This is the 32nd meeting of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. Today is Friday, August 27, 2010.
Welcome, committee members and witnesses. We're here pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) for a study of the long-form portion of the census.
With us today as part of our first panel is Mr. Cappe, who is the president of the Institute for Research on Public Policy; Mr. McKinnon, who is the chair of the National Statistics Council; Mr. Lam, vice-president of the Canada First Community Organization; Mr. Henderson, as an individual; Mr. Turk and Mr. Ornstein, as representatives of the Canadian Association of University Teachers; and Mr. Chartier, who is the president of the Métis National Council.
Welcome to each and every one of you.
We'll begin with five-minute opening statements from each of the groups represented, beginning with Mr. Cappe.
Let me start by explaining why I'm here. I am indeed the president of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, but I spent over 30 years in the public service of Canada. I served seven prime ministers. I was the Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet to Mr. Chrétien, but lest you think that somehow taints me as being a partisan in anyway, the first order in council naming me to the deputy minister ranks was by Brian Mulroney, and I ended my career in the public service loyally serving Prime Minister Harper and my then minister, Peter MacKay. So in the spirit of that non-partisan public service, my objective today is to try to help the committee deal with the government's objectives, as well as the opposition's objectives, and I think both can be met.
I've sent the and Minister Clement four letters. I never received a response from Minister Clement, and the Prime Minister's Office sent me an acknowledgement.
However, I never received a response from the Prime Minister. Even though my last letter was private, I would like to share it with the committee because, clearly, the Prime Minister never saw it.
I have four points.
The first point is that the long form of the census is a public good. That's a technical term, but it's a good one. It's used by a wide array of real people: banks, charities, and public health authorities.
I'll just use one example that I'm familiar with. My wife is the president of the Canadian Institute of Planners, and whether they're urban or municipal planners, they use this material all the time to plan municipal and rural infrastructure, transportation systems, for development planning, sewers, all of that. This is a public good. It serves the public and can be more efficiently collected by the state than by each individual group undertaking its own survey.
Second, the long form of the census ensures the reliability and robustness of other surveys. The Governor of the Bank of Canada has made it clear that he's going to have to reassess the reliability of the labour force survey now that we will have a voluntary long-form census. The labour force survey, by the way, is a compulsory survey, but we rely on it for measuring employment and unemployment. We need to have the long-form census to target other censuses to have reliability.
Third, I'm going to be presumptuous and suggest that I know what the objectives of this committee are, and I'm going to tell you what they are. I apologize for appearing presumptuous, but I think you should be out there to provide reliable and robust data, and also to minimize coercion. I agree with the government on this; we should be minimizing coercion. We should be minimizing the intrusiveness of the survey and the census, and we should be maximizing the privacy that's attached to it.
I have one more point that I'll come back to, but in my letter to the —and I've asked the clerk to share the letters with the members of the committee—I indicate there are four things you can do to deal with those objectives: You can have a mandatory census; you can remove jail terms, and now I think both sides agree with this; you can review the questionnaire and minimize the intrusiveness of the questions; and I would add to what the National Statistics Council has said, you can increase the penalties for the divulgation of private data. I think anybody who releases census data inappropriately should be seriously fined.
The last issue I want to present to the committee is that there's a higher-level issue here and it is an important principle of governance: to ensure the integrity of the statistical agency. I think the events over the course of this summer have raised questions about this larger significant issue. I think the committee should take its time, notwithstanding the deliberations on the census, to consider the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.
To my surprise, there are UN fundamental principles of official statistics. It was brought to my attention by Ivan Fellegi, the former Chief Statistician. This summer we've seen questions raised about who's responsible for methodology in collecting statistics. There are several principles in that UN charter that deal with independence, methodological integrity, and the role of politics, and I think the committee should study it carefully.
You might consider—and I'm not suggesting this is “the” answer, but it's “an” answer—amending the Statistics Act to make clear that the Chief Statistician, who is a statutory officer named in the Statistics Act and appointed by Governor in Council, has the sole responsibility for methodological and technical issues. I think was correct when he told this committee that this is a department of government that reports to the minister and that many questions around the choice of questions are political. But there is no doubt in my mind that the Chief Statistician should be the only person to comment on methodological questions in government and have the obligation to inform the chair of a parliamentary committee, or someone in public, of his views on methodological questions. I would urge the committee not to play partisan games with an important institution of governance.
Good morning and thank you.
My name is Ian McKinnon and I chair the National Statistics Council, the body of volunteer external advisers from across Canada appointed to advise on matters affecting Canada's statistical system.
Today I continue the efforts of the statistics council, which has tried to find a resolution to the dispute set off when the government announced that the long-form census was being discontinued and that the voluntary household survey was being put in its place.
We believed the announced changes would harm the integrity and the quality of the Canadian statistical system. At the same time, the council recognized that concerns about intrusiveness and confidentiality should be addressed. As a result, the statistics council set out to find solutions that protected the quality of information Canadians depend upon, while responding to concerns over the way the census is conducted.
I believe we can resolve the issue by listening to what Canadians have said. While the initial decision of the government was made without public consultation, the debate and discussions since the decision was announced have been illuminating, to say nothing of a little surprising to statisticians who sometimes worry that people don't value their work.
Many groups have explained the importance of the long form for their activities. The public debate and the information released by the government in response to the order of the standing committee have made the situation clearer and have demonstrated that all expert advice, Canadian and international, as well as the results of the recent U.S. survey experiment, concur that a voluntary survey will not be able to fulfill the fundamental needs of our national statistical system.
What is then at risk? First, the proposed voluntary national household survey will suffer from significant selection bias, a fundamental flaw that has been examined in depth technically. The proposed changes will also likely result in Statistics Canada's not being able to publish robust, detailed information for neighbourhoods, towns, or rural areas. Much of the analytic work done by municipalities, police forces, private companies, health agencies, highway and transportation planners, school boards, and a large number of other groups depend upon small-area knowledge, and that data will no longer be available.
Our second concern is the potential loss of vital benchmark information. The mandatory long form means that StatsCan has an accurate benchmark for the demographics of populations that are difficult to reach or are less likely to complete a voluntary survey. This in turn means that sampling and weighting strategies for subsequent voluntary surveys can compensate for the bias from differential response rate and produce reliable and robust information. The importance of having census benchmarks available is readily apparent when one considers some of the populations that we know are more difficult to reach: young people making the school-to-work transition, vital to understanding Canada's economy and questions of efficiency but hard to reach; urban aboriginal populations; the affluent; new immigrants; and the list goes on.
Recognizing that the debate over the future course of the census has become heated without moving towards a resolution that meets both the concerns about privacy and intrusiveness, on one hand, as well as the need to maintain the quality of Canada's statistical system, the National Statistics Council has recommended a number of things.
First, as part of the formal consultation process, beginning with the 2016 census, StatsCan should examine each question to ensure that it meets rigorous tests for inclusion in the census. Each question should satisfy the needs of data users but only as weighed against the cost and intrusiveness of the question.
The census for 2011 needs to include a mandatory equivalent of the long-form census. It is the only way to safeguard the quality of the Canadian statistical system.
StatsCan should also examine respondent burden carefully, particularly that which is placed on Canada's farmers by the census of agriculture and other agricultural surveys from Statistics Canada. We have a precedent in this in the careful examination of the response burden on small business, where 10 to 15 years ago a major effort was made to reduce that burden.
Finally, the opportunity afforded by amending the Statistics Act to remove jail as a penalty should be used to include provisions related to the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, a code adopted by the UN to which Canada has already formally adhered.
The National Statistics Council believes these steps, taken together, can respect the valid concerns voiced by Canadians about privacy and intrusiveness while ensuring that the vital information that currently flows from the long-form census can be maintained and continue to serve Canadians' needs.
Further, the council has welcomed the government's acceptance of the council's recommendation, in its announcement that it intends to remove the threat of jail time for persons refusing to fill out the census, and the implicit recognition by the government, through its decision to include the official language questions in the short form, that the voluntary national household survey will not meet the requirements for robust and accurate small-area data.
There remains only one major issue that has been raised. Having removed the threat of jail, is the potential sanction of fines a disproportionate or intolerable burden on Canadians required to fill out the long-form census or its equivalent? My response is a firm “no”. The benefits to society and all its members of having a household fill out a 30-minute questionnaire, on average, once every quarter century, a form whose contents are released to no one, not companies, not other agencies, are beneficial for all of us.
In conclusion, we ask that the government carry on consulting and doing technical evaluations but collect the long-form data by making the national household survey mandatory. Canadians need and deserve no less.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
I am representing Canada First Community Organization.
I just want to remind you gentlemen on this floor that it is a changing world. We are here to show support for the change.
I will not waste any time. I will just go into the topic.
Here are the reasons.
The adequacy of the long form is in doubt. It is 39 years old and a report that is 40 pages long. Some people may finish it anyway. Some of the answers they may not want to share with the government for privacy reasons and will simply just fill in what they like. How you are going to verify their information will be difficult.
I'm close to the community, so I'm just speaking on behalf of how they think.
All kinds of data are available, of which the long form is not the only source. It is old. In my opinion, it is inefficient and wastes time and money. I also feel sorry for the old way of getting things done; it is just terrible in terms of method and speed.
I just want to show you some examples of perhaps how to do things quickly as compared to slowly.
I'll give you the example of a subway extension from Yonge Street to Don Mills Road, along Sheppard Avenue. It took them 10 years to finish, as compared to Hong Kong, which built one of the largest airports, on two islands, on reclaimed land, back in the 1990s, which can handle 5,500 passengers an hour. What did they do? It cost $35 billion Canadian, and there actually were 10 projects along with that. There was the airport itself, a new town for its workers, a railway, two expressways, an underwater rail and road tunnel, and one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, longer than the Golden Gate Bridge, built in only eight years.
What I'm saying here is not to criticize the government; I'm saying that I want to see things get done more quickly and with less study.
I remind you that we have to compete globally. Just like the old Chinese saying, you are rowing your boat upstream, and if you don't row harder and faster, you may fall further and further behind and never be able to catch up.
The change of long form to a short form is a good direction to go in. Why not give it a try?
Some may say it's going to cost a lot of money. Yes. This form was first used in 1971. May I ask you gentlemen, are you still using your 1971 computer, or are you still driving your old car from 1971? So things need to change, and change in the direction of us having to compete globally.
If I may quote an article from The Economist
||It is a global trend, pioneered, inevitably, in Scandinavia. Denmark has been keeping track of its citizens without a traditional census for decades; Sweden, Norway, Finland...among others....
The article goes on to say,
||Britain has seen hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrive from new eastern European members of the EU. Local governments complain that out-of-date information ignores these newcomers, leaving schools overcrowded, budgets stretched and houses scarce. At the same time, filling in the forms has become more onerous: what started as a short questionnaire about who lived where has turned into an inquisition about everything from toilet and car ownership to race and religion.
And it is costly. The cost is about $36 per head in America, versus 20¢ in Finland.
I'm James Turk, the executive director. With me is Michael Ornstein, one of the senior folks in our research advisory committee and director of the Institute for Social Research at York University. We represent 65,000 academic staff at 122 universities and colleges across Canada.
I'd like to begin with a question for the committee. What do the following organizations have in common: the Vancouver Board of Trade; the Canadian Nurses Association; the Canadian Institute of Planners; the Chinese Canadian National Council; the Town of Halton Hills, which is Mr. Chong's town; the Canadian Association for Business Economics; the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants; the Canada West Foundation; the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada; the Canadian Federation of Independent Business; the Canadian Labour Congress; Alberta Health Services; the United Way of Canada; the Canadian Jewish Congress; the Canadian Public Health Association; the Chamber of Commerce in Burlington, Ontario, which is Mr. Wallace's town; the Canadian Council on Social Development; the Canadian Economics Association; the Governments of Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island; the Government of Nunavut; the Canadian Medical Association; the Toronto Board of Trade; the Canadian Association of Midwives; the Corporation of the County of Simcoe; the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops; the Canadian Chamber of Commerce; the Royal Society of Canada; the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada; the Ukrainian Canadian Congress; the cities of Edmonton—which is Mr. Lake's town—Fredericton, Ottawa, Toronto, and Victoria?
They, like the Canadian Association of University Teachers, have called on the Government of Canada to reinstate the mandatory long-form census. The decision to end the mandatory long-form census will mean a dramatic decline in the quality of economic and social information for governments, community social service agencies, and businesses. Provincial governments use the census to measure fundamental characteristics of their populations and to plan transportation, policies to cope with population aging, plans for elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education, plus a myriad of other things. Local governments and school boards use the long-form census to forecast demand for government services, to know about neighbourhoods so as to know where to locate schools, transportation services, community and social services, day cares, and language programs for new Canadians. Community service agencies use the census to determine the needs of their communities and their social and demographic characteristics. New businesses use the long-form census data to decide where to set up shop, examining measures such as education levels, incomes, and occupations in particular areas. Existing businesses use census data to know where to focus their marketing, where to locate stores, and what products to offer in different stores.
The mandatory long-form census as well is used as a reference point, a benchmark for other very important surveys such as the labour force survey used to measure unemployment and other key aspects of employment used in the national accounts.
Cancelling the mandatory long-form census prevents us from evaluating the quality of, and taking measures to correct, information from Statistics Canada and other sample surveys, thus undermining the entire system of Canadian social and economic statistics. This includes standard surveys needed to compare Canada with the OECD and other countries.
The mandatory long-form census is the primary source of information on equity in Canadian society, including the education, earnings, and occupations of aboriginal people, members of visible minorities, men and women, and persons with disabilities.
The mandatory long-form census has allowed Canadians to know about ourselves as a people. The current census is a series going back to 1871. It is hard to exaggerate the number of ways the census is used to describe our nation and how it has changed and the importance of knowing that history.
I'd like now to turn the remainder of the time over to my colleague, Michael Ornstein, who is going to address the question of why there is a problem with eliminating the mandatory long-form census, if the proposed voluntary survey collects information from as many or more people.
Let me start by asking, what is distinct about the mandatory long-form census?
First, the response rate is very high, so the measure is free from bias to the maximum extent possible. This is just as important as the size of the sample.
Second, the questionnaire includes a great variety of questions. These are important not only because they're important individually, but because of the way they're combined. People have talked about cutting down the length of the survey, but that cuts down the ability to look at a variety of different things. For example, you might be interested in the poverty rates of children, but as a global statistic, that's a lot less interesting, in a way, than knowing how poverty rates of children vary across the country, among ethno-racial groups, for aboriginal communities, and so on.
Third, the long-form sample is very large, so we get accurate statistics from small communities in rural areas for individual racialized groups, and so on. None of Statistics Canada's smaller surveys is a substitute for the census for this reason.
Fourth, because there is a great deal of overlap in the questions from one census to the next, it is possible to measure change over time very accurately. Often the change is as important an indicator as the absolute level. So we talk about the aging of the workforce, not the age of the workforce. The critical thing is the change.
Much of the information obtained from the census is not available from any other survey, particularly questions dealing with racialization and immigration.
Finally, questions asked in the census are decided in a painstakingly careful process. The size of the enterprise and its cost are so large, there's a detailed rationale for the inclusion of every single question.
