Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill and whose purpose is to strengthen Statistics Canada's independence.
First, I want to speak about the census. In 2010, the government's decision to replace the mandatory long form census with the voluntary national household survey gave rise to public criticism. Concerns were raised about the quality of the national household survey data and about Statistics Canada's independence.
In reaction to this decision, a number of private members' bills were introduced in the House that would require the collection of a mandatory long form census questionnaire of equal length and scope as the 1971 census. We gave this option serious consideration, but rather than focus on protecting only the census, we chose to amend the Statistics Act to give Statistics Canada greater independence on the full range of statistical activity. We have done this by assigning to the chief statistician authority over decisions on statistical methods and operations.
The bill also adds transparency provisions to ensure greater accountability for decisions. This approach is aligned with the United Nations fundamental principles of official statistics and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's recommendation on good practices. Some may still ask, why not entrench the content of the census in legislation to fully prevent future governments from replacing the mandatory long form census with a voluntary survey as was the case with the 2011 program? The simple answer is that no legal provision can prevent a government from changing census content.
Governments have the power to make and change laws, but more importantly, we must remember that official statistics are a public good and Statistics Canada is a publicly funded institution. It is ultimately the government's responsibility to determine the scope of the statistical system, specifically, the country's data priorities, that is to say, what is collected. This responsibility ensures that the statistical information collected is sensitive to the burdens placed on citizens as respondents, that it is sensitive to the costs they bear as taxpayers, and that the information that is produced is responsive to their needs as data users.
It must also be responsive to the government's need to make evidence-based decisions about the programs and services that affect the daily lives of Canadians such as affordable housing, public transportation, and skills training for employment. Rather than entrench the content of the long form census questionnaire in the Statistics Act, Bill addresses the fundamental issues of Statistics Canada's independence. Let me explain why.
First, the previous government's decision about the 2011 census was not about the questions to be asked, it was about removing the mandatory requirement to respond. The voluntary national household survey, as it was called, asked the same questions as would have been asked in the planned mandatory long form questionnaire that it replaced.
Consistent with our government's commitment to evidence-based decision-making, one of our first acts as a government was to reinstate the mandatory long form census in time for the 2016 census of population to ensure that the census produces high quality data. We committed to strengthen Statistics Canada's independence to ensure decisions about statistical methods and operations are based on professional principles. Bill meets this commitment.
Second, entrenching census contents in law could reduce the government's flexibility to ensure that the data collected continuously meets the needs of an ever-evolving Canadian society and economy. We just have to look at the history of the content of census. It has changed numerous times to reflect emerging issues, evolving data needs, and the development of alternative ways of collecting the information.
The first national census of Canada was taken in 1871 and contained 211 questions, including age, sex, religion, education, race, occupation, and ancestral origins. Subject matters and questions have been added and dropped ever since.
In 1931, questions on unemployment were added. In 1941, questions on fertility and housing were introduced. In 1986, questions were introduced on activity limitations. In 1991, questions about common-law relationships were introduced, and questions on same-sex couples were added in 2006. In 1996, questions on unpaid work were introduced. These were removed in 2011.
These examples signal the need for flexibility and prioritization in determining the content of a census. Entrenching census content in legislation would limit this flexibility. Amending the act every time the census needs to change would be highly impractical. Our current approach to determining census content works. It is based on extensive user consultations and the testing of potential questions to reflect the changing needs of society and to ensure the census is the appropriate vehicle to respond to them. Then Statistics Canada makes a recommendation to the government on the content that should be included in the upcoming census. General questions are then prescribed by order by the Governor in Council and published in the Canada Gazette for transparency purposes.
Defining the long form census content in law could potentially reduce the incentives to find alternative means to gathering census information at a lower cost and respondent burden. Statistical agencies must also think about the burden they impose on citizens and businesses to provide information, and they must do so within the fiscal resources allocated by the government.
The data world is evolving rapidly. We read and hear the words “big data”, “open data”, and “administrative data” every day. Increasingly, statistical offices around the world are integrating these alternative and complementary sources of information into their statistical programs. They offer the potential to collect and publish high quality statistical information more frequently, at lower cost, and at lower response burden.
For example, for the 2016 census, Statistics Canada obtained detailed income information for all census respondents from administrative records provided by the Canada Revenue Agency. This approach will ensure that higher quality income data will be produced at a lower cost and with reduced burden on Canadians.
Entrenching the scope and content of the census in the Statistics Act may not serve Canadians well moving forward. It would tie us to one way of doing business that may not be the way of the future. The act should remain flexible to the evolving data needs of Canadians and their governments. It should retain the flexibility to encourage innovation to take advantage of the evolving means of collecting statistical information.
Some have suggested that the census content should be the same as it was over 40 years ago and that the sample size for the long form should be entrenched in law. The rapidly evolving world of data suggests that we should retain the flexibility to build the foundation of a statistical system of the future, rather than restricting ourselves to continue to do what has been done in the past. We think our approach to Bill strikes the right balance and will stand the test of time.
In the time that remains, let me talk about the basic structure of Bill in terms of the independence of the chief statistical officer.
What we hope to do first of all is subject the appointment of the chief statistician to the Governor in Council process, which is open and transparent, in order to ensure that the best candidate for the office of chief statistician is found and selected according to that process.
Second, the underlying philosophy of the act is that questions of methodology in terms of statistical gathering, finding the best means, or using the best statistical techniques to gather information will be left to Statistics Canada, to the chief statistician and his or her team as it is described in the act.
Because we do have a Westminster parliamentary system in which ministerial accountability is one of the foundational or bedrock principles of the act, any political decisions that need to be made for political reasons, perhaps under exceptional circumstances where a governing party feels it needs a certain kind of information, will have to be made transparently in front of this House.
We are creating a great deal of independence and giving it to the office of chief statistician precisely so that person can go on and gather data in the best possible method, as he or she sees fit for professional reasons, yet we are still working in harmony with a Westminster political system, one that has worked well so far, indeed, one that, up until 2011, allowed for Statistics Canada to have a very good reputation internationally among other statistical agencies around the world.
That is the basic underlying philosophy of the act. I would be happy to answers questions if there were any.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and speak to a piece of legislation on an issue for which I have been flooded with correspondence from constituents. This is something that resonates for Canadians.
I want to pick up on something my colleague just said. He said the best thing about the bill is that it has helped him learn how to pronounce the word “statistician”. I agree that this might be the only good thing about the bill. There are many things about the bill that are much worse, and it may be that the parliamentary secretary is finally coming around to the opposition's perspective on this bill. Hopefully, by the end of my remarks we will have sealed the deal in getting the government to realize the problems and, having benefited from the pronunciation exercise associated with the debate, agreeing with us in voting down this legislation.
Before I get into more detail, I want to pick up on the parliamentary secretary's response to my question. One of the provisions of the bill is that it would establish the Canadian statistics advisory council, which would replace the National Statistics Council. One might infer from the names that they are not that different from each other, and one would be correct. One has 13 members and the other 10 members, but when we do away with one council and replace it with another, that is a great opportunity to appoint 10 entirely new people, as if we would not notice in the opposition what is going on in that respect.
To get some clarification, I have to ask my friend across the way what could possibly motivate this legislative change, which effectively allows the government to do away with the existing council and then appoint 10 new good Liberals—I mean, good, qualified appointees—to this panel.
His response is quite revealing in its lack of detail. He tells us participation rates were uneven. Essentially, they did not think people on the council were as good as they could have been, so they have to completely change things so they can appoint a new council. Of course, we will be watching to see the extent to which the government uses this tactic. I really hope that none of the people on this new statistics advisory council were involved in developing the instrument for the government's electoral reform consultation.
There are some real problems with the government's approach to appointments in general and, I would argue, more broadly with its approach to statistics and how it considers science and information on a variety of issues, so I am going to take this opportunity to talk a bit about that as well as to talk about some of the specific provisions in this legislation.
