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An employee makes his way to work at Statistics Canada in Ottawa on on July 21, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
An employee makes his way to work at Statistics Canada in Ottawa on on July 21, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Statscan 'Crisis'

Opposition vents spleen over Tory census bungling Add to ...

The Liberals want to call Industry Minister Tony Clement before a Commons committee to find out what information he was supplied by Statistics Canada before the government decided to scrap the mandatory long-form census.

Ralph Goodale, the Opposition House Leader, told a news conference Thursday his party plans to "call Mr. Clement to the carpet and to invite other affected groups to speak out."

Chief statistician Munir Sheikh, who helmed what has been ranked among the top analytical agencies in the world, handed in his resignation on Wednesday as the debate over the census dominated news headlines.

Mr. Clement has said Statscan was onside with scrapping the mandatory nature of the long-form census because the agency had presented alternatives. But Mr. Sheikh posted a statement saying the Conservative plan to replace a compulsory questionnaire with a voluntary one won't work. (Note: The statement was removed from Statscan's website Thursday, but you can read a copy here.)

Mr. Goodale presented reporters with a list of witnesses his party wants to hear from at the Commons industry committee. He said they constitute a broad cross-section of Canadian society, as well as past and present Statistics Canada officials and the minister himself.

And the Liberals are not the only party jumping on the issue. The New Democrats also blasted the Conservative decision to make completion of the long-form of the census voluntary.

MP Charlie Angus told reporters the Conservatives enjoy sticking their fingers in the partisan socket.

"What we have is a completely unnecessary crisis of confidence that's developed within the federal bureaucracy and also with Statistics Canada," Mr. Angus said.

"This issue would be bizarre, I suppose, if it weren't so serious. The fact that the senior bureaucrat with Statistics Canada was forced to resign in order to defend his own reputation shows that Mr. Clement has completely misrepresented his role as a minister, he has interfered with a bureau that is known as a gold standard for information."

Mr. Angus called upon Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take back the file from Mr. Clement and to reconsider the plan to make the census voluntary.

Meanwhile, Mr. Goodale said his party would be filing an access request to find out exactly what the government was told by Statistics Canada.

And he challenged a claim by Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, who said he received multiple complaints from people who did not want to be forced to fill in the form.

"I can show you hundreds that we have received in the past two or three days supporting the long form - more than on any other issue recently," Mr. Goodale said.

"This isn't about Big Brother invading the bedrooms of the nation. It's about Conservatives dumbing down the integrity of Canadian statistics and threatening the basic services that Canadians rely on like hospitals and transit systems and schools."

Trade Minister Peter Van Loan, who met Thursday with his American counterpart, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, was asked about the census at a post-meeting news conference.

Mr. Van Loan said it is up to government to make the decision about what form the census should take. He stressed that the short form of the census would still be mandatory and that the sample size for the voluntary long-form would be increased "so you get valid information and that is a legitimate policy area for the government to address."

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