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Commuters get off the subway at Toronto's Union Station in 2008. (J.P. Moczulski/J.P. Moczulski/The Canadian Press)
Commuters get off the subway at Toronto's Union Station in 2008. (J.P. Moczulski/J.P. Moczulski/The Canadian Press)

Premiers want say in census feud Add to ...

Canada's premiers are expected to discuss the federal government's elimination of the long-form census when they meet next month, the host of this year's conference said Tuesday.

Jim Eldridge, Manitoba's acting deputy of intergovernmental relations, said the official agenda has not been announced but there is much talk about the census issue at the Council of the Federation. Manitoba has already spoken out against the decision.

"Unless there's a correction, given the attention this is getting and the opposition, we'd be surprised if it didn't come up," Mr. Eldridge said.

Although a Conservative spokesman dismissed opponents of the change as "special interest groups," the move to go from a mandatory long-form census to a voluntary one is being widely discussed in provincial and territorial capitals.

Ontario was the latest province to wade into the debate. On Monday, provincial Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said Queen's Park was concerned about a loss of data by going to a voluntary process.

"That data is extremely important on a whole variety of things," Mr. Duncan said.

"I think the best two examples I can give you are our anti-poverty strategy and virtually every spending and tax decision we make. So, our officials are concerned about the quality of data that will be coming forward, the comparability of data going forward with this change."

The governments of Manitoba, Quebec and Prince Edward Island have already spoken publicly against the decision, saying their provinces depend on the census data when planning for the delivery of services.

More organizations came out against the census this week, including the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and the Canadian Conference of the Arts. The conference wrote to Industry Minister Tony Clement saying governments and cultural organizations use the census data when drafting policies and delivering services.

"It is indeed highly unlikely that low-paid artists and other types of culture workers will have the time or motivation to provide the kind of information required for a household survey if it is voluntary," national director Alain Pineau said.

"They will therefore be part of the several underrepresented elements of the workforce and of Canadian society in general."

The Conservative government, meanwhile, indicated it remains firmly committed to the decision.

Mr. Clement posted several thank-you messages on Twitter to Canadians who had sent him words of support, their last names stripped from his tweets for privacy.

"Thanks Adam for your support re long form census," Mr. Clement tweeted. "It's important to free Cdns from this unwarranted intrusion & coercion!"

On Wednesday, chief statistician Munir Sheikh will hold an internal town hall for Statistics Canada employees concerned about the census decision.

Questions put to Statistics Canada a week ago by The Canadian Press, concerning the increased costs of the voluntary survey, have not received a response. Mr. Sheikh has also refused all media interviews about the census.

The switch from mandatory long-form census to voluntary survey is expected to cost up to $30-million more: $5-million for the mailout to 60 per cent more households, and up to $25-million to encourage responses.

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