The bill is partly seen by the government as an opportunity to try to push an important political message, which is that it really wants to associate its brand with evidence-based policy. We hear this rhetoric out of the government a lot. I think I speak for the entire official opposition in saying that we believe in evidence-based policy. We believe in data-driven decision making. For us, it is not just a slogan.
The member for is heckling me again. I am sure he is preparing a great question about Ayn Rand again, which he is able to relate to all subjects in this place. I look forward to those comments, based on the member's extensive reading of that author.
If I could get back to my comments, for us as Conservatives, evidence-based decision-making is not just a slogan. It is not just something we want to put in the window. We actually look at the evidence and the details and we apply that information across a range of issues. If we look at the approach the government has taken across a range of files, we will see its total lack of regard for the evidence.
I will cite a few examples, because we have seen and debated examples in the House of the government not being interested in looking at science. The most obvious example of its complete disregard for evidence when it comes to policy-making is its approach to pipeline approval.
On this side of the House we believe that there is an independent process for pipeline review. There is an independent body, the National Energy Board, that collects data, conducts hearings in a reasonable time frame, and provides a report back. By and large, when the government gets a report from an independent consultative body like that, it should be listening. This actually accords with the rhetorical approach of the government.
An independent body is providing advice based on science. What is not to like? However, members of the government actually do not like that very much because, when it comes to pipeline approvals, they want to preserve the ability for the government or the cabinet—and they have clearly shown an intention to use that ability—to reject approvals that are made by independent, impartial, science-based decision-makers at the National Energy Board.
We have seen this anti-science approach when it comes to the northern gateway pipeline, an important pipeline project that would have provided market access for our energy resources, which was approved by the NEB with conditions. It was then approved by the previous government with conditions, and now we have a new government not only rejecting that but bringing in legislation to not allow tanker traffic out of northern B.C.
We know in that context that there is a great deal of tanker traffic off the coast of B.C. coming from Alaska. We have every reason to believe it is going to increase, and yet we have this unscientific—anti-science, in fact—decision by the government members. They are motivated by a political calculus that ignores the actual reality.
When we have the government coming forward with legislation, when the Liberals talk about the importance of science-based decision-making and of statistics, it is important to pose this question. Why are they not listening to the clear evidence when it comes to pipeline approval? Why are they not listening to that evidence?
I can give another example, and this is probably the clearest example of the government's disregard for good statistical methods. That was the Liberals' approach on the issue of changes to the electoral system. There was a process in place whereby a parliamentary committee representing all members of Parliament came back with some good recommendations about how the government could proceed with the implementation of something that was actually an election commitment. That reflected the fact that many Canadians had input into the committee process. Generally speaking, parliamentary committees only hear from experts. I do not think the committee did any sort of explicitly quantitative work, but it did a great deal of qualitative work gathering opinions of Canadians and hearing those perspectives. It came back with a recommendation that a referendum be done with respect to possible different electoral systems.
After that, because the government members did not like the result of what was a good process for engaging and consulting Canadians, they decided to come up with their own process, which was obviously from a statistical perspective highly suspect. It was to have an online consultation that gets people's feelings about things that might have some kind of approximate relationship to questions around electoral systems, but not actually ask the direct obvious questions. We could not ask people if they favour a system that is more proportionate or less proportionate, has certain kinds of possible outcomes, etc. It was generally about feelings and sentiment-based calculations, and through that process, the government decided it would not proceed with it.
This was an attempt, given that the first analysis of public perspectives did not seem to produce the results the Liberals wanted, to reorganize and contort and manipulate the mechanism of consultation to not ask explicit questions but instead to contort the process to try to ensure they had the result they wanted and in the end to justify a political decision, which at that point had probably already been made, which was to back away. This is another case where we see a real disregard for the process of science, of gathering evidence, of consulting with Canadians.
I should also mention that we have the government's disregard for the science when it comes to the risks associated with marijuana use, and we have the Liberals' decision to bring forward legislation to legalize marijuana in spite of the clear risks to young people, as I said, choosing an age that does not at all reflect the science.
The Liberals have been criticized by all kinds of experts for setting the age at 18, for example. There is a great deal of evidence that, even if we were going to legalize it, we should recognize that there are substantial risks and scientifically demonstrated associations between early use of marijuana, even relatively occasional use, and mental health challenges later in life.
That evidence exists, yet in spite of good advice from experts on this issue, the government again has shown that it does not take evidence-based policy-making seriously when it comes to pipelines, electoral reform, and now in this case, the issue of marijuana. We have a government that does not look at or listen to the evidence. Instead, it wants to try to twist and contort how it presents statistical information in a way that is based on a predetermined, preset political agenda. This might satisfy the Liberals' political calculus, but it does not accord with the kinds of principles, the kind of lofty objectives they frequently talk about.
By the way, every time we have a debate about science in the House, it is interesting to see the way the Liberals try to politicize the issues. I remember a case during question period where we had a member who has spent decades working as a scientist asking the a question. The minister said that it was good to see the member finally taking an interest in science. In fact, it was the member for , who has a long history of working and being involved in scientific development. It shows the very political lens through which the government views this.
Therefore, it is with that in mind, with the level of concern about the way the government uses these words and about its actual record when it comes to evidence-based decision-making, that we approach this legislation. It is legislation that contains a number of elements that raise big questions about what is actually going on and what the government is trying to do.
I spoke earlier, and I want to develop this point a little more, about a specific provision in the bill, which is this new council that the Liberals want to set up. The bill would establish a Canadian statistics advisory council, which would replace the National Statistics Council. I am sure what we are going to hear, and maybe members have already said this, is that there will be an open process for applications, anybody can apply, they will be evaluated dispassionately based on fair and neutral criteria, and they will come to the conclusion that in fact reveals that, well, the best people were former Liberal Party donors, cabinet ministers, or something like that.
The government's record with respect to appointments all the way along is very spotty. There are major questions out there about how the government actually comes to its appointment decisions. I think there are a number of examples that we could talk about that are fairly obvious. For instance, we had the government promising an independent process with respect to senators, and yet, strikingly, the senators that the government appointed are very much voting with government. How could that be? It is almost as if there was a political lens applied to those appointments. Just because the Liberals say something does not make it true. If we look at the evidence, the voting records of those appointed suggests certainly that this is not a dispassionate calculus based on some politically neutral criteria at all. They are trying to send that message even though it does not accord with the reality.
Of course, there is the fiasco in this place around the appointment of a new Commissioner of Official Languages. We had different messages given by the and by a witness at committee—I think the Commissioner of Official Languages appointee herself—saying essentially different things about the conversations that took place in the lead-up to the decision around that appointment. We had repeated questions for the about what conversations were had and how those decisions were made. In the end, it was always a deflection rather than a direct response to the question about that appointment.
However, the reality is that we had a provincial Liberal cabinet minister who the government intended to put in the position, which is a very important office and supposed to be an independent officer of Parliament. Obviously, that person took a step back when it was clear this was not something that was going to be accepted. However, it was not inevitable that would happen, and the government's consistent defence of that appointment decision obviously raises real red flags when we look at the fact that the Liberals are bringing forward legislation that would allow them to entirely reappoint this statistics advisory body.
With all these different appointment issues in the mix, this leads up to what is one critical position, the Ethics Commissioner. The has recused himself, supposedly, from being involved in the appointment of the Ethics Commissioner. However, he has given that power over to the , someone who clearly serves at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. It is hard to imagine that there would not be some kind of a conversation that would take place, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, especially given that there may have been conversations that took place around the Commissioner of Official Languages, and yet we had different things said in different places, by different people who were supposed to be part of that conversation, about what conversations actually did and did not take place.
There is a huge credibility problem with the government when it comes down to who it is putting in place for these appointments. When we look at a bill like this, it is worth asking who is actually going to be involved in the appointments. How can the opposition, as we look at this legislation, have any kind of certainty that, as the government gets rid of one body on the basis of what the parliamentary secretary called “participation rates” being uneven, we will see something quite different, and that we will see a body that will actually, in effect, increase the government's control of it.
