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Liberal MP Dr. Carolyn Bennett, shown starting an emergency debate concerning the H1N1 flu and the supply of vaccines in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ont., November, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Liberal MP Dr. Carolyn Bennett, shown starting an emergency debate concerning the H1N1 flu and the supply of vaccines in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ont., November, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Globe Editorial

The census is for Parliament to decide Add to ...

The elimination of the long-form census defies reason, and the temptation to go to the courts for relief, as a group of non-Quebec francophones has done, is understandable. But the census is ultimately a political issue, and the best place for it to be resolved is Parliament.

The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada has appealed to the Federal Court of Canada to reverse the elimination, saying the move violates the federal government's responsibilities under the Official Languages Act.

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To the extent that the group has a general interest in protecting francophones, it is right to be vigorous. One of the biggest problems in going from a mandatory, long-form census that asks detailed questions of one-fifth of all Canadian households to an optional survey is measurement error. As former Chief Statistician Munir Sheikh said in a recent CBC interview, "Statistics Canada may not want to put that information out in the future, and that would apply to, for example, small area information, or information on smaller groups, because that information will not really be good enough to be put out in the public."

So the losers could include francophones outside Quebec who are, more often than not, not highly concentrated in the communities in which they live.

But the loss of the long-form census is not just a particular concern. It is a general concern: information from the long-form census underpins policy making across the country, for all groups.

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett plans to introduce a private member's bill that would require a long-form census to be conducted, and would repeal any jail terms for failure to complete the census. It is a tactic that the opposition parties should exploit among those who care about good government, much as Stephen Harper has been talking up a private member's bill, on the abolition of the long-gun registry, in what he calls "the regions of Canada." Ms. Bennett said that she has made the bill that simple

It is unfortunate that something as sensible and fundamental as the long-form census has to be hard-wired into law. But given that its abolition was born of political calculation, the political arena, where the consensus against abolition is so great, is where it should be settled.

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