So the question is, why is there a problem with the proposed voluntary survey? In answer, the critical thing is that the response rate will be between 60% and 75% and the results will be biased by non-response. This is because the people who do not answer the survey are different from those who do. We know the response is lower among young people, more mobile people, poorer people, and so on. The problem is that with the switch from the mandatory census, it's not simply that the content of the survey is changed, but the critical thing is that change from one census to another can't be distinguished from non-response bias when you move from a survey with 4% or 5% non-response to 25% or 30% non-response.
On behalf of the Métis Nation, I thank you for inviting the Métis National Council to express its views here today on this most critical issue.
The Métis Nation is represented through democratically elected, province-wide governance structures from Ontario westward—namely, the Métis Nation of Ontario, the Manitoba Métis Federation, Métis Nation Saskatchewan, the Métis Nation of Alberta, and Métis Nation British Columbia. The Métis National Council has represented the Métis Nation nationally and internationally since 1983. Based on the citizenship criteria established by the Métis Nation in 2002, the number of Métis Nation citizens in Canada we estimate as approximately 400,000, roughly one-third of the aboriginal population.
Our citizenship criteria are based on self-identification, historic Métis Nation ancestry, and acceptance by the historic Métis Nation community. In the Powley decision in 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada, in addition to upholding the constitutionally protected aboriginal rights of the Métis, also identified criteria for membership in the Métis rights-bearing community, based on ancestral connection to and acceptance by historic Métis communities.
Since the Powley decision, the Métis National Council's five governing members—that is, the provincial governance bodies of the Métis Nation—have established citizenship registries to determine who can vote in their province-wide ballot box elections and receive programs and services delivered to them. These registries are largely built, but even when completed, will not cover the entire Métis population in our historic homeland.
We rely on the census for total population counts, as well as for socio-economic information on persons who identify as Métis or who have Métis ancestry. The census changes proposed by the Government of Canada will have a major impact on all aboriginal data, but in particular, the data on Métis. The federal government has no administrative database for Métis as it does for first nations through the INAC registry.
It did, however, sign a Métis Nation protocol with the Métis National Council in 2008, through which we are pursuing a number of key initiatives to improve the conditions and expand opportunities for our people. Through the protocol, the federal government and the Métis National Council have also engaged the five westernmost provincial governments in joint initiatives on economic development, and we are in the process of exploring how to apply this multilateral approach to other key areas such as education and health.
A critical starting point to these initiatives is developing a reliable database for the Métis population. The government's proposal to eliminate the long-form census questionnaire and have all households get the short form, supplemented by a household survey of one in three households to collect information previously gathered by the long-form census, causes us concern. The household survey, as we understand it, will be voluntary, and of course, people will know that. Lower-income households and households with lower education levels are less likely to respond to a voluntary survey than would middle-class households, increasing the possibility of skewed data from that survey.
Given the standard rule of statistics that the smaller the population the larger the sample size should be to obtain reliable data, any measure that will lower Métis participation will jeopardize the ability to collect accurate and reliable data, especially when the data is broken down by age, sex, income group, and geography.
The proposed changes will jeopardize our ability to conduct post-census surveys of aboriginal people, such as the aboriginal peoples survey. That survey, which we have relied on for much of our data, was based on responses to the long-form questionnaire.
Finally, the changes will certainly make it more difficult, if not impossible, to compare 2011 information with information from previous censuses. Such comparisons are important to establish growth rates and demographic and socio-economic trends. The fact of the matter is that we will not know the full impact of these changes on Métis data until we know how people respond to the voluntary survey. But we believe the federal government is clearly taking a needless risk that has the potential to thwart continued progress for Métis people.
In this country, we have many political parties and those political parties have different visions of where Canada should be going, and that's fine. However, I think it is crucial that all political parties have as a basic, fundamental principle the urgent need to make available the most accurate data on which to base their decisions and their vision—and when I say “accurate”, I mean accurate information that paints an accurate picture of the Canadian mosaic.
As we have heard from many speakers in the past couple of months, it is a mosaic. We have linguistic minorities; we have ethnic minorities; we have aboriginal peoples; we have rich people and we have poor people. We have a very diverse mosaic, and the policies we implement should make use of the best available information that accurately reflects that mosaic.
Who would have thought the census issue would be one that would appear in the summer of 2011? But it has become apparent to me in the past couple of months that there is a valuable exercise coming out of all of this.
Government has an obligation to explain more clearly to Canadians why we have this census, because I think there is quite a bit of questioning about why it is that people are being asked these questions. I think the government has a responsibility to explain more clearly why we go through this very complex exercise to ask questions of Canadians and why it has been a mandatory exercise. I don't think that's clear, and I regretfully have to say there has been quite a bit of misinformation in the process. That's the first thing.
The second thing the government must do is to explain to Canadians just how much effort is put into maintaining the privacy of that information, because I think that is also a concern that has been expressed.
I thank the speakers who have come here this morning, who have shed light on the process and have expressed their individual opinions, and I'd like to ask them a few questions.
I'll start with Mr. McKinnon.
I think part of the questioning coming from Canadians is based on the fact that many Canadians as individuals do not necessarily recognize why it is important for them to fill out the form and answer these questions. What is it going to change in their life? What is it going to do for Canada? There is perhaps the perception that this is just a bunch of information used by people who they have nothing to do with and that it's not going to affect their life.
I think that's part of the education we need to do, and I'd like to get your comments on that.
Thank you, Mr. Garneau.
One of the most critical things the long-form census provides is small-area information. It's fine to talk to Canadians about the abstract and the importance of the labour force survey tackling questions such as efficiency in our economy, but the biggest impact on individuals is in terms of the services that are directly provided to them.
We heard, for example, criticism earlier of the question about where do you go to work and when do you leave there. However, it is precisely questions such as this that may have some interest at a national level, but at a neighbourhood level, will allow people to see where we need roads and how we can best plan our transit system. The lists of people you heard about earlier, the different organizations, tend to be the service deliverers who bring home local neighbourhood solutions and answers to people.
The information that gets generated allows for more efficiency, and even accountability. I think those are two benchmarks that are extremely important to the broader Canadian public and should be held up as things that drive government policy: First, they're made vastly more difficult without the precise and detailed information we have; and secondly, the alternative ways of getting this information are usually inadequate and invariably more expensive. So when we're talking about large numbers to conduct a census, in fact the alternatives tend to be vastly more expensive.
If you consider the ethnic diversity survey, which has been an important element of analyzing who we are and some of the challenges we face, the targeting of that survey requires a keen understanding of where Canadians are, what kind of Canadians they are, how they're engaged in society, and how they're engaged in the economy. Therefore, the robustness and reliability of the data from that survey depend upon the reliability of the census data we use for weighting.
It's the same thing with the labour force survey. The ethnic diversity survey unfortunately may not be conducted in future, but the labour force survey, which is fundamental to understanding how the economy is performing on a regular monthly basis, requires us to understand where to ask the questions. You're sampling and you want the sample to represent all of the economy and all of society. So to find the right sample in order to measure how we're doing in the economy, you need the census as the basis for the reliability of the sample.
If you don't mind, I will answer in English.
I'm always struck by the need for evidence-based policy.
As the president of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, I would like to point out that many of our researchers base their research on the census and other surveys stemming from it.
If you think we should have policy-based evidence—that is, pick the policy and then go out and prove it—then you don't need a census.
If you want to base your policy on evidence, on the nature of the challenges that the country faces, on the nature of the problems of the performance of the economy, then you need the evidence first.
At the Institute for Research on Public Policy, we say that we ask questions before getting answers. I hope that the government does likewise.
Certainly, Monsieur Bouchard. The fundamental issue is what is called “response bias”. People who respond to voluntary surveys are, by their nature, different from those who do not. Those who do not are often more time pressed. They are people who sometimes feel marginalized within society. If there are linguistic barriers, they are less likely to respond.
Those problems can be compensated for if one has a benchmark that says there are this number of indigenous peoples, for example, in an urban situation; or there are these many people who are unilingual francophones in this area. Then you can look at surveys that are done voluntarily and reweight or change the sampling designs to ensure that you get everyone. Without the benchmarks created by a compulsory format that tests for those very basic issues with simple questions about income, ethnicity, language, and so on, you won't have that benchmark anymore. You may have a voluntary survey, but you can no longer adjust it to a known population.
That means not only are your census results less applicable in small areas, but very importantly, you no longer have the ability to conduct further voluntary surveys, or surveys such as the labour force survey, with confidence that you are accurately reflecting a cross-section of Canadians.
Thank you, Mr. Chair; and thank you to the witnesses for coming today.
After listening to Mr. Turk and to Mr. Garneau's questions, I'm thinking a little bit about the difference in points of view on this issue and trying to define what differentiates us. I notice that Mr. Garneau was quoted on 630 CHED yesterday, talking about the government having trouble finding groups that support its point of view, so it's down to inviting individuals. I think that highlights a little bit of the difference in approach.
Certainly on this side we know we represent individuals. I think I represent about 120,000 individuals in my riding and it's important that they have their say. I don't think it's something we refer to as the bottom of the barrel that we're down to inviting individuals. I think they're probably the most important people to have their say on issues such as this. So I guess we would agree to disagree on that.
Mr. Turk, in terms of your list of people who have commented—and you went through quite a list there—I had trouble keeping up because you were talking fairly quickly, but I think one of the reasons you've stated for the census being important was about businesses using education levels and income levels to decide where to set up shop. I would probably agree that it's good information to have. In my previous life, in business, I would have liked that information. So you and I can agree on the value of information when it comes to that.
I think the fundamental question we're trying to answer here is about how a government gathers information. If the question is whether we like information, I think everybody around this table would put up their hand and say, yes, we do. But how does the government gather that information?
When it comes to gathering that information, in terms of the way to gather information to help businesses decide where to set up shop based on income levels and education levels, I would say that while that may be good information, it's inappropriate for a government to threaten its citizens with fines or jail time. I'll even focus on the fines, because it seems there's some agreement on the issue of jail time: It's inappropriate for a government to threaten its citizens with fines to get that information.
Let's just talk about this. So we go to one of our citizens and we tell them that the government wants some information through the census, information about education, income, and how much time they spend with their kids or how much housework or yardwork they do. Let's say, hypothetically, in one of the vulnerable groups that are talked about often because they're the least likely to actually fill out the census and are the most likely to be threatened with these fines, there is a single mother with three kids who doesn't want to tell the government how much time she spends with her kids or how much time she spends doing yardwork. We go to her twice and she respectfully tells us she doesn't want to answer those questions—for whatever reason, it doesn't matter. Then the census official pulls out a total refusal form—I don't know if citizens know this—and fills out a part of the total refusal form where they write down the exact words used by the person who has refused and fill out a section on the description of the person who refused: age, gender, height, weight, other physical details such as facial hair, tattoos, glasses, birthmarks, distinctive clothing, etc.
They fill that out on the total refusal form because someone doesn't want to tell them how much yardwork he or she did last week. Does that seem an acceptable role for government to endorse?
Thank you, Mr. Lake, for your questions.
First of all, your opening comment is that we all like information. Actually, I think you should amend that. We all like valid and reliable information. The issue at point here is whether the information that will come from a voluntary replacement for the long-form census will be valid and reliable. The answer is that it won't.
Secondly, on the question about how to gather and do you make it mandatory for citizens, as I understand it, the position of the Government of Canada is that it's perfectly okay to make the short form mandatory, but not the long form. So presumably the same things to which you're objecting will continue in place, merely for a shorter version of questions.
As well, we require information from citizens, mandatory information about their income, when they fill out their income tax form, and there are very serious penalties in that regard.
The point is that we have a collective responsibility, as well as an individual one, and in order for the needs of all Canadians to be met, there's a certain level of valid and reliable information required, as my colleagues as witness have been giving you examples of. We can give you examples as long as you have time to listen to them, about how it's essential for the federal government, for provincial governments, for municipal governments, for community organizations, and for businesses to have reliable and valid information in order to plan things as mundane as what bus routes are the most suitable to meet the needs of the population or in what kinds of communities should various social programs be located. In the absence of the long-form census, our governments can't provide that.
That's the key issue. Are we going to serve the people of this country, or are we not? Eliminating the long-form census is a disservice to every single Canadian.
Okay, I have a couple of thoughts on that.
First of all, in regard to the short form, the government has certainly maintained the mandatory short-form census for all Canadians. I'm glad you made that point, because I think there's some misunderstanding. I've seen headlines about scrapping the census. There has been no scrapping of the census, and it's important that you made that point.
Of course, the government has made a decision that when we're talking about the balance of information and the role of government in collecting information, certainly collecting information about who lives where, which is on the short form, and collecting information about the age distribution of our population, which is on the short form, is important information to gather. In fact, I would argue that most of the examples cited in terms of other levels of government and organizations using census data for their decision-making actually refer to questions that are on the short form and are going to continue to be mandatory for all Canadians to answer.
I want to move, if I could, to Mr. Lam.
You talked a little bit about concerns about the accuracy of the long form. At a previous committee meeting, we had Darrell Bricker here before us, and one of the things he talked about was that when you force people to answer questions they don't want to answer, there are significant concerns about the accuracy of the information you're getting. Perhaps that's where we get, for example, on the religion question in 2001, 21,000 Canadians who said they were Jedi Knights of the Jedi Knight religion. So there may be questions in terms of the type of information they get.
Certainly in my conversations with the individuals who the Liberal Party doesn't want to talk to but certainly we want to talk to, they express the same thing. In fact, I've had several people say, “You know what? I filled it out because it was mandatory. I didn't want to fill it out, but I certainly didn't feel obligated to get into great detail in terms of the answers that I was giving.”
Maybe you could speak to that a little bit, sir, that concern that you brought up.
No, I don't think so. But it is important to note, though, that there is that element.
Mr. Henderson, we have a choice to make in this country. We can continue to do the things we're doing now and have this information—and yes, you personally had to go through other means to finish what you're supposed to do as a citizen, and I appreciate that—or alternatively, if we go to what's being proposed, more people will actually get a voluntary census, so more people are actually going to be contacted. There will be TV ads, phone calls, and information put in your letter box and it'll cost you more money.
Is that something you would prefer, that it would actually cost more money and you'd be contacted more, and to have more people contact you?
That's important to clarify.
I'll open this question, then, to the rest of the panel, in terms of the actual process that's going to be involved: Do you think it will be more burdensome or less burdensome for Canadians?
This is one of the things that has been promoted, that things are going to get easier if we actually go to a voluntary census, but the reality is that it's going to cost more money and there's going to be more contact.
We've had the veracity of the data basically contested by many experts, but I think ordinary Canadians who are out there just want to know, are they going to get more contact and more disturbance, or are they going to get less? I think they're actually going to get more, and that's a real issue.
Let me first say something about the burden. One-fifth of the population gets the mandatory census every five years, so I would get one every 25 years.
Actually, only one is filled out per household, typically, and one person in the household would do it. So perhaps every 25 years I'd fill out, on average, half a census. So over 50 years, I would fill out a full census, which would take 20 or 30 minutes. It seems to me that the whole issue of the amount of burden is colossally inflated.
Let me make a second point. I'm struck by the notion that the burden isn't balanced by the community benefit. The nature of the way in which this debate is being phrased is that there are only costs. This is, of course, why the government didn't consult with the users before making this decision. This thing is being put forward as having costs but really no benefits.
