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'Good Citizens'

Jim Flaherty's census defence: Just ask them Add to ...

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has put forward a new argument as to why there's no need for a mandatory long-form census.

Asked about the controversy Friday morning at an event in Whitby, he noted that he had no problem getting volunteers for an exclusive policy retreat earlier this week in Wakefield, Que. The invite list included 22 experts from business, academia and labour - as well as a magazine columnist.

"Canadians are good citizens. I just did a conference this week. I invited some really smart Canadians to come and give the government advice through Finance, and everybody I asked showed up. Nobody got paid. I didn't have to threaten anybody with going to jail. We don't need to see that in this country. I expect that the long form's being sent out to a substantial number of people across the country [who]are being asked to complete it voluntarily, and knowing Canadians as I think we know them, we'll get lots of those forms completed and sent back without having to threaten people with jail or fines," he said.

This was the fourth time that Mr. Flaherty hosted a summer policy retreat, which is not open to the media.

This year's invitees included Hudson's Bay Company CEO Bonnie Brooks, Maclean's national editor Andrew Coyne, Ford Motor Company of Canada president David Mondragon and Canadian Autoworkers economist Jim Stanford. The invite list also included Navigator Ltd. chairmain Jaime Watt, a political strategist who served as campaign manager for Mr. Flaherty in 2002 when he lost to Ernie Eves in the Ontario Tory leadership campaign to replace Mike Harris as Premier of the province.

The invite list does not include aboriginal or youth representatives, two groups known to be less likely to fill out census forms.

The Conservative government announced this week that it would add new language questions to the mandatory short-form census, but that move was not enough to deter a French-language group from pressing forward with a court injunction to block the government's plans. Nor did pass muster with the federally appointed National Statistics Council.

Mr. Flaherty also spoke about the global economy Friday, noting that some G20 countries may have to keep stimulating their economies beyond the current fiscal year. He pointed, however, to positive economic news from Europe, where GDP gains in Germany and France pushed the growth rate of the euro zone to one per cent from the previous quarter.

"Some countries in the world may need to stimulate their economies more," Mr. Flaherty said. "That was one of the conclusions that the leaders reached at the G20 summit in Toronto at the beginning of June and some countries are in a position where they can move toward balanced budgets, including many of the emerging economies that are seeing significant economic growth. Canada's doing relatively well on the economic growth side."

This week the Bank of Montreal issued a report urging Canada not to rule out the possibility that stimulus measures should continue beyond the current end date of March 31, 2011.

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