The federal government’s scrapping of the mandatory long census form last week may not have been the most catastrophic move in Canadian politics, but it’s hard to imagine a more stubborn and irrational act. And it’s clearly one that was born out of sheer libertarian dogma.
Political leaders at all levels — and numerous business leaders, as well — have condemned the move, and pointed out the serious implications it has for retaining important demographic information.
Within days of the announcement, the country’s top statistician, Munir Sheikh, stepped down, citing his anger at government suggestions that Statistics Canada was comfortable with, and even complicit in, the switch to a voluntary survey.
Industry Minister Tony Clement, under whose department the census lies, has been vainly attempting to defend the government’s move, even though reports suggest he and other ministers tried to sway Prime Minister Stephen Harper from implementing it. (He denies those reports.)
The defence has been shallow, to say the least.
Clement and fellow apologists cite trivial trends that mean nothing to the broader picture. For example, hundreds of people entered Jedi Knight as their religion in the last census. There’s no mention, though, of the fact this was only 0.01 per cent of the respondents, a segment that was lumped in with “no response.”
The most spurious defence is that of invasion of privacy. Many people don’t like to give out personal information, says Clement. The government is listening to those Canadians who feel their rights are being violated,
To further spin that notion, Clement couched the debate in terms that conjure up war and the draft.
There are some Canadians, he told CTV News, who “conscientiously object” to the intrusion of the mandatory form.
This is nothing more than pandering to paranoia.
People disclose information all the time, often to far more untrustworthy sources. The recklessly unguarded disclosure that goes on in electronic media circles is proof of that.
We’re reluctant to give out our social insurance number to anyone — except, of course, the government. It is, after all, the definitive government number.
We tell doctors and specialists the most personal information we have, understanding it will be stored and hidden from prying eyes.
Frankly, people who complain about the long census form are either misinformed or downright lazy. There is no nefarious government trying to target you for crimes not yet committed. They’re not going to charge you more taxes for that extra bedroom.
This is the government, and the government is us. As naive as that may sound, it’s the truth.
We expend too much time and energy as it is holding the government to task on policy, through the media and at the ballot box. The last thing we need is to steal the very tools they need to formulate it.
No, this is not about intrusion, it’s about delusion. It’s about a fairy-tale battle between the evil forces of socialism and the blessed righteousness of free markets, a deeply distorted filter through which almost all dialogue south of the border now passes.
As an end in itself, it leads to excessive antagonism towards democratic authority. Polygamists home-schooling their kids in a Utah compound, shooting at anyone with a badge.
This is not the Wild West. And it’s not Stalinist Russia. The west was won and the revolution is long over. The only real threat now are these hawkish neocons and their unseemly crusade to convert the world.
To fold this all into the census decision may seem like an overstatement, but as Geoffrey Simpson pointed out last week in The Globe and Mail, there is no practical rationale to explain Harper’s actions other than pure ideology.
The census was not broken. It certainly needed no fixing. Even with no punishment being meted out, the participation rate was 98 per cent.
The prime minister needs to make this right. It is regressive in the extreme.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org