A huge U.S. company, best known for making military arms, will be collecting data for Canada's next census.
Industry Minister Allan Rock confirmed yesterday that the Canadian subsidiary of aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp. won a multi-million-dollar contract to lead the dress rehearsal for this country's next census -- and possibly the census itself.
The census, taken once every five years by Statistics Canada, is considered the most detailed snapshot of the Canadian population, tracking everything from mobility and income to education and religion, both nationally and by community. Data for the most recent census was collected in the spring of 2001, when 11.8-million households were asked to fill out the questionnaire.
Mr. Rock said the contract was awarded through an open bid that conformed to federal government rules. "I assume the lowest bidder for the best price for the best quality got the job," he said yesterday following Parliament's Question Period. "Canadian firms got to bid as well."
When asked how he thought Canadians would feel about a massive U.S. defence company gathering and presumably having access to their private information, Mr. Rock said he assumes that those factors were considered during the tendering process.
"I'm sure the people involved in the decision considered all of this."
Lockheed Martin, based in Bethesda, Md., is the largest U.S. military contractor and also the U.S. government's top manager of computer networks. Its Canadian subsidiary is Lockheed Martin Canada of Kanata, Ont.
New Democrat MP Bill Blaikie said Canadians should be conducting this country's census.
"I just think most Canadians would find it offensive that the census is going to be done by a U.S. company."
Mr. Blaikie said it's even worse that a large defence company could be gathering Canadians' personal data. "I already have constituents who don't like to answer these questions," he said during an interview. "Where is this information going to reside?"
Mr. Blaikie said that the awarding of the census contract to the U.S. defence giant also shows one of the key flaws of the North American free-trade agreement. "It's just the kind of thing we warned about."
Under NAFTA rules, companies from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are eligible to apply for most medium and large-sized government contracts.
When asked during Question Period about the contract, Mr. Rock said Statistics Canada, which compiles the data for the census, will maintain its high standards. He also said that the true purpose of the census is to ensure that the census figures are reliable.