The government can talk about independent bodies, groups, and agencies and oversight mechanisms all it wants, but then we have to look at how those are formed, who is putting them in place, and who is appointing those people to those positions. If we do not have confidence that the government is actually looking at merit, if it is clear, based on the past track record of the government, and I think it is, that it is only making these appointments or predominantly making these appointments on the basis of partisan criteria, then we cannot, at all, have confidence in the way in which that decision is going to unfold.
I do want to make an additional point with respect to this legislation, and that is that this legislation does not directly affect whether we have a mandatory long form census. We currently have a mandatory long form census, and that will not be changed either way with respect to this legislation. It is not necessary to pass it in order to achieve what clearly is a stated objective of the government, which is to have that mandatory long form census in place.
Other provisions of this bill are evident but are not really the ones I have chosen to dwell on in my speech, but I do want to draw the attention of members to them nonetheless. The bill involves the appointment of a chief statistician during “good behaviour” for a fixed renewable term of five years. It does mean that once a chief statistician is in place, it is at least much more difficult for the government to remove that individual. It also, of course, brings us back to this question of how we can actually trust the government to make credible appointments, if we consider the track record of the government when it comes to those appointments.
The legislation also says that the minister will no longer be able to issue directives on methods, procedures, and operations. The minister will still be able to issue directives on sort of a broad scope of statistical programs, but it will no longer be up to him or her to dictate methods, procedures, and operations.
I have to say I do think the government has a very poor track record when it comes to determining statistical methods, if we judge from the way it organized consultations on the issue of changes to the electoral system. I certainly would not want to see the government manipulating those dynamics around statistical methods and operations. Again, we have observed what the likely problems would be if it were trying to essentially do the same thing that it has already done with regard to other statistical issues, and that is shape the way in which those consultations took place in order to achieve a particular outcome. The broad problem is still there, given the remaining authority and given the issue of appointments.
To summarize very quickly, the main problems that I brought attention to in the legislation are this.
First, we have seen the government's clear lack of willingness to take evidence-based decision-making beyond a slogan. It is clearly a slogan it repeats over and over. However, from the way in which it makes decisions, there is no evidence it is something it considers.
There is also the issue of the lack of credibility the government has with respect to appointments and the way in which those always seem to reflect a partisan criteria.
On that basis, we will be opposing the bill.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on Bill with regard to the census. One thing we can be clear about in the debate on this legislation is it is critically important how we spend taxpayers' money. That is central to the census itself. It is no laughing matter, especially when we look at some of the people involved.
Shame on both the Liberals and Conservatives for their actions in regard to former chief statisticians. It needs to be identified as quite a serious situation. Munir Sheikh resigned under the Conservatives and Wayne Smith resigned under the Liberals. These are key resignations. These are chief statisticians who are respected across the planet. They were seen to have had their integrity compromised by being senior bureaucrats in an administration. They ended up being whistle-blowers. We know not just domestically but across the globe, whistle-blowers often become martyrs. They often become targets. They and their families are often affected for going public with something where they compromised their own personal well-being versus that of the state or the job they do. That is what took place with our chief statisticians.
It is important to remember who they are. Munir Sheikh, for example, was a Canadian immigrant from Pakistan who later on became a doctor of economics and worked in the Department of Finance for many years as a deputy minister, later becoming a chief statistician, and resigning from his position at Stats Canada. That was the first time I had seen a resignation like that in the 15 plus years I have been here. I had never witnessed someone take on the administration like that. That came about because of a number of things related to Stats Canada and how it was treated and valued.
Therefore, it is important to review what is so important about the Statistics Act and why it is so important for Canadians. A chief statistician is responsible for the overall act and the administration of it. The issues they monitor across the country are where, at the end of the day, taxpayers' money is spent. It is about income. It is about the labour market. It is education, housing, transportation, languages, persons with disabilities, citizenship, immigration, aboriginal peoples, and ethnicity. They even determine where to place a fire hall for municipalities. There was discussion today about high-rise buildings. We have seen tragedies with high-rise buildings, most recently in London. However, we have the necessary data accumulation on municipalities to do the proper planning for allocating resources, because Statistics Canada knows where the populations are. If we do not have that information, we not only could knowingly set ourselves up for failure but we could unwittingly do so, because we do not have that information.
It is similar with economic growth. The latest census of 2016 shows 35% of Canada's population now resides in the Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal areas. That is a significant concentration of human population for such a geographic mass as Canada. That also makes it very important for us to attract investment and innovation for other areas. The more vulnerable communities, related to not having proper statistical information, are smaller communities and smaller pockets of population. It is how housing is decided. I mentioned fire halls for municipal service. There is all of that, and even affordable housing and the cost of housing, which actually translates into economic development, where businesses decide where and what type of business they should grow here in Canada.
When I came here, I had previously worked as an employment counsellor for persons with disabilities and youth at risk and I was a city councillor in Windsor West where I represented one of the great parliamentarians for 39 years, the deputy prime minister at the time, the right hon. Herb Gray. As a city councillor, my area that he represented was pegged to be part of what is called the complete count. In Windsor West there were many new immigrants and we had a lot of issues related to language and culture, so our statistical returns related to the census were lower.
That meant that we were missing out on valuable data necessary for Mr. Gray to advocate for housing, language services, a series of things that were necessary for the production, value, and contribution of the citizens of that area because of the challenges. Because we had English as a second language growing as a concern, at around a 50% return rate for our census, we were missing out on those opportunities. We also had people who wanted to participate, wanted to do better things, but they could not.
We were one of four areas across the country, at that time, of the 301 ridings federally that did a door-to-door campaign to help people get enumerated for the census. There is a litany of reasons why that is important, but it affects the funding and the contributions. If we are coming from a community that does not have those things, as identified, it is hard to advocate for that.
It is not just about government services, it is also about businesses. Businesses use this information from labour market surveys not only to identify customer populations, but also to identify concerns about shortages of workers with certain skill sets. The information in the census is used to identify that for investment. One of the number one things we hear to this day is the fact that we are going to be short certain types of workers, whether it be engineers or mechanical workers, and not having the people to staff in those regions and not preparing other populations to either get that skill set, or having to import that labour versus educating Canadians and invest in education to do so. That affects a multitude of things and diminishes our middle class.
We did that in Windsor West. Later on as a representative of Windsor West in this chamber, I understood quite clearly the value of a clean statistical database for advocating for my community and also for this country. I became very intimate with how it works. About 50% of persons with disabilities are not working in Canada. Many have given up and are not in the system. l was part of a group that was able to include more persons with disabilities. I want to note that the good work of the public servants in helping access jobs for persons with disabilities during that time was critical. I am still grateful today because I know some people are still working and can use the job to get something else.
Ivan Fellegi, a chief statistician at that time, was under pressure to privatize our census. England, for example, had outsourced the collection of data to different third parties and Canada was outsourcing its census to Lockheed Martin. A campaign I was part of looked to protect Canadians' data from Lockheed Martin because many people had ethical concerns about Lockheed Martin collecting our data. It was an arms manufacturer predominantly based in the United States that produced weapons which were banned under Canadian law like cluster munitions and so on. It was collecting our data and not only that, it would store and implement the data. At that time, the U.S. went through the implementation of the Patriot Act. We discovered it was going to assemble this data outsourced from Canada in the United States.
Why that is important is because once the Patriot Act was implemented, the hard reality was that all our census data, personal and private information we thought was protected, was now susceptible to the United States. Under the Patriot Act, the way it worked at that time, and most of which still exists in this format today, is that if a court order was issued for information, the company could not tell the actual proprietor of that information that the information was actually being usurped and used by the American government.
It would have been against the law for Lockheed Martin to disclose to Canada that the information it gathered in Canada would be used. Credit card companies and others have faced some scrutiny since then. The Privacy Commissioner has piped in. From British Columbia, and other areas, there is quite a record on this. We fought quite hard to get that information to stay in Canada, which we were able to do.