About one-third of Canadians will get the voluntary proposed form, versus 20%. So there will be about a 30%, 40%, or 50% increase in the burden on the population with this new form.
My next question is for Mr. Chartier.
Mr. Chartier, in law there's a concept of honour of the crown, which places a particular obligation on the government to consult with the aboriginal communities in terms of any decisions that might affect them. The last time we met, we had a representative from the Inuit community and I asked her if indeed there had been any consultation from the crown, from the government, vis-à-vis her community. The answer was “No, there has not”.
Did the government consult the Métis National Council or any of the Métis community before it made the decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census?
I would add several things to that, but first to compliment the United States on the mechanism. They were looking at the issue of moving away from a mandatory census, or portion of the census, so they tested it. They took several years and got very serious about testing.
Their conclusions were as follows.
They would lose approximately 30%. There were certain groups—ethnic and racial minorities, poor people, and the wealthiest people—who would be heavily under-represented and there would be no way to benchmark the results.
The second finding was that the costs would increase dramatically, and to push response rates beyond the 70% range, which is still unacceptably low, became impossibly expensive.
The third and very interesting finding was counterintuitive. One of the things they tested was a question raised earlier by Mr. Lake, which is whether you get better quality answers item by item by having it voluntary, because people could opt out of questions. They looked very carefully at analyses of item responses and what is called “item non-response”. I think it would have been to my surprise—I don't know what their researchers thought going in—that they could find no difference. It was counterintuitive, but that's why we do research, to find out whether the things that seem intuitively appealing or clear in fact are proven out.
Thank you, everybody, for coming in on a Friday.
I'm going to start with Mr. Henderson and probably go over to Mr. Chartier, and if I have time, I'm going to get back to you, Joseph.
Mr. Henderson, I think a lot of the people around this table don't understand what farmers have to go through with the agricultural census and the long form at the same time.
Of course, that form comes out in May. What are you doing in May?
They're easy to threaten. I know I've talked to my neighbours, and they've had the threats. I feel sorry for these guys, because they work like crazy, and then all of a sudden they have to do this.
If you look at September, we have so many warm, good harvesting days, and sure enough, they want this done on that day when you can be combining. So you basically have to shut down your operations.
It depends whether you have one or two combines, but Mr. Masse, if you realized, if you had two combines going in a day, that would probably be two quarters of lentils. The cost of just a loss in production on that day could be $30,000 or $40,000, if not more.
Plus, if you have hired an accountant, that's going to take probably 10 hours, so that's probably another $2,000 or $3,000.
There is a burden here, a huge burden. Does it make sense? I guess that's the question.
Mr. Chartier, I just want to pass on greetings from Ms. Glover. She said to say hi to you. She is an aboriginal and a Métis in our caucus. We have three Métis and three aboriginals in our caucus.
I must say, it was good to see you in Batoche. It was a great event and your comments there were interesting, if not humorous.
I'm just curious. In your association, where is this on your priority list? You have lots of issues to deal with. Is this in your top 10 or top 20?
Again, I'm talking specifically towards the Métis association, because that is a concern if there's something that the association feels is important in the long form. I guess you should identify what those issues are.
I think you'd have to understand, a lot of people have this conception that the census is gone. There's a lot of confusion out there in all the associations and the general population that they won't even have to do a census. Well, that's not right. They will have to do a census. There's still the basic data that's going to be garnered; it's just that they won't be subjected to what farmers such as Mr. Henderson were: 56 pages of harassment during the busiest time of the year.
I'm going to move on to you, Joseph. I've been in Hong Kong and I know what you mean about the infrastructure and their ability to do the infrastructure.
You touched on the efficiencies. You talked about using technology from 1971. Are there things that Statistics Canada could be doing now that would make it easier to gather this data? Instead of trying to do it all at once, could it be staged in such a way that it could actually be more convenient and accurate? Do you have any opinions on that?
Yes. Actually, in a lot of areas you can collect the data—let's say through the financial sector.
Here is a good example. Let's say you want to open a Tim Hortons in any mall or any financial district. Of course, you have to go through the demographic study to find out, if you put the money there, will you make money. So there you go, and you can collect the information from there, and also the credit history. There are lots of areas where you can collect data. It's not only by going through and filling out the form.
They take 20% of the population. Perhaps half of them finish it and it might not really be 100% who put in their own information. So the truth of the matter is that it is in question. Are we going to rely on that?
Europe is changing it. A lot of places are changing it.
Also, since we're talking about costs, I want to know exactly what the costs are—if anyone can answer my question. What does it cost for the 40-page form to be filled out?
Good morning, gentlemen, and welcome to this committee meeting.
There has clearly been much talk about the census among Canadians. Some claim that it's too expensive, too long and intrusive. People are talking about its length, which is apparently what some find bothersome. However, the 40 pages could be divided into two. The questions could be divided into at least two parts because, based on the number of individuals, there are more pages to fill out.
People are saying that the census is too expensive, and that made me ask myself some serious questions. Some even believe that education is too costly. However, ignorance is much costlier. We are talking about an important source of information. If I were the prime minister of a large country like Quebec, for instance, my first thought would be that, overall, there are not that many questions. There could be even more of them, in my view. I would not be talking about removing, but rather about adding questions. One could say that the survey is lacking certain information that could help in implementing societal projects and in economic policy making.
There are some special cases. Apparently, farmers will be given a 56-page form to complete. Obviously, a successful farmer makes use of an accountant. That person could do two things at once, including filling out the form. I believe that we need this source of information. The information gathered, of course, must remain confidential, but I would like to know, Messrs. Cappe, McKinnon, Turk and Ornstein, what information you would mind divulging in the questionnaire. Maybe you would not be keen on disclosing your salary, but the department already has that information.
I am asking myself some serious questions. I would like to know why, in your opinion, this debate is going in this direction and why the government would want to deny itself information necessary to the implementation of policies in place. When the government brings into force policies that are not based on relevant information, it often ends up spending money needlessly. Instead of being stubborn and arguing about whether or not to keep the form, we should be looking into ways of getting more out of the census.
Thank you, Monsieur Cardin.
I would like to make several observations. The first is that I agree wholeheartedly that the information that comes from the census underpins and supports fact-based decision-making and discussion. It doesn't guide one towards a particular policy output, but it means that when you make your decisions you analyze the information and you are basing them on fact.
There is a second issue I would raise, and I would respectfully disagree to some degree. Even if questions aren't very invasive or personal, I think it's of fundamental importance that people's privacy and the privacy of their return be protected. I think Statistics Canada and the ISQ, l'Institut de la statistique du Québec, have stellar records, some of the best in the world, in ensuring and protecting privacy. So whether the question is invasive or one that I'm happy to share with the world, it's still extremely important that we live up to the standards that Statistics Canada has set.
I obviously, in the end, come down to this being extremely important to Quebec, to my province of British Columbia, and to Canadians as a whole in trying to improve the situation of every citizen.
I want to thank our guests for coming in today.
I have a few comments to make. This is the first meeting that I've had an opportunity to be at to discuss the long form, and I appreciate the date chosen, with three days difference from what we had when we were at the planning meeting a few weeks ago.
I'm going to give you a scenario that's an accurate one, from somebody who has told me about this, somebody who I know and I trust is telling me something accurate, and I would just like a yes or no answer as to whether you think it's appropriate.
The individual was filling out the long form. This person is in his sixties and his parents were born in Canada. His grandparents were born in Canada. Four of his great-grandparents were born in Canada. On the form, this individual marked “native Canadian”—no offence to our native Canadians, but he marked “native Canadian”. An individual called from StatsCan to tell him that they wanted his Indian card number.
The spouse told them that the individual was not Indian and didn't have an Indian card number. StatsCan said, “Well, no, he does,” because he had marked “native Canadian” on the long form. The spouse said, “Well, I've been married to him for 40 years. I don't think he's native Canadian. I'm absolutely positive he's not aboriginal. You can call back and talk to him”.
They did call back and talk to that individual. There was an explanation and a discussion that this individual believed he was native Canadian, but the person from StatsCan said to him, “Well, sir, do you know that it carries a penalty of $500 or jail time for you providing that misinformation?” So the information was corrected on the long form so that he didn't face a penalty.
We all know that nobody has gone to jail for that, but the fact is that somebody from government called this individual because they didn't like the response on the long form.
My first question is, do you think it's appropriate that the government, StatsCan, called this individual and threatened him with jail time or a fine because they didn't like his answer?
I'm happy if anyone would like to answer that. I'm just looking for a yes or a no.
Thank you for the question. That's in fact exactly at the heart of the experiment that the United States conducted. We get a given percentage of response—in their case, in the low nineties—from a mandatory census.
What percentage would we get in response to what's called the “American community survey” if it were on a voluntary basis but we explained the purposes and strongly encouraged people to respond?
The answer is that without arduous follow-up the percentage point difference is about 30%. So if you're assuming that the only difference is whether it's mandatory or not, the answer is about 30% of Canadians.
I think, in part, it's not that 30% of Canadians are dragged kicking and screaming, but rather, part of its being a mandatory census tells those respondents that your country really cares and this is very important to do. So I think some proportion of that 30% reflects their response to the government saying this is important, it matters, and you must fill it out.
Let me back up here a bit. The reality of what we have right now is that it is the policy of current Prime Minister and the current cabinet to have a fine and jail time if you don't fill out your census form. If they really wanted something different, they would have actually tabled that legislation, because it requires an amendment to the law over the last number of years. That's the reality we're dealing with right here.
So the nonsense that continues around the threat that you're going to be locked up, put away, incarcerated, because you don't fill out your census form, which is being propagated by the government, is irresponsible on many fronts. The most important one—and I hope the media picks this up at some point in time—is the fact and the reality that it is their policy. The minister has said he will change the legislation, but he could have changed the legislation at any point in time over the last number of years.
That bill will actually have to be tabled in the House of Commons. The House of Commons will have to debate that bill and then move it to committee. It will then have to be studied at committee, if we so choose, and returned to the House for another vote.
So the continuation of the situation about this being Canadians—farmers, new immigrants, and people who don't necessarily understand the census—who are going to actually be locked up, fined, and harassed is an absolute sham to this institution and to our democracy, because the reality is, once again, the minister has to change the legislation through law, which requires procedural elements in the House of Commons that he has chosen not to do, the Prime Minister has chosen not to do, and the cabinet has chosen not to do.
It's a complete distraction from the reality that is taking place here. We are going to lose valuable information necessary for a civil society to actually function and to actually move forward. That's what's really unfortunate and tragic about this, the mere fact that we are not only giving up our current database system that is necessary to make important decisions about taxpayers' money, but we are also going to forgo all the previous information and the comparable data necessary to plan a democratic country properly.
I would invite any comments.
I just want to comment on Mr. Masse's comment. The government is acting as though it's the opposition. It's criticizing the policies of the Government of Canada, which it has the ability to change.
As well, there's a good deal of misinformation that has been identified this morning by members of the government. Information about Métis status is not on the short form.
It was claimed by Mr. Lake that most of the examples that we and various witnesses provided today of the value of the long form are examples from the short form. That's absolutely false. The short form has only eight questions, or is it 10 now?
A voice: Yes, with the questions on official languages.
Mr. James L. Turk: It's very minimal.
Finally, to be clear on the burden, one out of five Canadians fills it out and it's every five years. You fill it out for your household, and there are 2.5 people in your household. When you do the math, that means the average Canadian would expect to have to fill out a long form once every 67.5 years, and it takes 30 minutes.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair; and thank you to the witnesses for being here.
Just to provide a little bit of perspective, I find it quite astounding that, in the year 2010, here we are debating the triumph of ignorance over knowledge, but I guess that's where we are. I'd like to suggest that this is not just an academic, esoteric issue, but an issue affecting real people in real ways. I'd like to give two example of that and then ask the panel—perhaps Mr. McKinnon and Mr. Turk—whether they have other examples.
The first example is a friend of mine whose name is John Richards. He is a professor at Simon Fraser University who has been studying aboriginal issues, particularly education, for about five years. He told me that, if we didn't have the long-form census, we wouldn't even know how many aboriginals there were, let alone their situation vis-à-vis health and education. Since aboriginals are one of poorest groups of Canadians, I think that is important for good policy and that's a practical case.
The second example is my riding. Markham is hugely multicultural. About 40% of the people are Chinese. Maybe 15% or 20% are South Asian. There are many, many new Canadians. I think the new Canadians would also be under-represented, partly for linguistic reasons, in filling out a voluntary census. So they would be poorly served for the kinds of services, language training and other things, that new Canadians need when they come to Canada.
Those are two concrete examples of how real people, often disadvantaged people, would be negatively impacted.
Perhaps I could start with Mr. Turk. Can you give us other examples of that nature? I think it's important that we bring this down to reality so that people can understand why we're talking about this esoteric issue at such length.
I have just two very brief examples.
I did some research for the Portuguese Canadian National Congress and spoke to them about the educational attainment of Portuguese Canadians. Portuguese Canadians are actually extraordinary. In a certain way, they've been very successful. They have relatively high incomes. But compared to other European groups, in fact compared to all ethno-racial groups, they have very low levels of education. This is a huge concern for the Portuguese community.
You can understand the logic of it. Many of them go into the construction industry. A lot of boys don't finish high school. But it is a huge concern for the community. So part of this research has to do with outreach in the schools. University attendance is one thing, but a big issue for them is completion of high school, especially by boys.
There are just an extraordinary number of examples like this. I've done similar research for African Canadian groups in Toronto.
As one final example, for the Law Society of Upper Canada I have used the census to look at the proportion of women, first nations people, and visible minorities who are lawyers in Ontario. Not only can you look at the numbers, because there are statistics on income and a variety of other things, but you can look at income differentials over time.
The whole thing about the census is that it's an extraordinarily multi-purpose instrument. There are all kinds of uses of the census that were never envisaged when the census was planned.
Let me give you a simple example. You raised the issue of aboriginals. One of the strengths of the census is that you can get micro area data. You get very small, local data. It's not just to serve individuals or to generate demand. It can also serve to help keep our institutions and service providers responsive.
In British Columbia, we have a lot of data looking at student outcomes. One of the keys for aboriginal success in a life trajectory is to do well in school. If you just look at school-level data and ask who's performing well, who's graduating a lot of kids, who's sending them to university, you find, typically, upper-middle-class schools in affluent suburbs. But children don't have the option of being born only to parents where both parents have a university education.
There was a recent study done by the C.D. Howe Institute that looked at educational outcomes and took into account the neighbourhood characteristics, the micro characteristics from the census. Low and behold, all of a sudden it's not just West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver, the affluent suburbs of Victoria, and one or two high schools around the city but real progress being made in Prince Rupert by two schools with lots of aboriginal kids. So that tells us, “Let's go and see what they're doing there, because those institutions are working and we can learn from that to help other aboriginal children province-wide”. We're holding the institutions accountable by that small-area census data.
I have three points to make.
In answer to Mr. Lake's question earlier, Mr. Turk and Mr. Ornstein were afraid to say yes. I'm not. I think it is appropriate that they be threatened with fines in order to protect the integrity of the institution of StatsCan and the data.
In answer to Mr. McCallum's point, I don't believe we can reverse the enlightenment.
