Missing information

Brian Jones
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As if Saskatchewan didn’t have enough strikes against it — flat, boring, really flat, really boring, etc. — recent news reports revealed some gophers on that unfortunate province’s vast grasslands have the plague.

Parks Canada officials are, as you’d expect, monitoring the situation to see how widespread the outbreak is.

They downplayed the danger, of course. The likelihood of a flea transmitting bacteria to a human, they stressed, is highly remote. Nevertheless, they advised people walking in the affected area in southern Saskatchewan to use lots of insect repellant, tuck their pant legs into their socks and leave their dogs at home.

Other than that, carry on as usual. Don’t worry. The last time someone contracted the plague in Canada was 1939.

But still. It’s the plague.

Strangely, the original Canadian Press item gave no background information. It didn’t mention the plague’s history. What were they thinking? After all, it’s the plague.

Somebody at CP apparently realized the story needed more than blithe reassurances from officialdom. An updated version of the story included the plague’s curriculum vitae: source of the Black Death; killer of millions in the Middle Ages; wiped out one-third of Europe’s population.

That background was vital to the story. It is, after all, the plague.

Missing information is everywhere. Sometimes you don’t even realize it’s missing because, well, it’s not there.

Consider, for instance, the ongoing uproar over the federal government’s plan to get rid of the mandatory long-form census and make all census questionnaires voluntary.

Various voices from the left are tinged with outrage. According to many liberals, NDPers, academics, activists and commentators, this is tantamount to shredding the very fabric of our nice, caring culture.

I’m no fan of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but I say, shred that mandatory census.

The opponents of a voluntary census are leaving out some vital information, such as: when exactly did leftists start endorsing statism? Since when do idealists support the power of the state over the rights of the individual? Is big, bad government only big and bad when it’s in Washington, not Ottawa?

It has been said, many times, that the mandatory census is needed so the government can base good social policy on it. If you believe that, please send me your name, address and bank account information.

Good social policy comes about when people want good social policy. Statistics don’t have anything to do with it. The federal government, with support of all political parties, declared in 1989 it would wipe out “child poverty” in Canada by the year 2000. Child poverty still exists, a full decade past its expiry date. Did the government fail because people couldn’t agree whether 13 per cent or 16 per cent or 18 per cent of Canadian children live below the poverty line? No. It failed because it, and Canadians, weren’t really serious about eradicating child poverty.

One letter writer wailed about educational policy. How, he demanded to know, could governments plan school construction without the information from a mandatory census? Easy, Einstein. Check school registrations. If the feeder schools’ registrations are rising, it’s likely that in a few years you’ll need to either expand the local junior high school or high school, or build a new school.

Supporters of a mandatory census leave out this huge piece of info: all the information gathered under threat of jail by the state is obtainable elsewhere and with other, less obnoxious methods. (See: tax returns.)

Read the census questions. Ask yourself, as a citizen, whether the government should force you — under threat — to answer questions about your race, your religion and your family.

Personally, I won’t tell them whether my spouse is a woman or a man. Instead, I’ll write in, “None of your business, big fella.”

Brian Jones is a desk editor at

The Telegram. He can be reached

by e-mail at bjones@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Canadian Press, Parks Canada, The Telegram

Geographic location: Canada, Southern Saskatchewan, Middle Ages Europe Washington Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Politically Incorrect
    August 20, 2010 - 09:09

    I agree that eradicating child poverty (a rather meaningless term, as child poverty emanates from adult poverty) is a non-issue with many self-centered and self-satisfied Canadians, and certainly not with this government. It’s not that this is “tantamount to shredding the very fabric of our nice, caring culture.” It’s throwing out the tools that would be useful if we had a government that was serious about building a nice, caring culture. Just because you can't be bothered fixing your car today shouldn't mean that you should throw out your tool box. What Harper and company don't like is that these wicked leftists, activists, academics, and commentators use this information to point to discrepancies between official rhetoric and reality – e.g. poverty (child based or otherwise) or falling crime rates (rather inconvenient when you’re trying to justify building an American-style prison industrial complex.) Secondly, if the Conservatives were so concerned about our privacy, why did they contract out the 2006 census to an American arms manufacturer (the same one from we are buying $18 billion worth of fighter jets); a company that may be obliged to hand over OUR information under the terms of the Patriot Act? This has nothing to do with protecting our privacy. It’s about garnering support by appealing to a reactionary element over what has never been an issue. If the government wants to address something useful how about starting with… “child” poverty?