Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Census Cons

Well, another beautiful day here in Canada's happiest city. I've got a few friends and acquaintances who are going to argue with this unlikely assertion but I have to admit I like the idea - why would the people at Lonely Planet make such a thing up? There must be some truth to it. Montreal, by the by, was second worldwide to a place that resembles what most us imagine paradise to look like, Vanuatu. So next to paradise, Montreal is the second best place to be.

Yesterday in Ottawa Industry Minister Tony Clement testified on behalf of the Tory government to stubbornly try and justify their doing away with the long form census in spite of all those lined up against the government's position -- including many of their own allies. The Globe and Mail called it a masterful defence of a false fact.

Their concern like many others who disagree with the Tory position is that: We won’t know any more, for sure, how many same-sex couples live among us, how many people are coping with physical or mental difficulties, how well people are speaking English or French, where people came from, how many Indians and other aboriginals there are, who has moved from where to where, who works at what and how much we get paid, who’s paying child support, how the housing stock is fairing, and much more.

Maclean's Magazine blogger Scott Feschuk described Tony Clement as sounding, like a wet-lipped halfwit. Which is fairly generous considering the content of what he argued yesterday. Here's some of that tasty fear-mongering: “I cannot support the opposition's belief that Canadians not wishing to answer these questions are criminals,” Mr. Clement said in a statement released Tuesday evening. “It is truly regrettable that the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois will not take a reasonable approach to addressing personal privacy rights of Canadians in the pursuit of invasive data.”

While his performance has been roundly panned, he sounded like Aristotle in comparison with Stockwell Day, who ominously asked if it’s right that the government can ask your neighbour “whether she is a Jew or not? Don’t you find that one even a little bit chilling?” Yikes!

Munir Sheikh's testimony disputed the idea that he supported the government scrapping the mandatory long-form census and the fact that it was being reported that he did was what caused him to resign. No statistician would have made such a recommendation, said Dr. Sheikh, who struggled with his emotions as he addressed the committee. “It really cast doubt on the integrity of the agency,” he said. “And I, as the head of that agency, cannot survive in that job.”

As troubling as all this is over at Rabble.ca Linda McQuaig notes that in many ways this is an attack on the poor, a way to further marginalize them. Sam Boshra, a former analyst for Statistics Canada, puts it this way: "If this results in the poor and unemployed being undercounted, the government could justify reallocating resources away from programs targeting these disadvantaged groups."

It also lends support to the Fraser Institute's disturbing idea of redefining poverty in Canada: The Fraser Institute favours a measure based on minimal subsistence. Under this approach, children are considered not to live in poverty as long as they have food and shelter, even if they lack things most Canadians consider basic -- like books, toys, school supplies.


Using the Fraser poverty calculation, vast swaths of Canada's poor simply disappear, reclassified as middle class -- even as children fall behind at school because their parents can't pay for field trips or calculators. Sounds unconscionable doesn't it? Is this the vision we want for Canada?

Our neighbors to the south have allowed right-wing think tanks to dominate the public discourse and define the terms of the various arguments that are taking place and it has led them to a kind of divisiveness I would never have thought possible. It has been one of the prime drivers in helping to shrink the middle-class, to propagandize and misinform and get people to vote against their own best interests. We cannot allow it to happen here.

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