Of the two examples I would use, one is that the targeting of pandemic plans by the City of Toronto's public health authority was based on census track data to determine vulnerable populations and therefore protect the rich, because the poor might actually get H1N1. The other example is that the social determinants of health by census track, in general, allow us to measure how things develop, and I think that's very important.
Thank you, Mr. Chair; and thank you all for attending.
Mr. McCallum had an interesting question. He mentioned something about the real people. It's interesting that he didn't ask the two real people. I'm not suggesting that any of you are not real people, but the people he was talking about are sitting right here at the table, so I'm going to give them an opportunity to respond to some of the questions he asked.
I think it's really important to once again set out clearly that what we're talking about is voluntary or mandatory. I really believe that if we give the real people a chance, two things are going to happen.
Number one, patriotic Canadians will respond wholeheartedly. If we tell people, “Folks, we need this information and we'd really like to have this information; we want you to contribute to this as well,” I really think, be they marginalized, rich, poor, educated, or uneducated, we'll get a good cross-section.
Number two—and I think this is important—I know my constituents, because I do something called “Coffee and tea with the MP”. I get right down with my constituents. I buy them coffee. This is a little gadget I get. This was developed over a number of years. We have some pretty interesting conversations. It took a long time, but they trust me and I trust them. I think once we formulate this new pattern they're going to come to me and say, “Dave, why are they asking this?”, “Why are they asking that?”, “Why do we have to...?”, and that's really healthy. I think we're going to engage them.
Mr. Henderson, you mentioned that you had to spend some money. So I'm going to give some time to both you and Mr. Lam, the people who are really affected.
You had to spend some money to fill out your last one, and we heard how busy you were in that season too. But how would you feel if you knew that StatsCan was selling some of the information you sent them?
Good morning, everyone.
As we resume today's meeting, we have in front of us the following witnesses as individuals: Mr. Veall, who is a professor in the department of economics at McMaster University;
Mr. Beaud, who is the dean of the Faculty of Political Science and Law at the University of Québec in Montréal;
and Mr. Rutherford, who is a broadcaster.
As well, we have Mr. Oh, from the Chinese Business Association.
We also have Mr. Bélisle, from the Federation of University Professors of Quebec.
We have Mr. Murdoch from the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg; and via video conference, Madame Vonn from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
Each of the witnesses will be given five minutes for opening remarks, beginning with Professor Veall.
Thank you for this opportunity.
On July 6, on behalf of the executive of the Canadian Economics Association, I wrote a letter to Minister Clement asking for consultation on the census change and offering to do anything we could to assist. The letter makes the argument that the voluntary approach risks serious non-response bias and concludes that if there is inadequate time for such consultation, our view is that the risk of losing the embedded value in the census is too great and that the change should be delayed.
The elimination of jail time and fine reduction was also suggested, as was running mandatory and voluntary surveys in parallel so that a subsequent decision regarding voluntary surveys could be based on evidence.
The letter was respectful of the intrusiveness issue, and I would like to add that, as a person, I am also respectful of that issue. The problem is entirely the risk to the quality of data.
I would like to make one final remark, based on previous testimony to the committee, of July 27, when Mr. Bricker, a pollster, gave you the number that a likely response rate was 80%, based on his polling.
I'd like to point out that this number is probably biased high, because of course, it is the response to a voluntary poll, and people who aren't interested in responding to polls are likely just not to respond. So there's a problem with that number.
There have been test censuses run. The only published number that I'm aware of is for the 2008 test census, which had a response rate of 46%. Test censuses are done on a voluntary basis. I view that number as almost surely too low.
The point is that it's very hard to know exactly what the response rate is going to be, and I think you should know that in your deliberations.
Thank you very much.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some of my comments on the proposal to abolish the long-form questionnaire.
My name is Jean-Pierre Beaud. I am a political science professor, the dean of a faculty of political science and law and a researcher in an interuniversity research centre on science and technology. I will discuss the long-form census questionnaire based on my expertise not only in political science, but also in methodology, history and statistical sociology.
The first point is more specifically related to the analyses I have conducted as a political scientist. My colleague talked briefly about this issue earlier, but every citizen, even in Canada, must at least accept a few small constraints that enable us, as we say in political science, to live together. We pay our taxes, and if we fail to do so, we are penalized. We show our passport when entering the country. We provide proof of identification in order to access certain areas, such as Parliament. We answer questions that are sometimes very indiscreet in order to be able to perform certain occupations or, as in the case of Quebec, to rent an apartment. We must answer census questions once every five years. Once every 25 years on average, or at most two or three times in our lifetime, we will answer the long-form questionnaire. That's very little to ask, especially since the information we provide remains confidential and is basically aggregated with other information. When it comes to confidentiality, statistics bureaus, in Canada and abroad, have developed very elaborate protection mechanisms. They view confidentiality as a major issue, one which I believe they have resolved in a satisfactory manner.
The second point, which I will not discuss at length, touches on a common criticism from advocates for abolishing the mandatory long-form census. They claim that since Canadians are forced to answer questions even when they do not necessarily have a clear answer, some of them might say just about anything. In such cases, the reliability of the data would be compromised, and a volunteer sample would provide more accurate information about the phenomena being gauged. As a political scientist and a methodologist, I believe that this is a serious issue. When measuring a phenomenon, a statistics bureau cannot just take into consideration firm, unambiguous answers, such as “Yes, I often have difficulty hearing.” What is more, it must not base its analyses only on answers of people who respond because they have an interest in doing so. This is usually the case with questionnaires in volunteer samples.
I will not discuss well-known analyses, such as the results of the Kinsey Report in the United States, a volunteer survey, which, in my opinion and that of many others, projected a false reality of how Americans behave sexually. A statistics bureau must also collect and analyze answers that are less firm, more ambiguous, such as “Should I answer this question sometimes or often?” The reality of a phenomenon is made up of all those elements, and that is what a statistical system must measure.
My third point is based on methodology. Abolishing the mandatory long-form census would create a major problem because it would replace a sound or almost sound methodology—there are always issues, of course—involving a random sample where answering is mandatory, with a much less sound methodology, one involving a voluntary sample. The latter sampling strategy is often considered as the worst one possible. It is used for lack of a better option, especially in medical surveys, and it is riddled with serious problems.
The other major issue, which has already been mentioned, is the facts that abolishing the long-form questionnaire would break the historical chain of data. Longitudinal studies conducted by statistics bureaus and research teams require consistent methodology: the same question, the same method of collection. However—and the paradox is a well known one—at some point, it will be necessary to change the questions, because they are no longer relevant, or the possible answers. Societal structure can change enough to warrant a break in the chain, but in such cases, scientific considerations should take precedence. Outside of those periods, as rarely as possible for researchers and political decision makers, consistency in the data collection process should be required.
The last point I wanted to raise is about the reputation of our statistical agency. I travel abroad very often. My work enables me to compare various bureaus and systems of statistics. I can tell you that the best calling card when I am travelling abroad consists in saying that I am from Canada.
Generally speaking, people have nothing but praise for Statistics Canada procedures. During an interview, the person appointed chief statistician of the Spanish statistics bureau called Ivan P. Fellegi a genius. That might have been an exaggeration, but it is nevertheless indicative of the kind of reputation our organization has built over the decades.
Having studied the facts, I know that that reputation is mainly owing to elaborate survey technologies and methodology. First and foremost, Statistics Canada is recognized for its methodology. I fear that if Statistics Canada had to collect very important data using highly criticized technology, it would not only make it impossible to conduct numerous longitudinal studies and would weaken the political decision-making process, but it would also—and this would have serious implications in the long term—jeopardize one of our prestigious institutions in Statistics Canada.
For those of you who don't know, my name is Dave Rutherford. I do a talk show in Alberta. I'm a radio talk-show host in Edmonton and Calgary. I'm a private contractor, through my own company, Rutherford Media Inc., and I contract my show back to the radio stations that carry it.
Not for brevity of time but just to open the conversation, I don't know why I'm here. I think my opening statement could be answering questions about why I'm here: I don't why I'm here.
I have strident opinions about the long-form census and the process and I express them every day on my radio program. I've interviewed most of you in the room.
That's an opinion, and I think I'm allowed to express my opinion in Canada. So to go back to my original point, I don't know why I'm here.
Thank you very much for having me here today to explain my point of view.
Many countries in the world have taken on the mandatory census. I strongly believe our government has replaced the mandatory census with the voluntary national survey because we do not believe it is appropriate to compel Canadians to divulge extensive private and personal information. I do not believe Canadians should be forced under the threat of fines, jail, or both, to divulge the answers to certain intimate questions. I'm from Singapore, and jail is a no-no over there.
Furthermore, I have confidence that a sufficient number of civic-minded Canadians will complete and return the national household survey to provide equally valid and valuable information to the data collected under the threat of penalty. I believe a voluntary census, with 30% more forms sent out, will give more accuracy on information coming back.
The approach to this issue is about finding a better balance between collecting necessary data and protecting the private rights of Canadians. I recognize that the information gathered from the long-form census is valuable. However, I believe a balance must be drawn between the government collecting data under the threat of fines, jail, or both.
For the last four years I've seen a lot of new immigration settlements being set up across the GTA and Canada. So it shows that, from time to time, government has paid attention to how many immigrants are coming into the country, what they need and where they need help, and I think that is critical. I've been in Canada for 30 years, and this is the first time I've seen so many settlements opening up, over the last four years.
In conclusion, as an entrepreneur, I feel strongly about efficient use of taxpayers' money and about excessive intervention by government in the everyday life of people. Based on my network and discussions, I think many Chinese are not aware of the value of a census and that even completing the form, be it mandatory or optional, the information might not be accurate.
I have attended dozens and dozens of events with ministers and MPs from all parties, including accompanying to China, and I see that despite its hard work the government's message does not always register 100% with the Chinese. Language and cultural differences are key issues.
In conclusion also, my association, I and my supporters, would like to offer help to the federal government and act as a bridge to the Chinese Canadian community, including information sessions and advertising in the ethnic media, so that they can better understand the importance of census ideas.
In terms of the United Way of Peel Region, just recently, they think the census of 2006 is already outdated. There is a new census conducted by the United Way of Peel Region, called the “community mapping process”, which shows that the Peel region has 52% or more new immigrants. So you can see that our situation in terms of mapping is very important.
With today's technology, different companies and different organizations are doing a lot of different surveys on their own. That is a very important thing to show that we have a good census here in Canada but our information may not be up to date.
A lot of companies in the private sector are doing their own censuses, and I believe those censuses can be shared by everybody.
Thank you. My name is Denis Bélisle. I am a professor at the Département des lettres et communications of the University of Sherbrooke, but I am appearing before you as vice-president of the Federation of University Professors of Quebec. I would like to thank the committee for inviting the federation to today's meeting.
As the voice of over 5,000 university professors and researchers, the Federation of University Professors of Quebec believes that the radical and unjustified changes made to the Canadian census strategy this summer are unfortunate and untimely. We disagree with the new proposed format. We ask that the long-form questionnaire remain in use for the 2011 census and that the government make it clear to Canadians that responding to the questions has positive implications.
In a society like ours, privacy protection is a fundamental value. Transparency ensures that there is a trust relationship between the government and the public. Concerns about governance processes are at the heart of debates shaping our social fabric. Fairness, tolerance and social justice can only be defended on the basis of a clear vision. That is basically an accurate snapshot of what is, in fact, Canada. We think that to abolish the five-year census, which is the only procedure that allows Canadians to truly get to know themselves, would be irresponsible.
For Quebec, just from an academic standpoint, it would be extremely unfortunate if over 75 university research projects, some funded by the federal government, were jeopardized. As a result of the damage done to these initiatives and to all the entities that use the census or the data stemming from it, the overall snapshot would be blurred. Without clear, reliable data, decision makers could cause irreparable damage by holding on for too long to ideas that are no longer valid.
What is more, since the information retained can be manipulated, it would be upsetting if the Government of Canada took a back seat to those with the technical and financial means of acquiring relevant data, of processing and analyzing it as it best suits them, and then of trading their results and allowing the highest bidders to plan their operations with more chances of success. A government should never allow for another entity to be better informed about its own population, and a population should never agree that data about itself and which it has paid for not be generally accessible.
The last census in 2006 was the culmination of a decades-long process. It was conducted by skilled professionals who enjoy a reputation that extends beyond our borders. Contrary to popular belief, a census is not merely a questionnaire. It is a complex process in which each component is potentially weak. Sample planning, the drafting of questions, collection methods, data entry, file cleaning and data processing are only the most obvious steps. Errors can be introduced at each one of these steps, and we rely on Statistics Canada, an agency with recognized credibility, competence and unquestioned impartiality to ensure that errors do not occur. Canadians continue to have faith in Statistics Canada, even more so following the resignation of former chief statistician Munir Sheikh.
Therefore, we at the Federation of University Professors of Quebec believe that the census must, of course, be politically approved. However, the actual control over the entire census operation, over all the details, including and especially the questionnaire, should unconditionally be handed back to Statistics Canada, so that those who have been responsible for it can continue their work without any interference.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
First, let me explain that I am associated with the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg in relation to the coordination of Winnipeg member organizations in a national community social data strategy. This is a consortium currently of some 16 municipalities and municipal-level organizations, sponsored by the Canadian Council on Social Development.
The major purpose of this consortium is to purchase census data at sub-regions within municipalities, regions such as neighbourhoods, planning districts, or other small-area geographies.
The basis of my comments to you today is to bring to your attention how the availability of the rich data of the census at the local neighbourhood level allows citizens to identify themselves in a large city area across economic, multicultural, housing, and other demographic characteristics so that they can join with levels of government and funding bodies to address needs in their communities.
In Winnipeg, this consortium of local organizations was formed to obtain census data for Winnipeg's 232 neighbourhood characterization areas since the 1986 census year. One of the partners in this consortium has been the City of Winnipeg, which in turn has made much of this data freely available for those 232 neighbourhood areas through its website.
For the 2001 census purchase, this local consortium of community and government organizations fundraised a total of $124,000 to purchase StatsCan data for those local geographies and the related socio-economic characteristics of the long form. For the 2006 census purchase, Winnipeg joined the national consortium in the purchase from StatsCan of what probably was the third-largest purchase of custom-level census data in Canada.
I might remind the committee that, if we were in the United States, this level of geographical data would probably be more readily available to citizens and their organizations, and at no cost.
I'll give you some community illustrations of the use of census data over the years.
As example one, a francophone community interested in exploring the child poverty issue within their constituency in Winnipeg discovered that, in addition to a child poverty presence, they also had a significant seniors poverty issue that nobody had recognized to that date. Their organizations are currently pursuing this matter with governments and funders.
Example two is of an inner-city Anglican church that wanted to address a housing concern within its neighbourhood through an innovative renovation of its premises to incorporate rental housing—that is, 22 units of both subsidized rent as well as market rental units—and space for a continuing small congregation. Census data helped outline the need in the surrounding neighbourhoods, including the need for new low-cost rental premises for local residents living in dilapidated housing. I am pleased to announce that this initiative is about to get off the ground.
As example three, north-end community housing initiatives across several neighbourhood areas over the past decade were able to use consecutive census data for their neighbourhoods to indicate to the community and to governments that resources directed at new and major renovation housing programs had had a recognizable impact. It has encouraged governments to continue their participation in these initiatives.