Getting past that, we continued to have a fairly stable census, until the Conservatives came into power and created the voluntary national household survey. It was put out there as a cost-cutting measure, in many respects, and also as privacy protection for Canadians. Not having the bully of government telling people they have to disclose information or they were going to kick in doors, make people fill in the census form, or send them off to jail.
I remember the member for getting up a number of times in the chamber, talking about people being intimidated. The jail aspect was certainly the heightened element that received media attention from many facets for many months, more than a year. To this day, it is still one of the more laughable things ever pronounced by a minister in the history of Canada: that people were going to be locked up and have the key thrown away for not completing their census. The essence of it was really a side distraction, which worked.
The national household survey came back with around a 26% response rate. That 26% response rate meant that our statistics, which had been the envy of many industrialized worlds, were now a diminished response. We lost a significant portion of the reliability of that data to make decisions on income, labour market, education, housing, transportation, languages, disabilities, citizenship, immigration, aboriginal people, and ethnicity. All the intel on those things went down to 26%.
The other interesting thing about that is that it cost us an additional $22 million. We received a quarter of the results, paid an additional $22 million, and then it became very worthless in many respects. This is more the technical aspect of it that some people may not care for, but it is important. Think of the centrepiece of our census as a backstop for other labour market surveys, whether it be polling, labour market agriculture, labour market related to industrial development, or labour market for investment. All those different things would be targeted in smaller surveys, but the overall sample of the statistical census would provide some of the best statistical information. Poof, that was gone. All that continuum we had was basically disrupted by that introduction.
That is when Munir Sheikh, and I discussed some of his qualifications as an economist and a deputy at the Department of Finance for many years, resigned. He resigned because he could no longer do his job.
We pressed for changes and then the Liberals and opposition agreed with changes as well. I tabled a member's bill, as did a couple of other members, to restore the independence. This bill would do some of that. It would provide some of those elements, but it would not go far enough.
Wayne Smith, the latest chief statistician in terms of Service Canada, resigned because of that. He resigned because Service Canada has become a large, encompassing agency for intelligence and support services. The problem it has is that much of our census information that is used now has to flow into this information of shared services, creating an independence issue about the data falling in there, then getting data back and the use of it. This created quite a problem, and Wayne Smith has now resigned.
We now have the bill which will make Statistics Canada somewhat independent. I say somewhat independent, because overall it does fulfill the things I described in the first part of my speech relating to information gathering, creating the lineal information necessary for statistical information use, the gathering, and how it restores those elements. That is critically important.
We are very grateful we will have that, but it does not actually go the full nine yards, so right now we still have a situation where the minister can still make political decisions about the questions that are asked in the census. It still takes away from the scientific approach we would like to have, and the independence, because we do pay, and we do actually ask someone to come into this position. It is very much a sought after career position to have. If it is independent, we get some of the best in the world. We will still have the minister's control over that, so I worry about the fact we could have some politicization of it.
It has been mentioned, and there has been banter back and forth between the Conservatives and Liberals about patronage and the appointment process, but it is a serious thing to consider. We are just dealing in my neck of the woods right now, a patronage appointment, the Gordie Howe Bridge, and Dwight Duncan becoming quite controversial, because there is a partisanship past appointment and there are partisanship attacks, including Ontario Progressive Conservatives, the American administration, and so forth. I get the seriousness of that, and what is at stake there, but what I am worried about is, what happens next time? Now that this is enshrined in law, it becomes very difficult for us to get that independence.
The Statistics Canada Department is one of 42 agencies that are supposed to be at arm's length from the government, but unfortunately, with this legislation, it is still within choking distance. Yes, it is at arm's length, but a choking distance away. I am concerned about the fact we will not see that happening. Wayne Smith identified some of those issues and concerns.
We will eliminate the jail time. It will be completely eliminated, so it can no longer be a distraction, and in the future there will be no ability for the minister to say something that would make people run, or think about something different from what the real serious issue is, which is actually the increased cost, or the change of the census, which is important. There will also still be 92 years of census information before it goes public.
In his testimony, Wayne Smith said that Bill moves the Statistics Act substantially in the right direction, creates no new problems, but fails to fully address independence, the need for full quinquennials, mandatory census of population, or the modernization of the legislation to build a statistical system adapted to the rapidly evolving needs and challenges of the 21st century. He concluded that there is still work to be done. We proposed some amendments given to us in committee by Mr. Smith and others, but they were not taken into consideration.
We will be supporting this. It is a good step forward, but it is a missed opportunity. We get to hit a double instead of a home run out of this one, so we will take it. We advance the case, and most important, Canadians and the use of our money will be better off served with data that is reliable than not.
Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying that Statistics Canada is recognized throughout the world as a first-class example of how important it is to draw in information to make good, solid policy decisions. That applies whether it is the government or the private sector. That is what StatsCan is all about. This is not new for us in the Liberal Party. We have consistently argued that Statistics Canada is absolutely critical from a policy point of view.
If I may, I will start off my comments by complimenting all those individuals who work at Statistics Canada. The work they do is second to no other. That is one of the reasons many other countries around the world look to Canada and Statistics Canada and want to know how Statistics Canada has been so effective in collecting the information needed to make decisions.
I found it most interesting when the member for was talking about science-based decisions. He used a number of examples. I could not help but reflect on one of the moves of the former prime minister in 2010. The government of the day, under Stephen Harper, decided to get rid of the mandatory long form census. The immediate response was amazing. It was immediate and severe, but the Conservative Party was determined, whether it made sense or not, no matter what the different stakeholders had to say, to move forward on getting rid of the mandatory long form census. It was at a huge cost.
I was quite disappointed, along with members of the Liberal Party, the many different stakeholders, scientists, and individuals working at Statistics Canada. In fact, the chief statistician resigned over that issue, from what I understand. It was surprising, given how important those numbers are.
Let me cite a couple of examples. The member who spoke earlier talked about the private sector. The private sector very much relies on information it receives from Statistics Canada to make decisions on the direction a business might be going. It is very dependant on getting the correct numbers.
The type of information that can be drawn out through Statistics Canada is amazing. I would encourage members, and the public, to look at some of the things that come out of Statistics Canada. The most obvious are things like employment rates and population. I often will turn to Statistics Canada to talk about Canada's population. It is just over 36 million. In the province of Manitoba, it is 1.3 million. In the metropolitan Winnipeg area it is just over 700,000. Using Statistics Canada, we can see where the growth is actually taking place. I like to be able to talk to my constituents about that.
Housing statistics from Statistics Canada are often debated, whether among individuals within our own caucus making representation or by representatives lobbying the government.
The province of Manitoba has been a have-not province for many years, unfortunately. I would like to see that turn around. It cannot be quick enough. One of the equalizing factors in Canada is the equalization transfer payment for health care and social services. We are talking about billions of dollars transferred from Ottawa to the provincial and territorial jurisdictions. Those transfers are based on statistical information that is often provided by Statistics Canada.
For example, Manitoba spends well over $12 billion on health care alone. A good portion of that money comes from Ottawa to support the provincial department of health in the decisions it makes to administer the Canada Health Act and ensure that Canadians get the services they expect, whether they be emergency services, palliative care, or mental health services. We have talked in this place a great deal about hospice care. There are so many needs within the health care system. It is absolutely critical that the federal government continue to contribute health care dollars to our province.
To get the numbers right, we need to have a good understanding of the demographics in our communities. Without that level of accuracy, some provinces might not be given as much as they should to provide the same relative health care delivery as neighbouring provinces.
There are some provinces that have more wealth than other provinces because they have exports of oil or manufactured products. For many years, Ontario and Alberta contributed to the equalization fund. Provinces such as Nova Scotia and Manitoba have depended on receiving money. If they do not get the dollars they need, they cannot provide the health care Canadians expect.
