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New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham (Charles-Antoine Gagnon)
New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham (Charles-Antoine Gagnon)

NB Premier lashes out at Harper government over census comments Add to ...

New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham has lashed out at the Harper government for attacking the provinces over its proposed changes to the census instead of working together to find a solution.

"I have to admit, I was a bit shocked this morning to see the federal government out criticizing the premiers on this, saying it's a free ride for the provinces," Mr. Graham told reporters on Friday in Winnipeg. "It's safe to say they're a bit on the defensive on this issue and that's unfortunate."

On Thursday, Industry Minister Tony Clement defended Ottawa's decision to scrap the mandatory long-form version of the census. He said critics are upset because they enjoyed a free ride all the years that Ottawa forced Canadians to provide detailed demographic data.

Canada's premiers will discuss the proposed census changes during the second-day of their annual meeting on Friday. But there appears to be little chance they will be able reach a consensus among themselves.

An east-west split is emerging among provincial leaders over the census. Premiers in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan all say the census is not a priority for them. But many of their colleagues in the rest of Canada are urging the Harper government not to abolish the long-form census. The list includes premiers from Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

"We can't undervalue the importance of this discussion," Mr. Graham said. He called on his provincial colleagues to put aside their own "ideologies" and focus on trying to build a society where information is valuable.

Mr. Graham said he is concerned that the loss of the treasure trove of information contained in the mandatory long-form census will make it difficult for New Brunswick, Canada's only officially bilingual province, to plan social programs for both French and English-speaking residents.

He also noted that the federal government is now criticizing the premiers over an issue that it has created.

"This is not a provincial issue," he said.

Mr. Clement has dismissed a compromise proposal by the NDP and Liberals, appearing to dash any remaining possibility that the Harper government might back down in the controversy.

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