As example four, the Institute of Health Services and Policy Research and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have worked with community groups in prioritizing health, educational, and other needs and illustrating their distribution through each of the neighbourhood areas of Winnipeg. Such data would not have been available unless the long-form census information had been purchased and made available by these consortium members.
Example five, the city and community groups use neighbourhood-level census data to review and determine community centre closures and new construction. The data provides a basis for a more rational and evidence-based discussion on the part of communities and politicians when it comes time for city hall decisions.
Example six, there has been a significant influx of aboriginal, mainly youth, citizens into Winnipeg over the past years. The use of neighbourhood-level census data over a period of time has allowed the aboriginal population, including the Métis as identified in the long form, and funders such as governments, the United Way, and the Winnipeg Foundation to target resources for this phenomenon where it is needed. Other significant players have been the city and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, to work at the street level on issues faced.
These kinds of stories could be duplicated in other communities across Canada.
These few illustrations are meant to convey to the committee the importance that census data—both the long-form, coupled with short-form, data—has had in the Winnipeg setting. To have this level of information available on a routine cycle has meant that communities, governments, private funders, businesses, and others have been able to identify and address issues important to citizens over periods of time, as well as measure progress on a number of fronts.
I will leave it to others to identify to you that the move from a census to a survey for a population characteristic found only in the traditional long form will now mean a break not only in the continuity, but also in the authenticity of data that has been available to Winnipeg citizenry over the years. Citizens of Winnipeg have participated in filling in the census forms over the years with the expectation that they will receive back that information in ways pertinent to their own and community interests. Please do not take that away from them.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is the oldest and most active civil liberties association in Canada, and privacy is a core element of our mandate. The association has received very few privacy complaints about the long-form census, and the small number of complaints we have received have been, in the main, focused on the involvement of Lockheed Martin and the implications of the U.S.A. Patriot Act rather than the nature of the census itself.
As a civil liberties organization, we are obviously concerned about the severity of the penalties that can be brought against citizens who do not fill out the census, and we might question the policy justification for some of the more unusual questions that have been included in the past. But while it goes without saying that the association welcomes a strong stance on citizens' privacy from the federal government, the focus on the census is concerning.
Firstly, the census is not even on the list of the serious and urgent privacy issues in Canada today. That list includes, for example, the federal government's Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre, or FINTRAC; the Canadian no-fly list; airline passenger data sent to foreign governments; airport body scanners; lawful access expansion of police surveillance of telecommunications; and centralized electronic health records.
Not only is the census an extremely unlikely starting place for defending citizens' privacy rights, what is likely to replace a mandatory census—that is, a voluntary survey supplemented with recourse to data mining public and private sector databases—is a genuine privacy disaster for citizens' privacy rights.
Although the association is not aware of a concrete proposal to replace the mandatory census, two themes consistently emerge in the discussion: the first, the voluntary survey, which has been alluded to; and the second component, which has received less attention, which I would like to draw your focus to, the taking advantage of so-called “administrative data” and other data sources that already exist.
The current census does have a clear privacy advantage in being completely transparent about what data is collected, whereas data mining and data systems integration happen without citizens having any idea about what personal data is being disclosed. It is effectively invisible.
The federal government has an expressly stated goal of integrating data systems. The push to interoperability within government data systems and between data systems of, in fact, different governments is relentless. Data systems interoperability is said to create efficiencies, be convenient, and benefit research, but of course, it also creates data linkages that facilitate the compilation of de facto citizen dossiers, which we suggest is a privacy Chernobyl in the making.
The growth of the database nation presents a grave danger to democracy. Proponents of government-by-database will say that citizens are in favour of the convenience of governments just extracting their data without all the mess and fuss of actually consulting them, but history suggests that this opinion is wrong.
In the late 1990s, then federal Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips devoted two years to an investigation of Human Resources Development Canada's longitudinal labour force file, which was a collection of personal data on virtually everyone in the country, comprehensive enough to constitute a de facto dossier. It drew data from across programs, including income tax, child tax benefits, immigration and visitor files, national training programs, employment insurance administration, the social insurance master files, etc. This early venture in joined-up government was condemned by the Privacy Commissioner, but more importantly for our discussion today, it was condemned by the citizens of Canada. The outpouring of public anger about the longitudinal labour force file compelled HRDC to dismantle the program.
The position of the federal government and most provincial governments is to actively promote database linkages for, in the current buzz phrase, “horizontal government”. This is a direct attack on citizens' privacy. Citizens' privacy relies on there being discreet silos of information that limit the use and access of personal data.
Commissioner Phillips' 2000 report explicitly stated that comprehensive information-gathering is appropriate for Statistics Canada, and not appropriate for government generally. The report said,
||Only Statistics Canada gathers comprehensive information about individuals but does so only for statistical purposes, not to make decisions about them. And Statistics Canada’s data are stringently protected; abusers can be fined or jailed.
In conclusion, simply put, if there is a need to collect comprehensive information about citizens—and our association does not take a position on this matter generally beyond saying that the justification must be compelling and the security and privacy protections of the highest standard—it is infinitely more protective of citizens' rights to have that information collected and in the custody of Statistics Canada, where the data collection is transparent and historically well protected, than to rely on mining data indirectly and invisibly. There is a critical loss of accountability when our data trails supplant us in our interactions with government.
Privacy is an inherently comparative analysis. We need to know what benefits we receive in exchange for diminished privacy and whether there are less privacy-intrusive alternatives to achieving the same goals.
Therefore, in our submission, it is not possible to assess the proposal to eliminate the mandatory long-form census without understanding the ramifications of what is being proposed in the alternative. We believe the likely alternative presents a much more dangerous situation for citizens' privacy than is currently the case with the long-form census, and we urge the government to present its alternative proposal in detail in order that a fair assessment can be made regarding the census and the privacy rights of Canadians.
Those are our submissions. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank all our witnesses for being here today.
I would like to build a little bit on Mr. Murdoch's testimony, because I think it's very important to have concrete, real-life examples of why this issue matters and why it is not just some arcane academic question. I think Mr. Murdoch was very helpful in terms of examples involving child and senior poverty, as well as housing, health, and aboriginal issues in Winnipeg.
I'd like to give a couple of other examples and then ask some of the witnesses, particularly perhaps the professors, if they have other examples of why this is important in practical terms for real people.
My first example is a friend of mine named John Richards, a professor at Simon Fraser University, who has been doing research on aboriginal education issues for five years. He tells me he couldn't do anything without the census. He wouldn't even know how many aboriginal people there were, let alone the situation on health and education. So that's one example, and given that aboriginal people are among the most disadvantaged Canadians, I think policy on that issue is important.
As a second example, my riding of Markham is hugely multicultural—about 40% Chinese; 15% to 20% south Asian—with many, many new Canadians who, if only because of language issues, are less likely than others to fill out a voluntary census. So I think that's important too, because practical issues such as language training and other kinds of welcoming services for new Canadians are important, and without the census we won't have the information that is required.
So those are two examples to add to Mr. Murdoch's five or six, and I wonder if perhaps Professor Veall or some of our other witnesses would have other concrete examples to put on the table.
Thank you for the question. I'll confine myself to one example.
You'll recall that I was talking about the estimate, which I thought was on the high side, of an 80% response rate. Even at an 80% response rate, it's going to be hard to get the level of geographic detail, census tract by census tract.
My hometown newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, did a detailed analysis by census tract of a number of variables. There's a ton of them, but I'll just choose one.
One is the number of children below the poverty rate. There are a number of census tracts in Hamilton where the child poverty rate is in excess of 60%. The highest is 68%. There are also quite a number of census tracts in which the rate is 0%. So there's this huge span across census tracts. The trouble is that with this change in data there are a couple of possibilities.
One, if the response rate isn't great enough, we might just not get the data at the census tract level. It might just not be accurate enough and we won't know whether progress is being made on this high level of child poverty in particular areas.
It also might be impossible to link it to other variables. For example, we might want to know whether these children in poverty are going to school. That might just be impossible to know at the local level.
If it is available, there will also be some doubt, of course, as to whether the change is in the method of statistical collection.
I think my colleague Mr. Beaud is more qualified than me to answer this question in detail. However, I can tell you that I personally do not know a single statistician, not a single person working seriously in statistics who will consider data collected on a voluntary basis as being essentially representative of a population. By doing so, we inevitably select people who are more docile, or compliant. So we get a slightly or a very distorted picture—we cannot be sure of how distorted it is—that describes the compliant sub-population within the general population. Just because some Canadians are resistant, lazy or careless and will not respond to the census, it does not mean that we have to refrain from taking the necessary steps to gather information to better understand and govern the general population.
It is a fundamental dilemma. If we do not get good representation in the census, a ripple effect will affect many other surveys, including the Labour Force Survey, which is conducted every month and is weighted based on census data. We will lose all those benefits. It is unfortunate that things are unfolding this way. The procedure has been split into two. In fact, my understanding is that there are now two methods of data collection: one of them is the official census, which barely includes some ten key issues, or eight or nine, and the other is the household survey, which essentially uses the 2006 census formula. All that is now supposed to be done voluntarily. We could make an argument that, by producing the statistics based on the results from those two methods, we would get an effectiveness index, which would help us determine whether the sample is representative, but I do not believe in that. I do not think it would be possible. It is very unlikely.
I can try to answer that. I mentioned it earlier. In terms of mandatory surveys, rates vary between 97% and 98%. I think part of the population always manages to avoid that obligation. The rates for voluntary Statistics Canada surveys, since there are some, of course, are around 70%. However, when it comes to somewhat different surveys that still rely on the same methodology, including opinion polls conducted by companies, we obtain rates well below 50%. This is also a big problem for the polling firms. It is often difficult to obtain information. It is a problem and it leads to extremely weak conclusions.
Just take as an example the percentages of 98% and 70%. We can see the problems with these figures. As I said earlier, there is no importance attached to the analysis of answers to questionnaires. Unfortunately, not all groups answer in the same proportion. The organizations are then forced to make adjustments. These are possible when you have a solid foundation provided by the census or by a mandatory questionnaire. If we change that, making adjustments will become more difficult. Voluntary surveys are even more problematic. The 70% would not be a problem if it was representative of the whole population, but that is not the case. That's what is extremely problematic.
The worst is that the polling firms themselves are increasingly having a hard time getting answers through a voluntary system. This is not necessarily because people do not want to answer, but because they are regularly contacted to participate. The advantage of a corporation like Statistics Canada is its credibility. We agree to provide answers because it is a public body that distributes its data to the public at large. I do not necessarily agree to answer questions from companies that will use my responses for private purposes. I think that many people react the same way.
As to the information we receive, I think the issue is crucial. Will we be able to make good decisions? Will we be able to identify pockets of poverty within the Montreal area, for example, and to implement policies that allow individuals to cope with poverty, instead of general ones that result in wasteful spending?
Actually, just to clarify, that's completely not correct. We still have a short-form census that's mandatory and would identify the exact same number of people living in Charlottetown or P.E.I. as we do now. So just to clarify, the short-form census is still mandatory.
Secondly, in terms of the information, we had a lot of conversation about information and we're still going to be collecting information, utilizing the considerable expertise of StatsCan officials, recognized as leaders in the world in terms of statistics. We're still going to be collecting, processing, and providing that information using that expertise.
We all want to reduce poverty in this country. I know it has been mentioned by a few. But surely we can find a way to reduce poverty without threatening the poor with fines and jail time because they don't want to tell the government how much time they spend with their kids or how much housework they did last week. Surely we can find a better way than that with all the expertise we have in this country.
Mr. Rutherford, I note there's an article on the CHED website that talks about you coming before the committee. Marc Garneau is quoted in this article as saying:
|| the Government has trouble finding groups that support their point of view and so they're down to inviting individuals.
So we've scraped the bottom of the barrel—
—and we've invited you and Mr. Oh and a few other witnesses, who apparently we're “down to” now, to express their point of view. We think it's important that you're here.
And Mr. Oh, we think it's important that you are here.
Mr. Bélisle talked about the radical changes we made. I just want to talk a little bit about the process in how the census is taken.
Speaking of radical, we come to the door and we ask questions of people. We do it a couple of times. The enumerator comes, and let's say you were to say, “No, I don't want to answer that question”. For whatever reason you have, you might not want to tell the government your religion or how many bedrooms you have in your house. After a couple of times, they fill out a total refusal form.
This seems radical to me—and I'll get your comments on this. At the top of the total refusal form, it says that the information provided in the sections that follow may be used to support a legal prosecution and that all details must be complete and accurate.
This is just the enumerator who came to your door and asked you twice and you respectfully said you didn't want to answer those questions. The enumerator fills out the description of the person who refused: age, gender, height, weight, other physical details such as facial hair, tattoos, glasses, birthmarks, and distinctive clothing, etc.
That's the form that the enumerator fills out and passes on to his or her crew leader. The crew leader comes to your house and asks again, and then fills out his or her section of the form, which asks the exact same question. That's just before it goes to the higher levels where I guess they follow up on the prosecution and potential there.
What are your thoughts on that in terms of which is more radical, the notion that we make the changes and have a format that is more voluntary, or the notion that we threaten the poor with fines and jail time because they don't want to answer questions of the government?
And I will be asking for a commercial break in a second so we can just take some time.
On the idea that other commentators in this country may support one side or another but most of them, if not all of them, support the concern about eliminating the long-form census, they're not here. I don't see a cross-section of media people sitting here. I should be sitting at the table behind us, not sitting here. I don't see a cross-section of columnists from The Globe and Mail or other people who would support the opposition to the decision. Where are they? They're not here, so I find that a little bit telling.
Nonetheless, if I'm here to speak about things that are discussed on my radio program among the audience that talks to me, I'm fine with that. But I hope I'm not here to have to answer to an opinion, because we all have opinions and we all have rights to them.
I express my opinion daily on my program. Am I biased? Yes. Do I come to my viewpoint from a certain political standpoint? Yes, and I make no bones about it, unlike some other media in this country—but that's another story, maybe another committee hearing.
But as a commentator, though, if you don't mind, part of what I'm hearing today is interesting. The assumption is, by my statistician colleagues—and these guys know way more about it than I do, because as I said in the beginning, I'm not an expert—and maybe there is some statistical data to prove that assumption, that a voluntary response is somehow less credible than a mandatory response. I think that's the submission of some of these experts.
Mr. McCallum took the position that if you have a language difficulty, somehow if it's mandatory, you can do it; but if it's voluntary, I guess you can't.
Sir, I'm sorry, but I don't follow the logic of that one.
Just a moment ago, the lady from the Civil Liberties Association—I'm sorry, I forgot her name—made the point that on their radar this issue is not registering at all, that there are much more serious things that people are concerned about. My submission is, how does she know that? She knows that because I assume she polls her membership on her own and determines what people are concerned about in the Civil Liberties Association. Right?
That's all I can assume. Whether you're opposed to the census is not a census question.
My point is that a lot of this information can be gathered elsewhere. The gentleman from Winnipeg suggested that a church decided what to do in its small congregation based on the responses in the mandatory long-form census, which only 20% of Canadians get. How many people in that congregation got a long form and specifically identified a problem? I don't know.
