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Treasury Board President Stockwell Day speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa April 13, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Treasury Board President Stockwell Day speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa April 13, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Globe Editorial

Census distracts from reasonable equity discussion Add to ...

Federal employment equity policy is not sacred and inviolable. It is merely an instrument for addressing the generally recognized need to have the public service reflect the country it works for. It is necessary and desirable for the government to review the policy from time to time. To do otherwise might permit a situation to develop that exacerbates the very inequities that the policy is meant to address. And the government's stated intention to emphasize merit is uncontroversial. In other words, it is as easy to see the review as good public policy as it is to see it as a crassly ideological attempt to scratch the Conservatives' apparently itchy base.

Yet coming so soon after its baffling attack on the mandatory long-form census and politicization of statistical methodology - and the efforts of Conservative politicians to cast that decision along overtly ideological lines - it is understandable that the worst possible motives are being inferred.

There is no convincing policy basis for the census change, nor has there been any pretence of one. It is ill-conceived policy. It harms competitiveness. The decision has no advocates beyond Conservative politicians straining to be seen as standing opposed to "big government." Here's how Transport Minister John Baird put it: "I just think a lot of Canadians find it really offensive that big government steps in their lives, asking how many bathrooms they have in their house. I think it's ridiculous." Industry Minister Tony Clement was more delicate, but his argument was essentially the same, as he lamented "the coercion and intrusiveness aspects." In other words, it is a privacy issue. This from a government that sought to dictate matters of choice to mothers in developing countries.

The jury is still out over whether the government's review of employment equity is also based on politicking and pettiness as opposed to common sense. Unlike the census policy, this issue likely will speak to the party base, but there is also a case that this review is sound policy.

Stockwell Day, the President of the Treasury Board, was sensible on the subject of the employment equity review: "While we support diversity in the Public Service, we want to ensure that no Canadian is barred from opportunities in the public service based on race or ethnicity," he said. On the census, Mr. Day has sounded like a stand-up comic: "Even prisoners of war only have to give their name, rank and serial number."

It would be a lot easier to take the employment review seriously were the government not persisting in its ridiculous attack on the long-form census.

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