In transferring billions of dollars to the provinces in one form or another, we need to understand the demographics, the social conditions, and the economic conditions of each province and territory.
To make decisions, we need to have good numbers, and that is what this legislation is really all about. Bill is about providing a stronger sense of independence to Statistics Canada.
There are four areas on which I would like to provide some comment with respect to Bill . One is that we would reinforce that Statistics Canada needs to be more independent.
There are several things being incorporated in the legislation that would allow Statistics Canada to have that independence. One is statistical procedures, methods, and professional standards employed for the production of statistics. Currently, a lot of that is done directly through the ministry. It is not necessarily the chief statistician who is ultimately responsible. In essence, we would provide the chief statistician greater responsibility, thereby giving more independence. We see that as a very strong benefit, and long overdue.
One thing I love about the Internet is that there is so much information at our fingertips, but I would suggest that there are very few websites as reliable as Statistics Canada's. Releasing published information by downloading it onto the Internet at the appropriate time helps facilitate basic information. It also indicates to others who might have an interest in getting more detailed information that they can do so through Stats Canada.
The chief statistician and Stats Canada would have greater independence in the timing and method of the dissemination of compiled statistics. It is also important that we give more responsibility, through the legislation, to the operations and staff of Statistics Canada. If we look at the legislation from that perspective, Statistics Canada would have more independence.
I asked a member of the New Democratic Party what position the party was taking. I am pleased to hear that it is supporting the legislation. As for the criticisms the member made of the legislation, there is always room to improve the system. We can always make things better, and Liberals take that very seriously. Many of the ideas that have been raised will continue to be discussed. Hopefully, at some point in the future, there may be an opportunity to revisit the issue. The current suggestions, I believe, as the member opposite indicated, are worthy of support.
We are trying to increase transparency around decisions and directives, and not only for Statistics Canada. Minister after minister and individual members on the Liberal benches have talked about the importance of transparency and accountability, because we understand that it is what Canadians want of government. We want to pass this legislation to assure Canadians that we will provide more transparency and better decisions.
We would appoint the chief statistician for fixed renewable terms of five years, with removal only for cause by the Governor in Council.
We believe that this approach will provide greater confidence and comfort around the position of chief statistician. We will know that the work is being done as Canadians expect, and the opportunity to be appointed and to retain the position will be improved.
Along the same lines of creating independence for Statistics Canada, we are creating the Canadian statistics advisory council. I believe that is a wonderful move by the government. I understand the member for was very critical of that aspect and made reference to Liberals being appointed to this council, but one of the things that differentiates the Harper government from this government is the manner in which appointments are being made.
The system that we have put in place represents real change from the way the Harper government made appointments. There the prime minister and the government decided who they wanted to appoint, and it had very little to do with merit and ability. People found out about it well after the fact. There was no genuine attempt to advertise or to open up the process.
In contrast, today one can do a Google search on the appointment process. There is a website for appointments, and Canadians should know that the appointments that are made today are advertised. All Canadians are welcome to apply. We believe this is extremely important. We have seen an overwhelmingly positive response to the invitation for all Canadians to get involved and get engaged in the many appointments that the federal government makes.
It has been encouraging to see not dozens or hundreds but thousands of Canadians in all regions not only understanding the difference between this government and the former government on appointments, but going beyond that by expressing their interest in becoming a part of the appointments process by applying for many of the positions that are being put forward.
The opposition will say it is Liberals. People are not excluded because they happen to be a Liberal, but Kim Campbell, who received an appointment, was not a Liberal. She was the Conservative prime minister of Canada. The appointments that have been taking place have been made in a fashion that clearly demonstrates that they are based on merit.
Diversity is also important. Earlier today I talked about the importance of diversity in our 200,000-plus corporations and the important role government plays to encourage that diversity. We have a who has initiated a new process to ensure that we get that diversification, and it has been working.
One statistic I recall is that of around 160 government appointments, 60% were female. The number of visible minorities who have been appointed has dramatically increased, so I have no problem in doing a comparison of our process of appointments with others.
However, at the core is the importance of having Statistics Canada being more independent, more at arm's length.
There are three other points in the legislation that I wanted to highlight, but my time has already expired. I hope to be able to expand on those other points in questions and comments.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise to speak to Bill regarding Statistics Canada and some of the changes that are being proposed.
As a member of the industry committee, now known as innovation, science, and economic development, I have had a large opportunity to study the bill and ask questions of witnesses. We received testimony in person and in written form.
If the bill is proceeding, Conservatives certainly have some concerns. Those concerns stem from the activity of the Liberal government to date. The government has essentially said one thing and done another. It has to do with appointments and the narrative that was proposed in terms of an objective government. We have not seen that coming from the government benches to date. I would like to go through that over the next few minutes and outline where some of these concerns lie and what we need to do to ensure they are dealt with in the future.
I try to start every speech regarding a government bill with a reading of the government's throne speech because I believe it is a good measurement to determine whether the government is reaching its mandate or following the belief system it put in front of Canadians some 18 months ago. It states:
Let us not forget, however, that Canadians have been clear and unambiguous in their desire for real change. Canadians want their government to do different things, and to do things differently.
They want to be able to trust their government.
And they want leadership that is focused on the things that matter most to them.
Things like growing the economy; creating jobs; strengthening the middle class, and helping those working hard to join it.
The problem is that what we have seen, whether out of the government as a whole or out of Industry Canada, and the specifically, when it comes to appointments, they are not non-partisan. They are in fact some of the most partisan appointments we have seen to date. We can look at whether we are changing the 30 individuals currently on the advisory committee and reducing that down to 10, or we can even look at the actual members who have been appointed to the innovation council by the innovation minister to date.
I looked at who was appointed to the innovation council, and it is quite striking. When we look at the 10 individuals who were appointed to the innovation council we might think one is a Liberal donor, or maybe two. However, we would be wrong. Maybe it is three. No, five of the 10 individuals appointed to the innovation council are Liberal donors, and many of them have donated time after time.
At committee, we tried to take this on, to understand what the criteria were to appoint members to this council, or any other advisory board, by the industry minister. Unfortunately, these were shot down and we were unable to truly look into them.
As we look forward to this new committee of 10 individuals, we must also take into consideration the regional distribution. Currently, there are up to 30 members. They represent the 10 provinces and the territories. Unfortunately, there are going to be three of those 13 that will not have representation anymore. Obviously, this is a major issue.
Regional distribution on these advisory committees is essential. It is essential because the questions we may be asking, or the information we may be looking for, is different. We have a very diverse, broad, and large country. The questions we may want answered in Newfoundland could be different from those in British Columbia, they could be different from those in Ontario, and certainly the territories probably strike their own set of questions they would like to see answered and data they would like to see brought together.
The innovation council was not the only council that was cooked with Liberal donors. We also had the Advisory Council on Economic Growth from the , and obviously, we had the official languages commissioner, Madeleine Meilleur, which we saw play out in the media over the last few weeks. Certainly what we have seen to date is a government that is not afraid to put Liberals into the mechanics of government to cook the pie. The reality is, if the Liberal government bakes the StatsCan pie, it can then just feed it to the Canadian people.
There is a concern that we do not have enough separation between the Liberal government and the StatsCan job, which is going to be based on the change to the advisory council and the changes that would be brought through in this piece of legislation.
The question is what possible damage could be done based on partisanship and partisan appointments. The answer is clear. In the framing of questions, if the questions themselves and the data being requested were of a partisan nature, they could be used to influence the debates within this House and influence legislation coming forward from the government. They could be used to influence the public. The reality is that we need a complete and utter separation between the two. Unfortunately, what we have seen from this government to date is that it is not willing to hold a non-partisan tone when it comes to these types of appointments.
I will give a couple of examples. The most glaring is electoral reform. There were the questions asked by the government and the way they did it, this partisan approach to gathering data. If that type of mentality is taken into this new advisory council, I think it spells a lot of trouble for our Parliament, for StatsCan, and certainly for Canadians.
