The Conservatives are proposing a new tack in the debate over the government's decision to make Canada's long form census a voluntary exercise.
Faced with a list of groups that so far tilts heavily toward the " bad idea" camp, Tory MPs say they will be calling individuals as committee witnesses to speak out in favour of the government's plans.
"I think it's appropriate to have individual Canadians appear," said Edmonton-area Conservative MP Mike Lake, the parliamentary secretary to Industry Minister Tony Clement. "They're the ones that are getting asked the questions and being forced under threat of fines and jail time to answer them, so absolutely it's appropriate for individual Canadians to appear before committee."
Mr. Clement has already dismissed the controversy as one that only occupies " some of the elites in our country." His party appears ready to continue this theme in committee, with a string of appearances from average Canadians.
Mr. Lake is the ranking Conservative on the House of Commons industry committee, where opposition MPs are trying to revive hearings on the census. They called an emergency meeting Monday afternoon to schedule hearings for later this week, but the Conservatives in the room talked out the clock to prevent a decision.
"There are over 200 groups that have protested against what the government is doing," Liberal MP Marc Garneau said. "Obviously the Conservatives are trying to stall and they don't have that many witnesses to begin with."
The Tories said the opposition was proposing a timeline that was not realistic. They suggested instead that meetings be called a couple of weeks from now to allow witnesses enough time to prepare what they want to say.
Opposition MPs counter that groups opposed to the government move are champing at the bit to speak before a committee. All three opposition parties accuse the Tories of stalling because they are struggling to find groups that will speak out in their favour.
Not so, Mr. Lake counters. There will be groups on their side - as well as individual citizens.
"In terms of discussions that I've had with my constituents, Canadians across the country are split on this issue and certainly there are a lot of Canadians - I'm not going to get into what the witness list might look like exactly - but there are Canadians from coast to coast who want to comment on it," he said.
Meanwhile, NDP leader Jack Layton wrote to House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken on Monday asking for an emergency debate on the census on the floor of the House of Commons when Parliament resumes in late September.
"The ability to change the long form diminishes with each passing day, as printing deadlines loom and preparations by Statistics Canada proceed," Mr. Layton says.