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Industry Minister Tony Clement

Industry Minister Tony Clement said Wednesday he would alter Canada's mandatory short-form census to include a couple of new questions about French and English language skills, drawn from the formerly mandatory long-form census that is soon to be made voluntary.

By making those language questions mandatory, Mr. Clement is, on the face of it, accepting that some questions are important enough to deserve this treatment. He's right. And maybe there are other such questions, too?

He should show the same respect to the entire country that he is showing Quebec and francophone minorities in other provinces. What is useful on language is also useful in a whole host of other areas. Francophones and Quebec anglophones shouldn't be given short shrift, but neither should low-income or aboriginal Canadians, among others.

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Mr. Clement's promise yesterday to end the threat of jail time for those who don't fill out government surveys - an empty threat, in that it has apparently never been carried out - would address any concerns about heavy-handedness in the mandatory long-form census.

Mr. Clement doesn't seem to understand how he undermines his own arguments for a voluntary survey. Earlier this week, newly released government documents confirmed he had misrepresented Statistics Canada's views on the scrapping of the mandatory long-form census.

The national data-gathering agency believes a voluntary survey can do the job reliably, he said in July, and Canadians should accept its expert opinion. As we know now, however (and as Mr. Clement knew then), Statistics Canada believed no such thing. It follows, then, that if the experts at Statistics Canada fervently believe a voluntary survey is an unreliable substitute, Canadians and the government should accept that point of view.

The mandatory long-form census gives Canadians good-quality information about their country. Mr. Clement is giving bad information to support his plan for bad-quality data. And Wednesday, on language, he admitted, by his actions, that he was wrong. Now he should admit he was wrong about the rest of the mandatory long-form survey.

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