On pipelines, what questions and data could be requested and used in certain ways to influence the debate in this House? The opportunities to influence the outcome of debates using StatsCan are endless.
Certainly, when we go to tax policy and economic reform, we can see the opportunity for a partisan advisory council to influence the outcome of what is happening in this place, which would inevitably influence Canadians across the country, and not in a way we would be hoping for.
Innovation and StatsCan have had a couple of run-ins since the government took office. To be fair, one of them started prior to the government taking office. That was with the resignation of the chief statistician, Wayne Smith. Mr. Smith did not believe that StatsCan should be rolled into Shared Services Canada. He believed it so strongly that he in fact offered his resignation, which was eventually accepted by the .
I was reading a story a while ago. I remembered it and thought I should bring it to the House today. It is from the CBC, quoting Mr. Smith:
“I made clear that if I did resign it would be with the intention of making public my concerns. So that was my last desperate bid, I guess, to persuade the government to sit down and talk about this. Didn't work,” Smith said with a smile.
I really like that quote.
The reality is that we have an objective chief statistician saying to the government—both the previous government and the current government, so I do not want to be seen as partisan—that this is not going to work for Stats Canada. Unfortunately, that was not listened to.
It is interesting because Australia and the United Kingdom both had changes to IT services, and the goal in all three countries was to save money by bringing all of the IT needs within the different government departments to a single place and obviously find savings, efficiencies, and a better and more effective way to deliver services. Those two jurisdictions, however, opted out. They determined it was not the right way to do business for their statistics agencies, for two reasons. Number one was objectivity. They wanted to maintain the separation between Stats Canada, which provides the data to those governments, almost the same type of objectivity we are asking with the appointments process. Second, they wanted to ensure that there was a quality of service for Stats Canada because at any point a failure of the IT support services can result in lost data, and lost data obviously results in bad decision-making or the potential for bad decision-making.
On that note, there is another quote that Mr. Smith made on this exact subject in the same story:
If you can't process the data, if we're constantly being interrupted by failures of equipment, then it's going to take us more time to get the labour force survey out, more time to get the consumer price index out.
Mr. Smith saw that there was a huge potential issue with the changing of the IT services and the potential for it to hurt Stats Canada. I am a big believer that good data leads to good decision-making. The more data we have on the important pieces and the priority pieces of any piece of legislation, any pieces of decision-making that a government is making, the better. If we have the right data, we will make the right decisions, unless partisanship comes into the equation, which is what we have seen happening a lot to date.
I also wanted to talk about privacy because there are some changes to privacy in terms of the census and information, the release of that information, when that release takes place, and how it takes place. We need to recognize that privacy is a freedom. It is a very integral freedom to our democracy, to us as individuals, as citizens. These changes are interpreted by some Canadians as an attack on their privacy, even if it is after they pass away. They do not want that information being disclosed or used for governmental purpose.
Privacy is an interesting item because it is the protection of ourselves from others in society and it is certainly the protection of ourselves from an overbearing government. I can understand that mentality because we have seen in the last 18 months the government that is willing to go from the cradle to the grave, that is willing to step into almost any area of a person's life and legislate. I can certainly understand and identify with those who are concerned about the changes to privacy within the bill.
When we were going through testimony at the innovation committee, we had the opportunity to ask many individuals and the newly appointed chief statistician to testify. There was a constant narrative that the objectivity and the freedom of Stats Canada was integral. It spoke directly to the integrity not only of the individuals who worked in this department but the integrity of the data being received by government departments.
As we are continuing to look forward and we are approaching the time when we will vote on the bill, it is important we call on the minister to appoint individuals to this advisory council who do not have any political leanings, who have not stepped into the political process. If that means those individuals are not Liberal donors, great. At the end of the day, Canadians need to believe in the processes the government puts in place to appoint its councils.
We can look back at the words I use from the throne speech up front, “They want to be able to trust their government.” We have seen the way the government operate across the board, whether it is commissioners, or it is the advisory council by the or the , and these have not been objective, non-partisan appointments. They have been incredibly partisan.
I am open to any questions that come my way, but I will call on the minister to proceed with objective, non-partisan approaches to appointing members of the new advisory council.
Madam Speaker, it would be good to have a bit more French in the House. Therefore I will be giving my speech on Bill an act to amend the Statistics Act, in French.
The main purpose of this bill is to strengthen the independence of Statistics Canada. At the same time, it proposes to modernize certain key provisions of the Statistics Act, in accordance with the expectations of Canadians. One of these provisions is the part of the act that deals with imprisonment.
The government recognizes the importance of high-quality statistical data and the need to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to encourage Canadians to provide information to Statistics Canada. However, the government also recognizes that Canadians should not be threatened with jail time if they fail to complete a mandatory survey, including the census.
We are not alone in thinking that this is excessive in the current context. Generally, Canadians agree that prison time for refusing to complete a mandatory survey or grant access to information is a penalty disproportionate to the offence. This is excessively heavy handed and inappropriate. That is why Bill would abolish imprisonment as a penalty for those who refuse or fail to provide the information requested as part of a mandatory survey.
The bill also abolishes imprisonment as a penalty for those who wilfully obstruct the collection of this information. In other words, once this legislation is passed, no Canadian citizen will be threatened with jail under the Statistics Act for failing to complete a mandatory survey. As a general rule, people complete the census questionnaire and all other mandatory survey questionnaires well before legal action is taken.
Statistics Canada has a thorough process that it follows before sending cases to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. First, Statistics Canada sends a letter to the individual and has someone visit their home. Statistics Canada does everything in its power to remind people of their civic duty before referring their case to the justice system.
Typically, with each census, approximately 50 cases are referred to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and the Department of Justice. Of those cases that proceed to court, the majority are resolved with the person agreeing to complete their census form when ordered by the judge. Among those cases that go to trial and where the accused is found guilty, the vast majority result in a fine.
Only once has a person ever been sentenced to jail; this occurred in 2013, after one individual refused to complete the 2011 census of population and refused other offered penalties such as community service.
The only household survey that Statistics Canada conducts on a mandatory basis is the monthly labour force survey. Statistics Canada has never referred a case to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada for this survey.
All of Statistics Canada's core business surveys are conducted on a mandatory basis. Since the 1970s, Statistics Canada has not referred a single case to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada for a business that has refused to comply with the act. The only time a census of agriculture case was referred to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada was in conjunction with failure to comply on the census of population.
Since 2010, a number of bills have been introduced in Parliament to remove imprisonment for such offences. Some may argue that removing the threat of imprisonment would increase the risk that more Canadians would choose not to respond to an information request from Statistics Canada, thereby affecting the quality of the data. However, it is important to note that the current fines will remain. The fines are fully consistent with the provisions of the Act. Also, Canadians are aware of the importance of the data produced by Statistics Canada.
We are of the view that the threat of imprisonment is not required to convince Canadians of the importance of providing information for mandatory surveys. Canadians also know and understand that Statistics Canada is a highly regarded institution, one of the best in the world, and that it values and protects the confidentiality of all data collected. With the changes we are proposing to the legislation to strengthen the agency’s independence, Canadians can be further reassured that their data will continue to be treated with the highest levels of professionalism, integrity, and confidentiality.
That brings me to another point. In the past, some people have said that, since we rarely use the provisions regarding imprisonment, it does not matter if they are removed from the act or not. We disagree. It is important that the penalties set out in the Statistics Act are in keeping with the collective vision of Canadians. Prison sentences should be reserved for more serious crimes. I think the House will agree with me on that. Let us be responsible, fair, and reasonable and eliminate that threat. That is what Bill seeks to do.
I would also like to talk a little about the rest of the bill. In 2010, the government's decision to replace the mandatory long form census with the voluntary national household survey gave rise to public criticism. Concerns were raised about the quality of the national household survey data and about Statistics Canada's independence.
In reaction to this decision, a number of private members' bills were introduced in the House that would require the collection of information by means of a mandatory long form census questionnaire that was equal in length and scope to the 1971 census.
