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Family values and budget cuts

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Once again, in the middle of summer, the anti-government government has unleashed more anti-policy policy via a compliant Statistics Canada.

Who needs data when you've got family values? The Harper team knows what you need. (Hint: tax cuts. Oops! Not for you sister, if you're a single mom.)

The Globe and Mail's Tavia Grant has learned that Statistics Canada will be scrapping a survey that has been collecting information about marriages since 1921 and divorces since 1972. It would cost $250,000 to remount, which of course would have to wait till the Harper team leaves office.

That's less than the incremental cost to replace the mandatory long-form census questionnaire with the do-it-if-you-feel-like-it National Household Survey ($300,000). They could have saved over half a million dollars by not doing either! And we thought balancing the books was their number one priority now...

Strategic Review cuts have already occurred for Statistics Canada, but they'll still need to submit between 5% and 10% more in budgetary reductions to meet the government's Operating Review plan. According to Budget 2008 Statistics Canada was scheduled to reduce spending by $51 million over the last three years.

According to the Main Estimates for the 2011-12, their budget has ballooned from $562.7 million in 2010-11 to $741.6 million for this year, the census year, which is always a big spend. StatsCan says Census 2011 will cost $600 million, but those costs are spread over 7 years. About $100 million of these costs go to the private sector (largely taken up by printing and postal contracts, so front end loaded) and a bunch goes to the enumerators and other staffing requirements for taking in the information on-line. I've got a query into StatCan, but my guess is that a large chunk of that $180 million increase is associated with undertaking this year's census.

A 5% reduction of StatCan's current budget would mean finding $37 million in surveys and analysis that are not deemed to be a priority. Base it on the 2010-11 budget for Statistics Canada and they'd still have to find at least $28 million. But remember that all departments have to submit both a 5% and a 10% reduction plan. How much any department gets cut is at the pleasure of the government's special committee chaired by non-other than Tony Clement, the minister who was in charge of Statistics Canada and who had to contain the chaos of a chief statistician resigning his post over the long-form census debacle this time last year. Wonder what relations are like now.

Today Statistics Canada also reports that the crime rate fell 5% between 2009 and 2010, while the severity index also fell, by 6%. The volume of crime is now at levels last seen in 1973. Of course that is police-reported crime. And not in keeping with this government's priorities. What do you bet that's one survey whose days are numbered too.

After all, Harper Knows Best.

This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.

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