On the issue of poverty, which seems to be a recurring theme here, we wouldn't know where the poor people are. If the rationale for people filling out a voluntary form is that they're somehow motivated, they're more motivated from a vested interest to fill out a voluntary form, therefore it might not be accurate, which is what I think some of these people might suggest, wouldn't it make logical sense that if you are underprivileged you would be motivated to fill out that form because you would know there would be some tangible consequence to it?
I'm just saying there are some logical overarching themes here that seem to be lost.
I have one more quick comment before my time is up.
The long-form census has not been eliminated, despite what you read in the media. It is still there. In fact, there are more of them. It's just voluntary, not mandatory.
Mr. Lake, I probably didn't answer your question, but thanks for the opportunity.
My opinion is that the statistics have been going on for so many years, and with today's technology, the data are available. A lot of private companies are constantly doing surveys.
For instance, I mentioned earlier the United Way of Peel Region. Peel region, in the GTA, has a lot of population coming in. We are over 52% new immigrants. The movement of immigrants cannot be based on statistical information from five years ago. Five-year-old statistical information, for the last two years, is normally not accurate and no longer up to date, because our movement in the GTA, in certain places, is just too great, due to the job situation and various situations. So a lot of companies in the private sector are doing their own mapping.
It is important that many countries in the world are now dropping the mandatory situation. Why is Canada not moving forward? Why are we staying with the same thing? I think increasing by 30% the voluntary filling in of the form is a good way to go.
We all talk about human rights, and we want to know where the criminals live, people who have records. Are they my neighbours? It's things of that nature. I think we should be going on a voluntary basis.
In the private sector, for the communities that are asking for funding, a lot of the information is coming from their local situations and not the....
Windsor West, which I represent, is one of the most diverse in Canada. It also has, continually, one of the highest unemployment rates. It is also a place where there is a university, a college, and a lot of transition.
Back in the year 2000, it was part of what was called the “complete count” and was one of three ridings in this country that were chosen to have door-to-door census canvassing because the rates were so low despite the poverty being so high, and the language and other barriers, because it's an immigration destination, especially when you look at Old Sandwich Town, which is the oldest European settlement west of Montreal. The rates were deplorably low and we were actually losing potential funding for settlement programs and other types of issues because the rate was so low.
That eventually was eliminated. Because of privacy concerns, they took away the door-to-door canvass that was historically part of the census-gathering.
My question is basically to any of the panellists: Given the fact that this census has already been vetted through the Privacy Commissioner and has gone through the Treasury Board process, are there any privacy concerns you have with regard to this process that has actually been completed?
I'll turn that question to anybody who wishes to answer it.
So if I don't want to give my information to private business, can I philosophically say, “No, I don't want to give it to Statistics Canada”?
What is a violation of privacy?
Again, the woman from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Ms. Vonn, just a moment ago suggested that privacy is their number one concern, except that when it comes to the census, that's okay. I don't understand that logic either.
Mr. Masse, I have not seen a categoric example of someone's privacy being violated by giving it to StatsCan, but if I don't want it to go to a certain business or have it sold—I give it up freely and they sell it—philosophically I have a problem with that. Maybe if they would pay me for it I'd be more inclined voluntarily.
When Minister Clement was here—and I've gone over his testimony—he said in a response to Mr. Garneau:
||That was a government decision. There's no question about that. I'm not trying to suggest otherwise. We've worked with StatsCan over the months to implement that kind of decision, to make sure that the data that is collected is usable and reliable for the purposes for which it was intended.
The key point to this testimony is the fact that he says he was working with Statistics Canada for a number of months. That would mean that the House of Commons was still in session at that time. So the knowledge and the machinery to change this was actually taking place prior to the recess of the House of Commons.
I'd like to hear, in your opinion—I want opinions—why it is that there has been no legislation tabled to this committee, despite us having actually a very shallow amount of legislation, to eliminate the fine and penalty with regard to the census?
The minister was actively working on eliminating the long-form requirement, keeping the short-form, which is ironic and interesting in that the agricultural census is being maintained with fines and penalties.
In anyone's opinion, why is it that the minister did not eliminate, or table legislation in this committee to eliminate, the penalties that are being professed continually of prisons and fines, and making it assumed that there's going to be basically a census-induced crime wave that needs to be dealt with in this country as we move forward?
I'll invite anyone to offer why that process wasn't actually done.
Thank you, Mr. Chair; and thank you, guests, for coming.
I do appreciate Mr. Rutherford pointing out that the long-form census is still in existence. We just aren't able to call it a census because it's not mandatory.
The previous long form went to 2.5 million people; this one is going to 4.5 million. Even assuming a 70% return rate, that's almost one million more returns, going from 2.3 million to 3.1 million returns.
I just want to make one quick comment about the previous panel where somebody from the National Statistics Council was saying that if a survey in English is sent to a French community, whether one sends 1,500 or 3,000 forms, the response rate will be lousy. Well, of course, because the bias against the French-speaking individual is built into both surveys. It had nothing to do with the volume they're sending. So it was kind of an odd example that somebody from the National Statistics Council was using to try to make a point.
I'll ask a couple of questions here, and maybe I'll start with Mr. Murdoch—I don't mean to pick on you.
Are you aware of the Canadian community health survey done by Statistics Canada?
Thank you, Mr. Chair; and thank you, witnesses, for appearing before us.
I want to emphasize again—and we all know this, but it just bears repeating—the long form is not being eliminated. It's becoming voluntary.
There's something that is of interest here, and I said this in the last session too. I have, I think, a very average riding. We have urban, rural, professionals, farmers, all different types of Canadians there. I have to tell you, when I poll my riding, this is not heavy on their radar. This is not a big issue. In academia it is, and I recognize that. I also recognize that you would probably be much more involved in that, so that's the interest. But the average guy on the street really doesn't get this. When I talk to people about it, they're somewhat puzzled.
The argument I make is that we need to engage people. I think, should we make this voluntary, the result is going to be that my constituents will come to me and say, “Dave, why am I asked this question?” It gives me an opportunity to go to the government and ask why we are asking this question. If there's a good answer, I can go back and give the answer. So we have that opportunity.
I don't think we give people enough credit. Along those lines, I'm curious, and I really want to bring this back to my constituents because it involves them. These are the people it affects. These are the people who have to fill this thing out. These are the people who, as they fill it out, are going to be affected, either adversely or in a positive manner. There will be some cause and effect.
Mr. Rutherford, what are you hearing on the airwaves? Am I wrong? Is this a big issue out west? What are normal Canadians, not those gathering information, not those who use the information, saying about this long form?
It's not on the front page of people's lives—let's put it that way. It just is not. It's not a priority. There are many other things important in people's lives, variously, at various times of the year.
But you're absolutely right. Among the people who participate in my program—and I'm sure there are those who like what they hear on the radio and they share ideas back and forth—but among those people, it is not a big issue. There are many other things in an agricultural environment that are much more important right now. There are many other things in economic life that are much more important now, such as getting a job, keeping a job, making sure our governments don't have deficits that are too big, paying taxes as we all do, without having to pretend it's going to be a voluntary form. We all want to pay our taxes, to a certain point.
It is not a big issue in people's lives. It's not a burning issue. When I bring it up specifically, that's the response I get. If it's an open discussion, that is not the issue that comes up first.
Mr. Hoback asked some interesting questions of Mr. Henderson, a farmer, about the census and how much time it takes him, and he indicated that it took up to three days. The interesting thing, though, is that the agricultural census is actually not going to be changed. It will remain there and he'll continue to have to fill that out.
So I guess the question would be, is the agricultural census valuable to maintain?
The minister disagrees. He actually said that it “will help farmers”, and he added,
||The argument obviously to farming associations and to farmers is, “You fill out the form; it'll help the government help you in your farming activities.”
So how could the minister be right about the agricultural census that requires three days for Mr. Henderson to fill out, but then wrong about the general census?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to all of you for being here today.
I'm going to volunteer some information, so I know some of you will find it inaccurate.
The real thing we're talking about today here—and we can blow a lot of smoke and talk about a lot about other things—is whether the long form should be voluntary or mandatory, whether there should be a punishment for not filling out the form. We've discussed whether it's jail time or fines, but the one question that's at this table today is, should the long-form census be voluntary or mandatory?
We're not talking about the short form. The short form is going to be the way it is and it will have the number of questions it needs to do that job.
We can throw in a bunch of other stuff if we want. Mr. Rutherford just threw in the cost of it, or we can talk about the structure of it. We've talked a bit about privacy and stuff, but let's get the smoke out of the way. We're talking about whether it's accurate and whether voluntary versus mandatory will do the job it's supposed to do.
Mr. Rutherford, you asked earlier why some other people weren't here. I know some great people who are back home volunteering on things. It's the middle of summer. Tomorrow morning I'll attend a firemen's barbecue. They're all volunteer firemen—and trust me, I trust most things they say to me.
Mr. Bélisle, you talked about that pride-in-Canada piece, that people are happy to do it. Whether it's those same volunteer firemen or the United Way workers, or the baseball coaches, hockey coaches, or whatever, these are all volunteers in Canada, and they're happy to do it because they make Canada better.
I want to take the upside of this, that I believe people will voluntarily fill out this form and send it back because they believe it's the right thing to do. You just said that yourself, that the pride-in-Canada aspect is a big part of this. I think that's right. And it's not just my riding. Even in the riding that Mr. McCallum described, of 52% new immigrants and that type of thing, I believe they have pride in Canada. Coming to Canada as immigrants, they've chosen Canada over every other country in the world.
Mr. Oh, you represent an immigrant group, people who have chosen to come Canada. I'm guessing that your group is voluntary. You don't fine your people if they don't join your group, do you?
I just want to interrupt a little bit. I have an e-mail that's somewhat representative of my audience. This person starts out by saying they're one of the many who had to fill out the compulsory long-form census form and they did not fill out one answer correctly.
I think this is the assumption that's being made incorrectly, that because you're forced to fill it out, you're going to tell the truth. I don't know how you could possibly determine whether people who fill out a mandatory form or a voluntary form are telling the truth, and just because it's mandatory, that they will be telling the honest truth in the survey.
You're not. So you are basing your statistical analysis on possibly a falsehood. You don't know if that represents Canadian values or the reality of where they are.
The other thing is that I don't think it's patriotic, sir, to know whether I have a loose tile in my bathroom or whether the railing on my stairs is loose. I don't think that's a measure of my patriotism to reveal that to the government.
Just as a final comment, because one of the witnesses—you specifically, Mr. Rutherford—questioned whether people who had difficulty with language would be filling out the questionnaire, we had Ms. Elisapee Sheutiapik, who is a board member of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, speak to us at the last hearing, and she told us that with a voluntary survey, because of language difficulties, nobody in the Inuit community would fill it out.
It is precisely because of the mandatory nature of this program that the government offers help for people to fill out the questionnaire. That's why it is filled out, because help is offered. That's why there's a 95% response rate on this.
I just wanted you to be aware of that.
Mr. Garneau quoted a Conservative member and made the assertion that he was speaking for the entire party when he did so. So I assume was speaking for the entire Liberal Party when he said,
||Ignatieff, he's a little all over the place sometimes.... He says this, he says that — he contradicts himself. For me, he's not someone with... maybe he has the intelligence, but maybe not the wisdom required.
I assume, Mr. Garneau, that he was speaking for you as well.
Anyway, I'll move on to the topic at hand. One of the things I want to focus on is just the actual question here, and again, let's get down to the fact that really what the government is saying is that it's not a statistical question. It's not a question of whether we like information. We all like information and we all want to do the best we can to solve the problems facing this country. The question we're trying to answer here today is, should the government force people, under threat of fine or jail time, to answer the questions in what was previously the long-form census?
We agree that we have a mandatory short form that most Canadians would actually associate with a census—who you are, where you live, and those kinds of things. But when it comes to the long-form questions, questions such as what time you left for work or how much housework you did—and I'll come to you, Mr. Murdoch, and ask you this question—should one of the people you represent, someone from a poorer background who the opposition party has stated repeatedly is the least likely to answer the questions, or a new Canadian or someone from an aboriginal community, the people who are least likely to answer the questions, be forced to answer those questions under threat of jail time or fines? Should a single mother with three kids, living at the poverty line, be threatened with a $500 fine because she doesn't want to answer a question about how much housework she did last week?
Welcome to our witnesses as we resume today's meeting.
In front of us on our third panel for today we have Madame Taillon, who is from the Canadian Council on Social Development; Monsieur Noreau, from l'Association francophone pour le savoir; and Mr. Zhong, from the Toronto Community and Culture Centre. As well, via video conference from Victoria, B.C., we have Mr. McFarlane, who is an editorial writer for the Times Colonist.
Each of you will have five minutes for an opening statement, beginning with Madame Taillon.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
My family and I just flew back from Yellowknife at one o'clock in the morning, so you can take advantage of the fact that I have a bit of a fuzzy brain today. But it is great to be here.
For those of you who don't know us, CCSD, the Canadian Council on Social Development, is Canada's longest-established social policy organization in the country. We were founded in 1920 by Charlotte Whitton. We have a long history of working collaboratively with successive governments. Just to give you a couple of highlights, CCSD developed concepts of EI, disability, and old age pensions, and worked collaboratively with governments to roll those out—very foundational Canadian social infrastructure.
One of our flagship programs today is the community social data strategy. This is a pan-Canadian partnership where members collectively purchase over $900,000 worth of census and other StatsCan data. Members of our consortium include police services, municipalities, United Ways, provincial government departments, front-line service agencies, social planning councils, and many others. The partners use the data to respond to troubling trends in our local communities. The information allows communities to focus their efforts at the neighbourhood level, making better use of our tax dollars and targeting services to those who are most in need.
From our perspective, losing the long-form census is equal to the government turning off Canada's navigation system. Those of you who are supporting this decision need to really think and consider the impact very carefully. Ask yourselves whether you are willing to accept responsibility for the following.
Ten years from now, when your local hospital has an empty maternity ward and your parents can't get geriatric care because the decision-makers didn't have accurate census data to plan for which services were required in that community, what will you say to them? Ten years from now, when the police take five minutes longer than necessary to respond to a burglary in your neighbourhood and thieves get away because a police force didn't have the information from the long-form census data to effectively plan for staffing allocation, what will you say to your neighbours? Ten years from now, when there's an epidemic of a new disease and doctors don't have accurate population data to plan how to respond, will you take your share of the blame for any resulting deaths? Ten years from now, when a new school sits empty on one side of town while another is overcrowded because the census data that informed the school planning and construction is no longer available, what will you say to your community? Ten years from now when fire trucks take an extra three minutes to respond to a blaze at the seniors' home because they didn't have the census data to determine the best location for a new fire hall, will you console the families of those who don't make it? Ten years from now, when your church has to close because of an unanticipated decline in membership, while the congregation speaking a different language is filling up a school auditorium, will you take the responsibility? Ten years from now, when governments at all levels are wasting taxpayer money delivering services that are less efficient and less targeted to local communities because of less accurate information, will you be silent and gladly paying for the wasted time and resources, because you're a taxpayer as well?
Over 340 organizations that serve or represent the ordinary Canadians you wish to hear from have spoken out very clearly on this matter. They have put forward thoughtful alternatives to cancelling this important tool. They have responded to the concerns about privacy, intrusiveness, and coercion.
