04 August 2010

The Census politicized and undermined

With minimal consultation and little notice Canada’s national government has recklessly compromised the reliability and integrity of the quinquennial census that, since Confederation and before, has been a principal source of accurate information on the demographic, economic, and social composition of the nation. Ignoring the protests and remonstrations of statisticians, historians, genealogists, professionals of all kinds, and even major provinces, the cabinet in Ottawa has removed some questions from the key long form on dubious grounds of privacy and made remaining answers voluntary. A short form of eight questions has been maintained and still compulsory for the census scheduled for May, 2011.

At a stroke the usefulness of the exercise has been badly undermined, introducing serious doubt about the reliability of voluntary returns, and making comparisons with previous data uncertain. There seems to be total incomprehension in the Conservative cabinet of what this is all about, given the scorn and scoffing of Minister of Industry Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka).

Repairing the damage as best they can will be a priority task for future government. Modern societies require more than fanciful statistics and anecdotal information to function in any sense rationally.