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Conservative Member of Parliament Mike Lake speaks in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 5, 2006. (CHRIS WATTIE)
Conservative Member of Parliament Mike Lake speaks in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 5, 2006. (CHRIS WATTIE)

Globe Editorial

On census, let's hear from 'ordinary' Canadians Add to ...

The federal government has turned to the mythical individual to make its case for the abolition of the long-form census. Rather than decrying this as a cheap stunt or an attempt to artificially generate support for a senseless policy - though it may be both - opposition parties and Canadians should welcome this opportunity to show the value of the census and undermine the government's argument that it intimidates Canadians.

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The House of Commons industry committee is reconvening for census hearings, but one roll call now shows 298 groups and prominent individuals opposed to the changes, and only 10 in favour. So the Conservatives have promised to summon "individual Canadians" as witnesses, with MP Mike Lake saying, "They're the ones that are getting asked the questions and being forced under threat of fines and jail time to answer them."

Most relevant facts about the misguided policy are now in the public domain, so why not let Conservative MPs scrape their correspondence files and constituency office log books to find suitable victims of "government intimidation"?

The opposition parties should mobilize their own "ordinary citizens": the town planner who uses census data to make better decisions; one of the 20,000 census enumerators (perhaps a student) to represent the alleged instruments of government intimidation; the citizen who has no problem answering the questions, and gets better services as a result.

It's not just those who express irritation at a policy who deserve a hearing.

The opposition should not afford government witnesses kid-glove treatment. Some questions for these "ordinary Canadians" might include: Have you or anyone you know ever been charged with a summary-conviction offence (punishable by a fine or jail) for failing to complete the census? When did you approach the committee about appearing before it? Or were you asked by the government to provide your testimony, after the issue rose to public prominence?

Hearing from all of these ordinary Canadians would make a mockery of the anti-elite approach that the federal government has employed in defending its policy. And it would show that standing behind the experts the government is maligning and ignoring are millions of Canadians, who trust their government to make policy based on the best available evidence, and who have been, in this instance, gravely disappointed.

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