A day after Munir Sheikh, the head of Statistics Canada, resigned from his job citing the Harper government’s proposed scrapping of mandatory long-form census forms for 2011, here is a look at the ideology behind the voluntary census scheme that replaces it.
Jeffrey Simpson’s column on July 17 nailed it.
There is only one reason this census situation is so senselessly white-hot: the government’s position. Its radical ideology and stunning stubbornness have raised the stakes alarmingly high.
There must be plenty of Conservatives who are recoiling at the shenanigans of these so-called Conservatives.
Every time Industry Minister Tony Clement and the prime minister’s spokesthingy says “coercive” and “intrusive” without bidding, my mind flashes up pictures of our own police in riot gear at the G20 protests and hundreds of people being filed into and out of detention centres for public disturbances like blowing bubbles. Is this my Canada?
I digress. We know now, from weeks of press, that without the information from the mandatory long-form questionnaire, a host of other smaller survey results produced by Statistics Canada will be rendered questionable with respect to their representativeness, and hence their reliability.
Cast doubt on the data and we start mistrusting not only big business, big unions and big government, but now information, the very stuff that society is supposedly made of these days.
Well actually, it’s not information that is being smeared. It’s official information.
Canadians from every point of the political compass have always trusted Statscan data. Indeed, Canadians have long been viewed internationally as one of the best countries in the world for producing rigorous statistics that are relevant, timely, and reasonably accessible to all Canadians. Suddenly the data they produce is maybe not so trustworthy.
When Conservative politicians or the Fraser Institute weigh in on the virtues of eliminating the long-form Census, the audience that trusts them gets led further down a path of eroding trust in something as basic and apolitical as data.
Clement has called Statistics Canada an “arm of government.” And that’s bad, of course, because the Conservative’s core message is that you can’t trust government, that you, the solitary individual Canadian, are the best judge.
In the past few weeks, despite the wall of reasoned opposition that has arisen, the government has vigorously promoted such thinking among their supporters and folks who are not quite sure what to think.
The Conservative storyline is that the information collected by the government is unreliable because it is mandatory to answer. Presumably, in their view, a lot of Canadians lie when “forced” to fill out a Census questionnaire.
But their narrative has a one-two punch: the information is suspect, and the government’s use of this information is potentially nefarious.
This is somewhere between a populist and conspiracy-theory position, held by some, but hardly appropriate for a government to advance.
That way lies all sorts of wasted resources and, dare I say it, anarchy.
If you don’t buy official statistics, all you have is polls, market surveys and stories.
The Conservatives’ anti-information strategy creates space for more mis-information strategies.
And so we drift towards the anti-information information society, brought to you by the anti-government government.
These are not Conservatives. These are the true anarchists in our midst, willing to destroy order just because they can.
Armine Yalnizyan’s blog on The Progressive Economics Forum website is part of a series on the Harper’s government’s axing of the long-form census. It can be found here.