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Evidence suggests that we all like it long.

Mayors of Canada like it long. It helps them prioritize the next transit or water main development.

Police like it long. It helps them decide how to recruit, to reflect the changing communities they serve.

Medical researchers like it long. It helps them see patterns of disease, which helps find cures.

Business entrepreneurs like it long. It helps them launch a new product or service.

School boards like it long. It helps them pinpoint where to build new schools.

Boy Scouts and other after-school programs like it long. It helps them target the neighbourhoods that need more options for youngsters.

Large foundations and charities like it long. It helps them prioritize where to place their money.

Clergy like it long. It helps them discern where their flocks are headed.

Public health officials like it long. It helps them roll out immunization strategies during epidemics.

The international community likes it long. It helps us all look over each others' shoulders and compare notes in reliable, consistent ways.

Even Stephen Harper secretly likes it long. It helps his team target which "ethnic" or otherwise vote-rich ridings to rustle up for the election.

Over the years we've learned that evidence from the mandatory long-form census questionnaire helps us make sharper, more effective decisions.

Then along comes Stephen Harper and decides to cut those practices short, for Canadians from every walk of life and governments of every political stripe.

It seems a classic case of denial. After all our PM uses the data as much as the rest of us, perhaps more. And, like a moth to the flame, he's running headlong into the story one more time.

Stephen Harper had his pick of what day to send Canadians to the polls. He chose May 2. Irony of ironies, May 2 is also the day the census starts getting mailed out to you and me.

Well, that's the census short-form questionnaire, the one everyone has to answer. It's basically a head-count of where the males and females of our nation live, how many people live with us, our ages, and whether we speak English or French.

The long-form questionnaire will go out about a month later. It's the one the Harper Team says is intrusive and that you shouldn't have to answer. Never mind they are asking all the same questions in the new, improved model.

At an additional cost of $30 million, the government will send the questionnaire to one in three households instead of one in five. (That means the odds of your household receiving it just jumped from twice, maybe three times in your life to four or five times.) The difference is that instead of numerous follow-ups with households that don't reply, there will be just one follow-up...and an ad campaign. Instead of it being mandatory, an act of citizenship that helps serve your interests and mine, it will be "whatever."

We've just been through the worst global economic crisis in 80 years. Almost half a million full-time jobs were wiped out in the space of 9 months.

So, almost three years into it, how did Canadians weather the storm? How many of us are back on track, compared to 2006? How many of us aren't?

The Harper government doesn't think we need to know in any reliable way.

The government has been fully briefed by Statistics Canada about the implications of switching the census long-form questionnaire from a mandatory census to a voluntary survey.

Stephen Harper knows the collected information will be more than useless. It will be dangerous. Because it will produce misinformation. That's because it won't be a full picture. The emphasis on voluntary response means less follow-up, and higher non-response rates from all the people who are too busy or too worn out to reply: immigrants; aboriginals; the ill, the disabled, the aged; low-income households; students and other young people; time-stressed young families; the bankers and the bosses too.

The prime minister knows all this, and yet he has stubbornly stuck to his decision despite this knowledge...perhaps because of it.

It's a decision that can and must be reversed.

The timing is tight but it's not impossible to get Census 2011 mostly right. Here's what the next government would have to do:

1) Direct Statistics Canada to undertake the usual number of follow-ups to the 2011 long-form questionnaire, to insure the highest possible response rate in the coming weeks.
2) Conduct a comprehensive evaluation of Census 2011 results within 12 months, to identify where the worst non-response biases are, and attempt to correct them.
3) Provide Statistics Canada with sufficient additional revenues for these undertakings, in order to avoid cutting back on other surveys.
4) Reinstate the mandatory long-form census questionnaire.

We give governments power so that they serve our interests. On May 2, we need to make sure we count, and not just at election time.

Postcript: You can download your very own "I Like It Long!" bumper sticker, courtesy of the Save The Census Coalition.

This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.

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