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Douglas Bell

The silly season (census edition) Add to ...

Filed under S for sophistry. This morning we find Neil Reynolds suggesting the reason the government should have given for scrapping the census is that the very notion is fundamentally occult, old fashioned and therefore useless.

"The reason to scrap the mandatory census is that it, along with a great deal of other government fact-finding, is simply not necessary. Indeed, the government should have made this argument. After all, if the most statist countries of Old Europe are abandoning the coercive census, why shouldn't we get rid of it, too? From this perspective, the government could have defended its decision as, well, liberal and progressive rather than as, well, conservative and reactionary."

As a piece of lawyerly eliding this line of reasoning is nonpareil.

But back here in this solar system we find Michael Valpy reporting that:

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided at the end of December to scrap the mandatory long-form census despite being told by Statistics Canada officials that important data would likely be lost or impaired as a result.

He considered going further by making the whole census voluntary, people familiar with what transpired have revealed. On the long census form, he overrode objections from his own officials in the Privy Council Office and senior finance department staff, although Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said on the weekend that he thinks census data can be collected voluntarily without being compromised."

This in turn leads Tony Clement to say things like:

"There are Canadians around this country who were concerned about answering . . . very intrusive questions about their personal lives. So I went to StatsCan. They're the experts. I said to Stats Canada, 'Give us some options. Is there a way that we can have a balance, get the data that everyone hankers for . . . but at the same time do so in a way where people can opt out if they have a conscientious objection'."

The phrase "conscientious objection" is in this context exquisitely chosen. It suggests that libertarian nutters who lock the door to the census taker are in league with Thomas More standing up to Henry VIII. The silly season really is upon us.

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