We seriously considered that option. Instead of focusing only on protecting the census, we chose to amend the Statistics Act in order to give Statistics Canada more independence over its statistical activities. To that end, we gave the chief statistician decision-making power over statistical operations and methods. The bill also seeks to add provisions on transparency to ensure greater accountability on decisions.
This approach aligns with the United Nations’ Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the recommendation of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development on best practices. Some might still be wondering why we would not enshrine the content of the census in law to prevent future governments from replacing the mandatory long form census with a voluntary questionnaire, as was the case during the 2011 campaign. The answer is simple: no legal provision can prevent a government from changing the content of the census.
Governments have the power to make and change laws, but more importantly, we must remember that official statistics are a public good and that Statistics Canada is a publicly funded institution. It is ultimately the government's responsibility to determine the scope of the statistical system, specifically, the country's data priorities, or in other words, the data that is collected. This responsibility ensures that the statistical information collected is sensitive to the burdens placed on citizens as respondents, that it is sensitive to the costs they bear as taxpayers, and that the information that is produced is responsive to their needs as data users.
Stastitical data must also be responsive to the government's need to make evidence-based decisions about the programs and services that affect the daily lives of Canadians, such as affordable housing, public transportation, and skills training for employment. Rather than entrench the content of the long form census questionnaire in the Statistics Act, Bill addresses the fundamental issues of Statistics Canada's independence. Let me explain why.
First, the previous government's decision about the 2011 census was not about the questions to be asked, but rather about removing the mandatory requirement to respond. The voluntary national household survey, as it was called, asked the same questions that would have been asked in the planned mandatory long form questionnaire that it replaced.
Consistent with our government's commitment to evidence-based decision-making, one of our first acts as a government was to reinstate the mandatory long form census in time for the 2016 census of population to ensure that the census produces high-quality data. We also committed to strengthening Statistics Canada's independence and ensuring that the methods of operations are based on professional principles. Bill meets this commitment.
Second, entrenching the content of the census in law could reduce the government's flexibility to ensure that the data collected continuously meets the needs of an ever-evolving Canadian society and economy. We just have to look at the history of census content.
It has changed numerous times to reflect emerging issues, evolving data needs, and the development of alternative ways of collecting the information.
The first national census of Canada was taken in 1871 and contained 211 questions, including those regarding age, sex, religion, education, race, occupation, and ancestral origins.
Subject matter and questions have been added and dropped ever since. In 1931, questions on unemployment were added. In 1941, questions on fertility and housing were introduced. In 1986, questions were introduced on functional limitations. In 1991, questions about common-law relationships were introduced, and questions on same-sex couples were added in 2006. In 1996, questions on unpaid work were introduced. These were removed in 2011.
These examples signal the need for flexibility and prioritization in determining the content of a census. Entrenching census content in legislation would limit this flexibility. Amending the act every time the census needs to change would be highly impractical.
Our current approach to determining census content works. It is based on extensive user consultations and the testing of potential questions to reflect the changing needs of society and to ensure the census is the appropriate vehicle to respond to them.
Then Statistics Canada makes a recommendation to the government on the content that should be included in the upcoming census. General questions are then prescribed by order by the Governor in Council and published in the Canada Gazette for transparency purposes.
Lastly, defining the long form census content in law could potentially reduce the incentives to find alternative means to gathering census information at a lower cost and with less respondent burden.
Statistical agencies must also think about the burden that they impose on citizens and businesses to provide information, and they must do so within the fiscal resources allocated by the government.
The data world is evolving rapidly. We read and hear the words “big data”, “open data”, and “administrative data” every day.
More and more statistical offices around the world are integrating these alternative and complementary sources of information into their statistical programs.
They offer the potential to collect and publish high quality statistical information more frequently, at lower cost, and at lower response burden.
For example, for the 2016 census, Statistics Canada obtained detailed income information for all census respondents from administrative records provided by the Canada Revenue Agency. This approach will ensure that higher quality income data will be produced at a lower cost and with reduced burden on Canadians.
Entrenching the scope and content of the census in the Statistics Act may not serve Canadians well moving forward. It would tie us to one way of doing business that may not be the way of the future.
The act should remain flexible to meet the evolving data needs of Canadians and their governments. It should retain the flexibility to encourage innovation so as to take advantage of the evolving means of collecting statistical information.
Some have suggested that the census content should be the same as it was over 40 years ago and that the sample size for the long form should be entrenched in law.
The rapidly evolving world of data suggests that we should retain the flexibility to build the foundation of a statistical system of the future rather than restricting ourselves to continue to do what has been done in the past.
We think our approach to Bill strikes the right balance and will stand the test of time.
Madam Speaker, what a nice crowd tonight, to say the least.
It is with great pleasure that I rise tonight, at 10 p.m., to speak to Bill before such a large and prestigious audience. I know that I am not allowed to say it, but I am pleased to acknowledge the presence of the member for on this Tuesday evening at 10:05 p.m. It is hard for me to believe, but he is actually here. I am pleased to welcome him just like all other members of the House of Commons who are present and listening carefully to what we are saying.
Bill concerns the Statistics Act, in other words our approach to statistics, and the changes that the Liberal government wishes to make to it. I will quickly point out the circumstances surrounding the Statistics Act, which has been amended in recent years, the changes made to it, what the various political parties have said, and lastly, the fact that the Liberal government has introduced this bill that, in our opinion, includes provisions that are not favourable to Canada’s future.
I would like to point out that in 2010-11, the Conservative government made major changes to statistics, specifically the Canadian census. Our government decided to change the approach. We decided to change, in a fairly major way, the mandatory long form census and replace it with the national household survey. Everyone who witnessed this debate will remember the public outcry. Everyone said that it was the end of the world, that it made no sense, that from then on we would never be able to come up with proper statistics, that it was a direct attack on Canadian science, and that we would be paying for the Conservative government’s mistake for a long time, for decades, if not centuries.
However, what was the outcome? Let the experts speak for themselves. Wayne Smith, then chief statistician, said that the “National Household Survey produced a rich and robust database of information.”
All those who said that what the Conservative government had done made no sense were confused. It was Mr. Smith himself who said in The Globe and Mail on June 24, 2013 that “It’s irresponsible to try and dissuade Canadians from using what is an extraordinary rich and powerful database. To make them nervous about that is I think irresponsible.”
I will have a lot to say about so-called fake news shortly. Some people seem to think fake news is a pretty new thing, but that is not true. As a former journalist, I know what I am talking about when it comes to the spread of false information. I have seen it happen as a journalist and as a politician, especially during the 2015 election campaign, when Canada was a victim of one of the worst smear campaigns against its international reputation. One particular bit of fake news tarnished its reputation for 24 hours. I will have more to say about that later.
Anyway, there were allegations that the Conservative government's infamous survey was a disaster and that people would stop filling out their census forms. The numbers speak for themselves, however: in 2011, 2,657,000 households with a total of exactly 6.7 million people participated voluntarily. That was 9% higher than for the 2006 census, which captured 2.4 million households representing 6.1 million people.
Everyone who said that the Conservative government's changes spelled disaster for science and education and that the impact would be felt for decades was wrong. As it turned out, more people participated, we had more data, and we ended up with a robust corpus of relevant information. What the previous government did was the right thing to do.
Now this government has introduced Bill to make major changes to the Statistics Act. I want to highlight two elements of Bill C-36, which would establish a Canadian statistics advisory council and no longer require the consent of respondents to transfer their census information to Library and Archives Canada. The second element is the one that concerns us most.
Let us start by talking about the Canadian statistics advisory council. As Bill proposes, this council will be made up of just a few people who will have sweeping powers and who will not reflect the Canadian reality. That is our concern.
We would like to see at least 20 or so people be included on this advisory council. Such a council should be all about consulting. Yes, that is a lot people, but when it is about listening to people, in order to understand Canadian diversity and ensure that every region of Canada can have its say, of course it takes a lot of people. That is why our party proposed an amendment at committee that this government unfortunately rejected.