Privacy? StatsCan is a fortress. Our information is virtually impenetrable. We have to navigate it on a regular basis.
Intrusive? As has been stated before, I know, there are many measures, rules, and regulations that could be considered intrusive in this country: seat belts, stop signs, and airport security. We all understand that these are put in place for our collective good. The same can be said about the long-form census.
Coercion? We actually agree with you: No one should be jailed for not filling it out. But we all know no one has.
Hello. I represent the Association francophone pour le savoir, Acfas, the largest association of francophone researchers in the world. Acfas was established in 1923. Its membership includes researchers from practically every francophone university that conducts research in French and represents all disciplines. Every year Acfas organizes a conference that brings together approximately 6,000 researchers from 25 countries. Two years ago the Acfas conference was held at the University of Ottawa.
It is a privilege for me to address the members of the committee today. I have often said that if citizens had the opportunity to see the work done by parliamentary committees more often and to attend their proceedings in person, they would hold public institutions in higher regard. I have always considered it a privilege to participate in exchanges such as those that will take place later.
The question is whether or not to keep the long and detailed form used every five years by the federal government, specifically Statistics Canada, in order to obtain much more accurate information from the census. The answer is that we must keep it, for five reasons that are generally similar to what Ms. Taillon mentioned in her detailed comments.
First, from a societal perspective, every community should be able to have a certain idea or create a certain image of itself. In order to develop, societies must have self-knowledge. We must know who we are and how we are evolving. The long form must be kept for no other reason than society must have self-knowledge. It provides essential information about our development.
It is also crucial for the government because fundamental public policies are and must be formulated on the basis of very long-term projections, bearing in mind the cost and consequences of decisions made by the state. Therefore, it is vital that these data be available for a number of reasons and primarily because governments must justify a decision on the basis of facts. The best way to obtain the facts needed to make any political decision is to administer a survey that uses a recognized methodology. That survey is the census. That is the justification. It is required by the federal, provincial and, to a greater extent, municipal governments, which do not have the means to carry out such detailed surveys but continually require the data to shape their own decisions with respect to transportation, social development and public services.
It is important on the international level, as indicated by recent articles in Nature, a British journal, which has spoken out against the current debate on whether or not the census long form should be kept. It is important for international relations because Canada constantly provides data to western nations, the OECD, the WHO, and others. A very large number of similar organizations need census data. They make it possible to establish benchmarks and to compare ourselves to other states. To uphold its international reputation, Canada absolutely needs to maintain a very high standard for its data collection. The best way to do this is to ensure the integrity of the existing system, which has truly proven itself.
It is important to the scientific community that I am representing here. In fact, in a very large number of sectors, especially the social sciences and humanities as well as the health sciences—particularly public health—all the data is indispensable. Census data is the starting point for all our research. To a certain extent, it is the foundation for all our research. Therefore, it is not just a survey like all the others. It is the baseline survey. It is the first, the one which gives rise to all other surveys.
It is needed for economic reasons. It determines the parameters for the establishment of a business in one sector or another, and it provides the characteristics of the clients as well as identifies the best place to develop the activities of a business, for example. I am referring strictly to financial and economic reasons. To a certain extent, it is fundamental information for businesses.
For these five reasons, I believe that we must keep the long form and establish appropriate conditions to ensure it is completed. I believe that this has been done so far, that this has been a very useful tool for our communities and that we must continue to use it.
I'm Simon Zhong, and I come from the Toronto Community and Culture Centre. I am the executive director of this organization.
Our organization's formal name is the Toronto Mainland Chinese Community Centre. It was founded in 1995 and registered as a charitable organization in 1998. Since 1996, the Toronto Community and Culture Centre has delivered settlement services, social programs, and youth internship programs, which are invariably supported by three levels of government.
The Toronto Community and Culture Centre provides settlement information to walk-in clients, as well as individual services through telephone inquiries and in groups. Since its inception, TCCC has successfully delivered a large number of programs to help immigrants settle in Toronto, which they call their new home, and provides opportunities to newcomers, particularly Mandarin-speaking immigrants, so that they may participate and integrate with mainstream society and volunteer at community events as well. The Toronto Community and Culture Centre targets 250,000 Mandarin-speaking community members in the GTA.
On August 13, 2010, we organized 38 organizations in the Chinese community on behalf of 100,000 community members, who fully support the federal government's change of the previously mandatory long-form census to now voluntary.
In 2006, the filling in of the long-form census became mandatory and was passed as law. Citizens could receive a penalty or be sent to jail if they refused to fill in the mandatory long-form census. It was a violation of the Canadian Privacy Act. The sentence was unnecessary.
The federal statistics department can find statistics based on various other data, such as municipal immigration data, NAPO data, and—
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'll begin by saying that, although I write for the Times Colonist, I am here on my own behalf.
There are three points that I want to bring to your attention. The first has to do with privacy. I've heard it said there is no issue of privacy, that because Statistics Canada anonymizes our data there is no invasion of privacy. There could be no greater misunderstanding.
The notion of privacy that I want to draw to your attention is the need each of us has to be secure in some aspect of our personal lives, the need to keep some part of ourselves to ourselves, the need for an inner sanctuary—in short, the right to privacy in at least some corner of our existence.
On the matter of compelling data, I've heard it said that the important interests at stake here justify gathering this data by compulsion. I disagree. I worked in the health care field for some years. I was a deputy minister of health in B.C., and I set up the first regional health authority in Saskatchewan. We don't compel people to participate in clinical trials, we don't access or link their patient files without consent, and we certainly don't threaten them with jail time if they won't release their medical records.
For example, when the new drug Herceptin was introduced some years back, there were high hopes. Herceptin is used to treat breast cancer. In the laboratory, it demonstrated significant results, but it also produced troubling side effects, including interfering with heart function. More than 5,000 women were recruited in the series of clinical trials to see if it worked, and the results were a triumph. Herceptin improves the chance of surviving breast cancer by about 25%. That translates into 500 lives saved every year in Canada alone. But although the stakes could not have been higher, no one was forced to participate. There was no compulsion.
Finally, in regard to due process, no doubt privacy rights can be withheld if circumstances demand it, but in such eventualities, we expect two things: First, the need must be imperative and there should be no other reliable alternative; and second, there should be sufficient due process to guard against arbitrary use of power. Neither of these requirements is met in the case of the census long form.
Statistics Canada gives the following justification for compelling intimate details of our lives:
||Community groups, social agencies and consumer groups use the data to support their positions and to lobby governments for social changes;
This scarcely rises to the level of an imperative need. If such a vague and flimsy justification is sufficient, the right of privacy hangs by a very slim thread, for it should be kept in mind that there is no end to the kinds of information that some group or other will find useful. The huge expansion of the census long form in its relatively brief history is proof of that.
Finally, the decision-making process is brazenly arbitrary. The public at large has no meaningful input. Decisions are overwhelmingly influenced by the requirements of statisticians and other groups. At a minimum, some broader oversight is required to balance the interests of research with fundamental privacy rights.
I want to assert that this debate is not about data, statistical reliability, or how many people in opinion polls support the census long form. It is about the right of citizens to guard their privacies—indeed, to be allowed those very privacies. No one who cares about such matters can be untroubled by the direction of events. The last two or three decades have seen intrusions into our personal lives undreamt of by earlier generations. From x-ray strip searches at airports to the B.C. government's plan to create an electronic profile of every citizen, the space we call our own is rapidly being eroded.
It seems to me that the question before you is quite simple: Is there or is there not a right to privacy? If there is, the census long-form abrogates that right.
Just to give you a bit of background, before I came to CCSD, I actually was the senior vice-president at the Ottawa Hospital, one of the largest academic health science centres in the country. So I often call myself a “recovering hospital administrator”, and still in recovery.
But I would say, from the perspective of the social determinants of health, the information in the mandatory long form is really, again, as I mentioned, kind of a navigation tool. It focuses on those aspects that determine our health, such as income levels, whether you are a single parent, whether you have supports such as child care so that you can get to work. All those things are taken into consideration, because we all know that all of them determine our path through the health care system.
It also helps us project out forward. We all know that we have this aging population in Canada. It's not enough just to know that we have an aging population; we also have to understand where to find them. Where do we need to focus our resources? Are they in urban areas? Are they moving back to rural areas? The long form helps us do that. It's a fundamental tool for that work.
It is the basis for calibrating almost all research conducted in a vast number of social sciences, especially economic analysis, sociology and political science, three areas with which I am particularly familiar.
Every time we conduct a survey, we must assess its value by comparing it to census data. For example, it is possible for housewives to be overrepresented in a survey. In fact, with a telephone survey, the people most likely to respond are those who are at home. They are often women. Consequently, in most of our surveys, there is overrepresentation of housewives and underrepresentation of youth, who cannot be reached at home during the day, in the evening, or even late at night.
The only way to take into account the fact that our survey has flaws is to recalibrate the survey based on census data. We use the latter to correct our sample. That is why the census data must be the most reliable. We use the data to correct all our other surveys. In most areas, particularly the social sciences and humanities, it is vital to have a completely reliable survey. In fact, all the others have flaws and we truly need the census data to correct them. That is the case for research.
If census data were to become less reliable one day, we would have serious problems with the accuracy of our research in the six-year period after the census. It would be a very big problem for the social sciences and humanities.
Thank you. I have two or three quick points.
We already have difficulty with the existing census and getting responses from native groups. Some native groups refuse to comply, in part because they don't like the element of compulsion.
The United States carried out a voluntary survey some years back at the request of Congress. What they found was that response rates dropped about 20 percentage points, meaning that they were getting fewer than they would have gotten but still a large number.
It was going to cost more, by all means, to do a voluntary process, but let me put these numbers in context.
There are roughly 14 million families in Canada. Let's assume 10% of them are poor: 1.4 million poor families. The response rate in the United States for poor groups was 20%. In other words, for the voluntary census in the United States, 20% of black, urban, poor Americans responded. If we got a 20% response rate in our groups of poor families, we would get 280,000 responses. That's a huge sample size. There is clearly room here for us to have a voluntary survey in which admittedly the number of responders will fall, but because we're starting out with such a massive base—this is the whole of the population we're surveying—we would still end up, I think, with a very significant response.
Although I may have misheard, I thought I heard Monsieur Noreau say we shouldn't be forcing people. If that's the case, there is no dispute here. Nobody that I know of thinks we shouldn't be trying to get this information. The question comes down to the degree of compulsion.
Ultimately, though, as it relates to schools and the aging population, I agree with you that we do need to understand that, but I would point out that both date of birth and address are on the mandatory short form that everybody has to answer. So we do have that data, moving forward, on the mandatory short form.
As it relates to settlement funding and things having to do with immigration, of course, we would have information on where new Canadians are settling through the statistics that CIC would have as well. Of course, our government has increased settlement funding significantly over the last four years, as one of the witnesses in the previous committee testified.
You represent within your group a significant number of people considered to be from vulnerable communities, the same vulnerable communities that I know the opposition members have said will be less likely to fill out a voluntary survey. I would imagine that it would make sense that they would also be less likely to fill out a mandatory survey.
They are less likely to fill out a mandatory census. They are less likely to respond to those things. Correspondingly, then, they would be more likely to be threatened with fines, significant fines, for not wanting to answer a question.
So again, take somebody from one of those vulnerable communities, let's say a new Canadian—because you just referred to that—who may not want to answer a question that the government asks about housework or how much time they spend with their kids, or religion, those kinds of things. On whatever principle it is that they decide they don't want to answer it, the enumerator goes there a couple of times and asks them and they respectfully say they are not comfortable answering that question. Do you believe that person who doesn't want to answer a question about his or her religion—to put a specific question on the table—should be fined $500, or threatened with a fine of $500?
Sorry. I need to interrupt you for one second. I know my time is limited and I want to make sure that we get a clear answer on this.
Let's say the enumerator explains those types of things—because I agree with you that there are people who generally, when they get the long form, haven't had it before, so it might require some explanation. Let's say the enumerator explains very clearly that it's a responsibility, that it will make Canada a better place, all of those things, and the person still says, on principle, “I'm not going to tell you what my religion is. I'm just not comfortable with that. And I don't want to tell you how much housework I do”.
So that's two questions they refuse. That's $1,000. Do you think at that point you are fully in favour of this person, who might be of low income, being threatened with a fine of $1,000?
I love these imaginary scenarios about the single mother under the poverty line. About the only thing that hasn't happened to her yet is that her dog was run over, or something like that. It's like a bad country and western song.
It's unbelievable in the sense that the minister has turned himself into almost a pretzel, when you think about his quotes when it comes to the agricultural census. He said,
||The argument obviously to farming associations and to farmers is, “You fill out the form, it'll help the government help you in your farming activities.”
But I guess that doesn't apply for the other, urban, Canadians. So I'd like to have your opinion about whether the minister has it right on the farming, by keeping it mandatory and keeping penalties. Ironically, he's making the agricultural community different from every other community, because they've gotten a special treatment of having to continue to have a compulsory long-form agricultural census, with fines and penalties, unlike other Canadians.
Is that more the issue?
I was part of what was called the “complete count”, in the year 2000. I worked at the Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County. What we found with people who had English as a second language was that they actually wanted to participate in the census and other government programs, but they needed, as you said, the interpretation and someone to sit down and help them fill out the forms.
If the current situation stands, 30% of your community will get the census form. It won't be mandatory, but it will show up in their mailbox. That will be something they'll have to deal with. Do you think they will really know it isn't going to be mandatory now? Will they participate? Will they throw it in the garbage? What do you think will happen?
More people are going to get the census as things currently stand, unless it changes.
Madame Taillon, I certainly appreciated the way you, in your opening remarks, talked about the cost or the implications of going to a voluntary census. You talked about what would happen 10 years later when government—whether it's municipal, provincial, or federal—and community organizations no longer had the quality and accuracy of data they get through the mandatory long-form questionnaire. I think it's important to state it again: That is the only way to get that accurate information.
But I want to be constructive here. Mr. McFarlane said that, for him, his privacy was very important. My privacy is very important to me, as I'm sure it is to you as well. But I'm the science critic for my party, and I also recognize that, for good governance, I need to have the most accurate information on which to base good policy.
I also recognize another dimension, called “public good”. Public good is something that resonates with me, and I think, most Canadians, and for that, I'm willing to share a little bit of myself. First of all, I don't think I'm that important, but I'm willing to share a little bit of myself.
How do we get that concept across to Canadians? I think that's the nub of problem.
It's looked upon, as many witnesses have said this morning, as just a cost to the individual, as opposed to understanding the greater benefit to society. So how do we get that across?
That's an absolutely great question and certainly, I think, at the heart of the matter for Canadians. Canadians need to understand what the census actually does, what it is.
Again I think, when it comes to the door, people think, “Oh, I'd better fill it out”, but understanding that it actually provides services that they use every day is really important. So I think we need to do a better communication and public education piece with Canadians.
I will tell you, though, that in one of my roles at the hospital I was chief privacy officer. We put a really rigorous privacy program in place to protect health information, which is, we all know, the most sensitive information about each of us. I do believe people are willing to share information with public organizations, absolutely with government, because they trust their government and they trust their government to have the right provisions and tools around to protect their privacy. They don't understand the specifics, but they do understand that in some way this is going to benefit them.
