Playing to the paranoid

Peter Jackson
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Most would agree the federal Conservative Party has, for better or for worse, attempted to set a course towards redefining the country. Few would have thought they would end up undefining it.

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

Organizations: Statistics Canada, CTV News, Globe and Mail

Geographic location: Utah, Wild West

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Recent comments

  • Jim Michaels
    September 23, 2010 - 19:17

    I hate to be the one to break this to you guys, but the long gun registry is designed as a foundation for the national mass confiscation of most firearms. It's a one step process. Lieberals demand that gun owners shoulder the entire cost of the registry, gun ownership becomes prohibitively expensive as a result. We all need to start looking beyond the end of our noses on this one. Think about what I just said above and think about YOUR future. Look across the world for examples of what I speak of, like poor, disarmed (except for the criminals) Britain and poor, disarmed (except for the criminals, of course), inferno Jamaica. When what I said is going to happen does happen (you know it will; the lieberals are slime and the worst always happens with them) and we all hand in our rifles, what do you think all the Newfoundlander men who hunt are going to think of you and how you, either in ignorance or true evil, led along others to the destruction of Canadian firearms ownership more efficiently than the pied-piper himself? If I were you, I'd use false names when posting anti-gun propaganda (I'm not saying you're lying; you were probably successfully lied to). Less forgiving men than me will consequence you in many, many severe ways (Ever been confused as to why you were fired? Did you enjoy that sensation?) after you cause their disarmament, unintentionally or not. They will not listen as you try to state your intentions. I guarantee it. We're all going to be extremely, bring-the-wrath-of-God-down angry with you, though I am not angry as I write this now. I just bear a sad smile at this point in time. Think about all that. Let that sink in. What about YOUR heritage? The lieberals are definitely trying to confiscate all Canadian firearms. You can see this because every arguement that they have presented to defend the registry has been desicively mangled by us, the pro-gun "yahoos". The registry clearly has one purpose only. Here's another thing to digest: Maybe I'd still have my left pinkie and ring fingers if I had been allowed to shoot the intruder in my home a few years back. Instead I had to tackle him, he discharged pepperspray, and we both ended up rolling around on the floor stabbing each other with his knife. I hate to break this to you, but I honestly think he deserved to die for what he did to me, not go to jail for 2 years less a day. I'm a man and I didn't die so no one cares. I am the only one who feels the phantom pains of my wayward fingers (constantly). The whip was a giant spit in the face of Canadian democracy. It is a national disgrace that will not soon be forgotten. Herr Ignatieff must be obliterated from Canadian politics. We're working on it. I'm guessing that you have a few political issues that occupy your days. I have only one. I'm a polite man. Shoot an anti-gun arguement my way. I guarantee you I will shred it up immediately. I'll be polite about it though. I'm not a jerk. We need a conservative majority. If not for Iggy, this country would be getting run like a business, the same way Premier Williams runs Newfoundland like a business. And you love Danny. Come on. Admit it. You love his unopposed Conservative rule. Let's have some more of that. Think about these things carefully before you respond to me. I am sharp and perfectly informed on this issue. Please refrain from wasting my time with lieberal one liners. You will be ignored by me forever after you do that; well, after I cut your one liner to pieces and embarrass you severely. Go with God, Jim Post Script "...Hear the trumpets Hear the pipers One hundred million angels singing And the multitudes are marching To the big Kettle Drum..." The man is prepping to come around. I don't know what he wants, but history dictates that it will be aweful and there will be lots and lots of death. We are in Germany. It is 1934. Don't you think keeping your firearm would be smart at this point in time? Am I a little crazy? Yes. Am I more intelligent than you? The numbers say, "probably". The crazy ones always feel the Earth shiver before the quake and the line between insanity and genious is razor-thin.

  • Charles Kennedy
    July 30, 2010 - 12:42

    Good job PJ.I guess they could have ask the question in the next census. "Does it really bother you to fill out this census.?" "If it does what would you suggest as an alternative?"Please answer in two words or less! C, a supporter of goverment doing their job!!!

  • Eugene from Town
    July 27, 2010 - 11:57

    Peter, well said, this is pure ideology and is straight out of the neocon playbook aiming at subverting government's ability to function. Just like Dubya, Harper is on his way to running deficits that are undoing any Liberal belt-tightening and buidling up military expenditures. Effectively tainting reliable data sources by removing the long form will result in government policy decisions being ill-informed at best. And, to boot this all plays very well in Red Deer or any other center of the government-suspecting right can almost hear it around the Tim's table, "He's ending the long gun registry, and stopping Ottawa snooping into my bedroom, heck, he's got my vote!"