Did this government plan to appoint a small number of people to this advisory council for the same reason that it seems to be doing everything else for nearly two years now? Is this another new cushy job for friends of the party, depending on how much they donated to the party?
Need I remind the House that this government is a disgrace to the appointments process? We saw the sorry episode regarding the official languages commissioner, a noble, important, and rigorous position that must be respected and above all, that must have the moral authority to be brutally honest about the government's reality, without ever jeopardizing the credibility of that very strong institution, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
Sadly, the current Liberal government has sullied this approach by giving a consolation prize to a lifelong Liberal who donated to the Liberal Party's coffers and the current 's leadership coffers. She wanted a job in the Senate. The Prime Minister's chief adviser said, “Sorry, we no longer give partisan appointments to the Senate, but we have something else.” He could appoint her to a totally neutral and objective role and make her official languages commissioner.
That was just wrong and as a result of the immense pressure from the official opposition and others as well, after three weeks of the government's sorry figure skating display, Madame Meilleur finally realized that she might not be the best Liberal around to fill the role of commissioner of official languages.
Let us come back to Bill . As I was saying earlier, this bill seeks to remove the requirement to gain the consent of respondents to transfer their census information to Library and Archives Canada.
We believe that is a direct attack on what is most precious to our fellow citizens: their freedom of expression, especially in relation to who they are, what they represent, and their personal data.
In its new obsession to want to know everything and disclose everything, the government is suggesting, through Bill , that now people will no longer have the privilege of saying yes or no. They will be required to hand over information. To us that is not at all the way to go about conducting a statistical survey. This needs to be voluntary, especially when it comes to disclosing personal information. We cannot just pretend that this is nothing and that we can just hand over this information like it were no big deal.
This calls for extreme care and vigilance. The bill also repeals imprisonment as a penalty for any offence committed by a respondent. That makes no sense to us. We urge the government to be more careful.
We believe in the importance of statistical data, but people must be able to participate voluntarily, proactively, and openly. It should not be mandatory, and people certainly should not be forced to do it or face sanctions. We can learn from the past here. In 2011, people said the statistical sky would come falling down, but the fact is that more Canadians, 9% more, participated than in the previous census. The evidence tells us that was a good way to go.
That is why we fundamentally disagree with Bill as written and urge people, especially the government, to be extremely careful
Earlier, I mentioned fake news. I mention this in the context of statistics because, during the debate in 2010-11, lots of people said this would be the end of the world and everything would break down.
Finally, the Chief Statistician of Canada acknowledged that no problems had been reported. On the contrary, response rates increased.
Must I remind the House that Canada's international reputation was terribly tarnished in August and September 2015, in the middle of the election campaign? Members will sadly recall that, when a three-year-old child was found dead on a beach in Syria in the midst of the refugee crisis, some malicious and particularly dishonest people spread the information that the child ought to have been in Canada because his name was on the list of refugees but the government had dragged its feet. In the end, none of it was true. Unfortunately, the child's name was never added to any list. His father did not do it.
Unfortunately, for 24 hours, dishonest and malicious people viciously spread the information that the Government of Canada forgot this boy in Syria. That was completely false. For 24 hours, our country's international name was dragged through the mud. This was one of the worst cases of fake news that I have ever seen. It was unbecoming of journalists and politicians to stoop so low as to use this terrible tragedy in their political games.
Regardless of who was the head of state at that moment, the child unfortunately lost his life and his name was never on any list because his father decided otherwise. That is why we have to be careful. It is important to keep statistics because it is a matter of numbers, and if anyone has trouble with numbers, it is our friends opposite. Must I remind the House that they completely lost control of the public purse over the past 18 months? They got elected by saying that they would stimulate the economy by running small deficits for three years and then magically balancing the budget in 2019. That is another number that is set out in black and white in the Liberals' election platform on which they won a majority.
I hear applause. Do I need to remind those applauding that they have forgotten their promises? What are the facts? Do we have a modest $10-billion deficit? No. Canadians have been saddled with an astounding three times more debt than that. The Liberals were elected on a solemn pledge to run modest deficits, but the fact is, their deficit is three times bigger than they promised. They also said Canada would balance the books in 2019, which is an election year. They said they would right the ship and that Canada's budget would be balanced in 2019.
Just two days ago, who did we hear on Global saying that he had no idea when Canada would balance the books? Who said that on Global on Sunday? The member for Papineau, the current of Canada. How sad.
Honestly, this is the first time in the history of this great land that a Prime Minister has admitted to having no idea whatsoever when the federal budget would be balanced. If I should happen to be misleading the House, please, somebody stand up and give me a date. Canadians want a date. They want to know when the government will balance the budget. Nobody knows. The member for Papineau, an honourable man if ever there was one, got himself elected on a promise to balance the books in 2019. Look at that. I see him nodding. Does he need a reminder about the document that got him elected? The seems to have some doubts about ever having mentioned modest deficits and a balanced budget. I would like to remind him that, on page 73 of the Liberal Party platform, it says, “the federal government will have a modest short-term deficit of less than $10 billion”.
However, he is doing precisely the opposite. We do have a number and date for returning to a balanced budget. It will be in 2055. These numbers did not come from the Conservatives, foreign observers, the , or Liberal MPs. They came the very people who do this kind of thing day in, day out, the senior officials at the Department of Finance.
If there is anyone that knows how the government's finances are doing, it would be officials at the Department of Finance. What does it say in the Department of Finance document released last December? It says that if nothing changes, and it looks as though nothing will change with the current , we will return to a balanced budget in 2055.
There is a nice story that goes with that. The received this very report from his officials as early as October 5. The Minister of Finance, an honourable man whom I respect, left the report on his desk and did not release it until December 23. While Canadians were preparing their turkey dinner for Christmas, the Minister of Finance released an incriminating document confirming that the government had lost complete control of public spending. They thought it was no big deal and that no one would notice. Thanks to a vigilant opposition and an alert press, the truth came out and we proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that these people have completely lost control over public finances, which is totally unacceptable.
Need I remind the House that when we run up deficits, we are leaving our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to foot the bill, to pay the price for the current government's mismanagement? I keep hearing the Prime Minister and all the cabinet ministers say over and over during question period that the government is investing to create wealth for our children. The problem is that our children will pay the price. The government says it is family friendly. Well, it must feel close enough to the family to send the bill to our children and grandchildren, because it does not know how to manage the country's finances. It is absurd.
I heard the Prime Minister on Global television say with a straight face that he had no idea when we would return to a balanced budget. That is completely irresponsible. I asked the a completely frank and straightforward question based on his extensive and impressive experience as a seasoned executive. I want to reiterate that I have the utmost respect for the Minister of Finance. He served in his family business admirably and grew the business that his father started himself. Well done. I am very proud to have a man of that calibre as our Minister of Finance. Still, it would be nice if he made some good decisions.
Earlier, during question period, I bluntly asked him, when he was in the business world, in the private sector, whether he would have tolerated an associate laughingly telling him that he did not have any idea when the budget would be balanced and that it was no big deal. When the was a Bay Street baron, would he have allowed one of his associates to behave in such a way? He would have shown him the door. It is unacceptable.
Unfortunately, it was the who made those disrespectful comments. I say disrespectful because it is disrespectful to our children and grandchildren who, sooner or later, will have to pay for this government's mismanagement. Over the past year, our party held its leadership race. We had serious, rigorous, positive, and constructive debates, and we came out of that leadership race even stronger than before.
Our current , the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, said that he got into politics to become the leader of this party because he did not want his children to have to pay, like his generation is paying for the Prime Minister's father's mismanagement. What happened in the 1970s when the government completely lost control of public spending is unfortunately happening again. We have seen this before. Canadians deserve better than that.
All that to say that Bill is a bad bill. This bill to amend the Statistics Act reminds us of the sad fact that this government has no idea how to carefully control public spending.