national statistical agency if it can't be forced to reach the right conclusions.

The Harper government was always lying about this. Now, thanks to the Star, we have the evidence.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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