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Industry Minister Tony Clement speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on May 27, 2009. (Reuters)
Industry Minister Tony Clement speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on May 27, 2009. (Reuters)

Interview

Clement feels 'alone' in census feud Add to ...

Industry Minister Tony Clement says he did not misrepresent Statistics Canada's position on his government's controversial decision to scrap the mandatory long form census, arguing there are no new revelations in documents released Tuesday by the Tories.

"All the documents do is give some colour to the day-to-day give-and-take that is typical of a department," Mr. Clement told The Globe, providing his first comments on the latest furor. "You talk through issues. That's what you should do.

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"But ultimately it is the government, [which is the]representative of the electorate, that has to make the decision, the policy decision and that's what we did."

Earlier Wednesday, Liberal MP Bob Rae held a press conference where he gave a scathing indictment of the Harper government, accusing Mr. Clement of lying by suggesting earlier that Statscan supported his decision to scrap the census.

Mr. Clement said he is well aware of what is being said about him. He acknowledges it's "not fun."

"I know I don't have very many allies in the media on this. I'm kind of alone out here," he said. "All I can tell you is that I do believe it's the right thing to do and in politics if you start not doing the right thing because some people criticize you, why would I be wasting my time."

Mr. Rae called for a resolution when the House returns to keep the mandatory aspect of the long-form survey but to get rid of the threat of jail terms. He would not go so far as to say this is an issue on which to try to defeat the government and go to the polls.

The government, which was dealt another blow Wednesday when the Federal Court agreed to fast track a request by a francophone group for an injunction, is not about to change its mind. Both Mr. Clement and the Prime Minister, who finally spoke on the issue earlier this week, indicated they are sticking with their original decision.

"The reason we went to a voluntary National Household Survey was again to balance the desires for data with ending the criminalization of punishment for those who refused to give the data," Mr. Clement told The Globe.

He said it was clear to the government that the response rate from a voluntary census would be much lower than the rate from a mandatory survey.

"I stated that from the very beginning. That is why we doubled the sample size," he said. "No big news story there. We did ask Statscan to mitigate the risks and they came up with several options and we chose one of those options. I have been very clear about that from the beginning as well."

He also repeated his assertion that Statscan advised him that this new approach would provide "useful and reliable" data.

"I feel I have been consistent throughout. That's my position. … There is no real change."

Earlier, Mr. Rae expressed his disappointment with the manner in which the government handled the decision. "I think the government has been creepy, dishonest and underhanded. I can't think any other way to describe it."

The Liberal MP also accused Mr. Harper of misleading the press, of being a "control freak" and of conducting "guerilla warfare" on the public service.

The Prime Minister's Office is not responding to Mr. Rae's attacks. Spokesman Andrew MacDougall would only say that Mr. Harper's comments this week, in which he made it clear that the government would not reverse its decision, stand.

The Industry Minister was not so timid. "Bob is very good at turn of phrase but here's a guy that coerced people out of their paycheques during Rae Days," Mr. Clement said. "He hasn't changed his tune because he still wants to coerce people."

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