At the hospital, that's how we would communicate it with folks. We had a whole communication strategy out there about how their data is used, how it is stored, how we make sure that it's de-identified, and how it actually benefits them—because if it doesn't benefit them, why would we take that data and collect it?
So I think you're absolutely right. We do need to do a better job of communicating to Canadians.
Thank you to everyone for coming out this nice afternoon and sharing all your wisdom with us.
There is one thing, Chair, that I want to get straight on the record right at the start. Mr. Masse was questioning the witness about how many in his community were actually fined. I think that's a very unrealistic question to ask the witness, because there's no way he'd know that unless the privacy at Statistics Canada wasn't that good and he was actually given that information wrongly.
One thing that would happen—and that actually is a good example—is that someone could tell him. For instance, when he's having coffee with a neighbour, they might say they got that threatening phone call. I've had a few farmers tell me that they received a threatening phone call from Statistics Canada during the middle of the harvest, so they do it, but they don't like it.
That's about the only way the witness would know. So I don't think it's appropriate to use it for a question.
Mr. McFarlane, you have heard a lot of things. I know you're in Victoria and it must feel a little frustrating being on TV. You probably wish you were right here in the middle of the action.
Again, it comes back to balancing what you throw people in jail for and what you fine people for and information.
I'll add a dog in this case, Brian, because I know you want to add a dog into the single-mother example.
If you have a scenario where you have a single mother with three kids, who are on the poverty line, and a dog—because the NDP is concerned about the dogs—is it fair to ask how many bedrooms she has and allow her to not answer that, or fine her $500 or threaten her with jail?
Let's say the scenario is an 85-year-old senior who is hard of hearing. Is it fair to ask her that?
What are your opinions on that?
I think the fundamental question here is how you keep a balance between the importance of information and the lengths to which you are prepared to go in order to get that information.
I am sorry that I'm not with you. I am not able to fly or I would be happy to be there. But certainly in this debate the sense I'm getting is that whenever that question is confronted head-on, we're seeing some skirting around it. I suspect that indicates there's a degree of whistling past the graveyard going on here as people try to get back to the issue of the importance of the data and are clearly uncomfortable talking about the degree of compulsion that's required to get it.
For example, Mr. Garneau said he wants the most accurate information possible when we're making decisions. The most accurate information available in the health care field, the gold standard, if you like, is personal health files: my health file, yours, and the next person's. Is the suggestion here, then, that because that information is indisputably valuable, that gives the state the authority to compel me to release it?
We don't do that in the health care field. We have something called “informed consent” where we do what I'm hearing talked about a lot today. We go to people and we give them the information about how important this is. Perhaps the physician sits this patient down and goes through all the different kinds of issues in the community that we've heard about: AIDS, SARS, or the difficulties that low-income groups have with health issues. By the end of that kind of discussion, very large numbers of people will give their data. That's the experience we have. But if you put a gun at their head and you say you're taking it whether they want you to or not, it's at that point that you create a difficulty, not only in the health field, but in my view, you create a moral dilemma.
Again, you did a great job in educating the client—or in this situation, the patient—as to why it was important, and then they were voluntarily giving you the data, and as you said, not 100% of the time, but most of the time.
That's where I get really confused, because if it's mandatory, in order to make it mandatory there has to be punishment. So it's either fines, or jail, or something. There has to be a leverage or a stick to force that question to be answered. If it's voluntary, it's voluntary.
So then I look at the collection of data. If someone is holding a stick or a gun to my head, the quality of data that I would give them would be, “What can I do or say to get this done with as quickly as possible?” But if it's voluntarily given out, it's probably going to be more accurate in a lot of cases because there is no force.
There is nobody threatening me. I'm doing this as a Canadian, as a proud Canadian, and I understand the consequences of the data. I understand that it's going to impact the location of my hospital. It might impact where I have schools. It's going to impact where my parents go for their seniors' home. If I understand all that, I'll fill it out.
So I guess the question that comes before us is, do we have to use a stick to get this data? Some people say yes; some people say no.
The Conservative members have been talking non-stop since this morning about jail time and fines, but they have also been saying that the short-form census is still mandatory. So there are still fines, even though people will not go to jail. I think everyone agrees that the prison sentences should be dropped. It is as simple as that. Still, the Conservatives keep bringing up jail time and fines. But there will automatically be fines associated with the short form that everyone is going to have to fill out, because it is mandatory. They are not being straight with us. I am disappointed that, since this morning, we have repeatedly seen what I would call intellectual dishonesty.
A representative of the Chinese community was present at every stage of the day today. Clearly, not everyone wants a mandatory form, and they will never fill out the voluntary form anyway. Earlier, someone said that, when the answers in the questionnaire are voluntary, there is a break in the continuity of data. So the voluntary questionnaire is not reliable. Then you told us that the census data were used by researchers in a number of areas.
Now, I have a better understanding of the attitude of the government, the Conservative Party. You will recall that university research grants in the humanities and social sciences were slashed so that funding could be directed toward research and programs that generate revenue. I am sure you remember that. I believe that we are seeing the true nature of the Conservative government, which basically wants to abdicate its responsibility when it comes to the humanities, to social sciences and even to poverty. That is clear. With researchers such as yourselves conducting research based on unreliable data, the government will question the reliability of that research and will cut your research funding. I think that is now clear. Just watch: it could be expedient from the perspective of political ideology to use incomplete data to deny that poverty exists and thereby to justify their lack of action on the issue.
I do not know whether this is how you see things, but I really believe that something is not right. It is wrong to just say that people are put in jail. That is wrong. It has never happened. What is more, there is general agreement that those provisions should be eliminated from the act. But there are fines associated with the mandatory short-form questionnaire, and Mr. Lake never mentioned that.
Perhaps I could say something. I am not here to put the government on trial. You have your own debates, and that is fine, but we are trying to see what can be done in a given society to gather accurate information about that society. I believe that there is some consensus around the table about the need to do that. The problem, as we well know, is that the response rate for a completely voluntary questionnaire would be roughly 30% or 35%, which means that the reliability of the questionnaire and the census would become extremely fragile. The less reliable the survey results are, the less people will want to take part.
In fact, from the moment a questionnaire is made voluntary, a process will start whereby people are going to be less and less willing to fill it out. Since the data will not be reliable, people are going to wonder why they should bother answering the questionnaire. This creates a feeling of alienation in the public. This is well known. It has been studied in Sweden and Great Britain, two countries that changed the rules in midstream. Today, it is very difficult to restore the credibility of the British and Swedish censuses because people are not interested in the census now. That is what we must avoid.
The question you asked earlier is very timely. Certainly, in a very small population, a personalized approach can be used to convince people to respond to a questionnaire or survey. If I understand correctly, that is what happened in your case, in the public health field. But in the case of a population as large as Canada's—and this would also apply to Quebec specifically—it would not be possible to take the same approach. It would not be possible to take an individual, positive approach and personally convince everyone to answer the questions. Another sort of system or framework is needed. That is how the mandatory system came about. The positive approach requires different methods. It should not be ruled out, though.
That said, I believe that, for vulnerable populations, seniors—the Chinese community was mentioned earlier—it would be a good idea to think about specific needs. We need to support these people so that they fill out the form. There have to be positive incentives, and there needs to be support for populations that we want to reach but that ordinarily have no incentive to respond to the questionnaire or do not feel obliged to do so. This would increase the quality of the measurement. It should not preclude having a general framework to ensure that the census data are clear and therefore making the questionnaire mandatory. One thing does not rule out the other.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair; and thank you all for coming today.
If some of us look a little weary, we all did some things similar to you and flew in either late or very early, and have been sitting here in the position that our brains may not be working quite as well as those of some others.
I'd certainly like to thank my colleagues for some of their good questions, because they're really kind of answering all of us.
As I said in a previous round, this is about whether this form should be voluntary or mandatory, because that's the only question there is. Mr. Masse keeps talking about how many people have gone to jail and how many people have been fined. Well, if nobody has gone to jail and nobody has been fined, then it is already voluntary, so thank you very much.
You mentioned in one of your comments that people are really willing to share information with their government. They trust their government maybe more so with it, so they are willing to do it. Monsieur Cardin and some of my other colleagues asked questions and pointed out that perhaps the deficiency is education—so the more we tell people that this is really important.
That's certainly something else that's being accomplished by this committee meeting and the open public discussion of it. I happen to agree that this is really quite under the radar back on the farm, as they might say, but at least it's out there, and that, to me, is a great assist to the side I'm going to take, that I think this can be a voluntary situation if we ask the right questions and really do help.
Mr. Masse said he was part of the total count and that it was really good, but when we got to certain cultural pieces—and I've been involved in some pieces like this before—we really had to do some explaining. We really had to do some education as to why this was important. When we did and gave a little bit of aid, it got done, and in spades, above and beyond what people would expect.
I think the other thing we can say during this process is that the interest groups—I hate using the term, but the groups that can be best benefited by great statistical information out there—know enough that it has to be collected. I have to tell you, I have a really good feeling that this piece of education has also been done and that if tomorrow three million voluntary census forms went out, there'd be a great deal of groups such as yours, and Mr. Zhong's group too, pushing their people and saying, “Did you get one? Make sure you get it filled out. If you need some help, I'll make sure you do it”.
Am I wrong? Is that not correct? Would that not happen?
In the 2001 census—and it was all compulsory then, I guess—but in the compulsory short form, 20,000 Canadians identified themselves as Jedis. When the question was asked what their religion is, they said they support the Jedi religion. In other words, they've watched too many Star Wars movies.
The idea that you can get accurate information by compulsion has no support that I am aware of anywhere in the literature. What you can guarantee by compulsion is a response. You put a gun to somebody's head and that person is going to say something. It's almost like the argument for waterboarding. If you waterboard enough people, they'll tell you something. The question is, are they telling you something that is reliable and usable, and what damage have you done to their sense of trust in their government, particularly if the information you're asking for goes very close to their sense of private domain?
I don't think there's any inconsistency in using fines, and even prison, when the information is of the most fundamental sort and when we can all clearly see that it does not go to one's internal privacy. Needing to know where someone lives, what their language is, what their address is, or how many kids they have is in the public domain. If someone is not prepared to answer that information, then I think they are showing you a degree of contempt for society that justifies some additional measures.
But when you want to sit down and question someone about whether they have mental illness, or what their child-rearing habits are, or how much money they have in their bank account and what their pension is going to be that they've worked for, and when the person who's asking you that question is quite possibly a volunteer from down the street, I think you're going to get a lot of people who feel that it is so much an intrusion on their privacy that they're going to bend the results in order to skate around it.
The consensus I'm hearing here is that this information, in the long form as well as the short form, is very important and that the question this comes down to is, how can you get accurate information without putting a threat in place that destroys the relationship of trust between government and its citizens?
Still, in all this debate, we have yet to hear any evidence, really, of people in Canada who have been intimidated to any significant degree or felt threatened by a fine or a census worker. We still haven't had any of that come forward despite the witness list being open.
There have been cases where people got phone calls and didn't appreciate them. Ironically, that farmer will still get that phone call, because the census for agriculture is not voluntary.
In your opinion, what would the result be if we actually moved the short-form census to voluntary?
Yes, and it is going to answer some of the questions that have been asked.
I think that we must not be naive: standard research surveys have response rates of around 30%. If you use electronic forms, the mail and so on, the response rate for all those surveys is roughly 30%. In fact, it is usually lower than 30%.
If you want accurate data, you have to have a sufficient number of respondents participating. We must not be naive. We are talking about people being available in the course of their everyday lives. This has nothing to do with their patriotism. We are talking about normal activities in a normal life. In a normal life, if someone has a whole slew of things to do in a day and this voluntary thing is added into the mix, then without a doubt it is the thing that person is not going to do. This means that the data are no longer going to be reliable. It is very simple. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that, if we explain things to people, they are going to be more willing to fill out the questionnaire. That is not how things work. But we do need to help people who have language problems, such as people who are illiterate. People who have difficulty filling out the questionnaire need to be able to get help. Generally, though, it would be a mistake to think that a completely voluntary questionnaire would have a satisfactory response rate. That is not true. The response rate would be around 30%, and we would clearly not meet our objectives.
Lastly, it is not so much the amount of information as the accuracy of that information that is the problem. Would some services be lost? The same services might exist, but they would not necessarily be tailored to people's needs. Accurate policies require accurate information. The higher the participation rate, the more accurate the data. It is as simple as that. It is simple math.
We have a number of neighbourhoods in my community where we have lots of senior citizens with lots of bathrooms but they don't use the water system nearly as much as some other areas.
We're talking about accuracy. I think it was a nice speech, but it should be accurate in what we're doing.
There was another piece that you brought up that I thought was very interesting, but you didn't get to complete your thought and I'd be happy to hear it.
You stated to one of my colleagues, I think, that when the census form comes to a mailbox, you are not absolutely positive, based on your discussion this summer, that when people pull that out and see that it is from the Government of Canada and it's going to take them 25 to 40 minutes to do and it's 4, 5, or 40 pages long, or whatever we claim, they actually understand there are penalties attached to not doing it. They are citizens and they feel that it's a responsibility. The government has asked for it and they'll give it to them. It's going to Statistics Canada and not the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, or the NDP. It's going to Statistics Canada, and they have confidence in Statistics Canada.
Did the people you were talking to respond that they knew there were penalties attached to it?
Okay, I can summarize it briefly, because I was struck by the big difference between what Ms. Vonn said and what you said.
Her number one concern, obviously, is civil liberties and privacy issues, and she said the long-form census wasn't even on her list of items that she was concerned about. She was concerned about many things, but not that.
She went on to say that if you didn't do the long-form census, some of the alternative methods of doing it instead would cause greater privacy concerns than the long-form census. The examples she gave were if governments used various kinds of databases that they have about individuals to obtain that information, or if they use the methods used in Scandinavia, which are much more intrusive than what we have.
I know you're not responsible for her position, but how would you square your position with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which says it's not a significant privacy issue?
I certainly don't feel the need to defend anything I would say in the context of what the B.C. Civil Liberties Association might say. I think one judges an argument on its own strengths.
The case we're hearing, as I think Mr. Noreau said, is that something like a 30% response rate would not be enough. There are quite a number of studies—I have a couple in front me—that indicate that response rates in the 20% range are perfectly adequate. The issue here is not the size of the survey, it is the way in which it is carried out.
You made a point that I think is accurate, that one has to be careful in ascertaining that certain minority groups have responded. In other words, one of the difficulties with shrinking down the response level is if you see a particular drop-off in certain groups that have a history of not responding to the same level—the poor, certain ethnic groups, aboriginal groups for sure, and one could go on.
The need, therefore, is to come up with a survey instrument that is particularly responsive to those minority groups. I don't know any research that shows that the best way to get to minorities is to threaten them.
I'll direct my questions to Mr. McFarlane as well, if I could.
I want to continue on that conversation, because it's kind of an interesting one.
It seems to me that at an individual level, when a person receives a long-form census—to go back to 2006—and voluntarily fills it out, it would be pretty accurate. I think most reasonable people would assume that they're going to get a pretty accurate response from somebody who receives it in the mail and instantly fills it out and sends it away as part of his or her public duty.
Does that seem to make sense to you, Mr. McFarlane?