The Liberals are forging ahead with a private-member's bill to bring back the mandatory long-form census, despite a slim chance the measure will get through Parliament in time to make a difference.
MP Carolyn Bennett tabled the bill Thursday, a day after a motion on the same subject passed the House of Commons with the support of the three opposition parties.
The Conservatives ignored that motion, spurring a new line of attack by the opposition against Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Words like anti-democratic, dictator, and obstinate now go hand-in-hand with the complaints about the loss of reliable data for policy makers.
"Even if [Canadians]don't understand the census or why it's needed, understanding that this Prime Minister and this minister will not respect the law of the land should be seriously alarming," Ms. Bennett said.
"They treat the House of Commons or the Parliament buildings like a suggestion box that you hang Christmas lights on once a year."
The private-member's bill would entrench the long-form census into the Statistics Act, while removing the threat of jail time for those who fail to complete it. A $500 fine would remain. The Act currently only refers to the need to hold a census of population every 10 years - the short-form census.
The Conservatives are eliminating the mandatory long-form census and replacing it with a voluntary survey in 2011 because they say they don't believe in coercing Canadians into giving up private data.
Getting the bill through Commons readings, a committee, and then through the Senate where the Conservatives have a majority, before early 2011 seems improbable even with a concerted push by the three opposition parties.
Statistics Canada has indicated that the middle of next week is the deadline for getting census forms to the printer. Northern communities will begin to receive the documents in February, and the rest of Canada in March. Census enumerators also need to be trained on the process.
But Ms. Bennett argues that there is still time for Parliament to make it mandatory again. She says it would be possible to include a simple letter indicating the nature of the long-form census has been changed.
"The decision to make it mandatory is two things: it's not just you and I deciding at our dining room table whether to fill it out or not," the Liberal MP said.
"As soon as it's mandatory it obliges the government to put resources in place to be able to check with people, find out if they don't speak English, get somebody to help them fill out the form."
Industry Minister Tony Clement has said his government has plans in place to ensure as many Canadians as possible fill out the short-form census and the new voluntary survey. The government is spending an extra $30 million to send the forms to more households and thenReport Typo/Error