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Minister of Industry Tony Clement speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa September 29, 2010. (BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS)
Minister of Industry Tony Clement speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa September 29, 2010. (BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS)

Globe Editorial

Census as policy by complaint Add to ...

It is now clear that Canadians are not bothered by the mandatory long-form census. Thus, no reason exists to scrap it.

Conservative MP Maxime Bernier told Canadians this summer that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation, by which he meant government shouldn't demand to know the number of bedrooms a person has at home. When he was industry minister in 2006, "I received an average of 1,000 e-mails a day during the census to my MP office complaining about all that, so I know that Canadians who were obliged to answer that long-form census - very intrusive in their personal lives - I know they were upset," he said.

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Alas, it turns out the department received just 25 to 30 complaints in a year, on top of three received by the Privacy Commissioner: 33 or so complaints about a census received by more than two million households in Canada. The people in those bedrooms really don't seem to mind the state's nosiness.

But one complaint is enough, says today's Industry Minister, Tony Clement, if it points out government coercion that should not be tolerated. This attitude would be quite laudable, if government actually worked this way. It would truly be government of, by and for the people. One person could turn a nation in a new direction, if he or she were right. On second thought, it is probably not a good way to run a country.

Most Canadians are simply not disturbed by the questions they are asked on the mandatory long-form census. There is no groundswell of opposition. There is not even a ripple. According to nearly everyone who has expressed an informed opinion, including two former chief statisticians at Statistics Canada, the voluntary replacement will be less accurate and hence less useful. It also costs more.

There is less shame in admitting that a new policy was poorly conceived than in defending a nonsensical position with inflated claims, to the bitter end.

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