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Will the writ be dropped over this?

If someone had told me a month ago that the future of the Harpy government would hinge on something that had anything to do with the only government department in the news these days, I would have slowly backed away and not turned my back until very, very far away.

But what now? Will Harper take this to the mat in spite of all that is happening… the opposition by everyone and anyone, the poor optics during the summer months – typically a time when politicos are given a bit of a break by Canucks – all of this must be proving tiresome for the Robot and his Roboteers.

But will he back down? The RLG pointed out to me this morning that until old dead eyes states himself that we ain’t going back, that there still exists the possibility of a reversal. Twittering Tony might get the fall guy label and all would unravel as these things do. But once the emperor himself proclaims the issue dead, it is dead. And no number of fb groups or editorials will change it.

But you know, I can’t see Harper letting this go on much longer. His advisers must be counselling an abandonment of the issue. Pushing it further will only lose them votes and it wouldn’t be wise going into a fall election with such a prosaic cloud hanging over the ReformCon camp. How would they fight such a fight? The Libertarians and Albertans and the small town/minded are already solidly behind them, so what could they gain?

Let’s switch sides and consider the options that the Opposition have before them. On the one hand, it might be a good idea for Iggy to hitch his wagon to this and prepare to make this the election issue. It’s not such a bad idea as it would allow the Grits to, for the first time in a long time, spell out the policy agenda.

The other choice is for Iggy to continue his bus tour, shake the babies and kiss the hands (or is it the other way around?), smell the cheese and update his fb status now and then.  In other words, don’t take a position. Jack would normally be leading this charge, but I suspect that he is dealing with his prostate cancer and trying to let his body and mind heal for the summer… can’t blame him for that.

And Gilles? Well, what does he care? This is a Canadian issue!

So, Mr.  Ignatieff, it is up to you. Call a press conference today and announce that it is the Liberals’ intention to, immediately after the House reconvenes, introduce a Bill that would effectively reduce the government’s decision.  Undoubtedly, Harper would see this as a matter of confidence and the writ would be dropped. This would be an election that would show the schisms that exist between the educated and uneducated, the Starbucks crown and the Timmies gang, those of us who understand the importance of information and those who wonder what all of the fuss is about.

So my advice to Iggy, Jack and Gilles – make a big deal outta this! It’s a win-win for you guys!

And my advice to Stevo – though I am loathe to give it – tell Tony to make a statement that in light of all of the concerns raised about the government’s decision, we will go ahead as originally planned and will set up Task Force /Working Group / Collection of Experts Who Think Like Us to examine the issue in more detail.

That is their only way out of this mess. It isn’t just going to disappear.

Stephen Harper's "ideal" re: information management


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  1. I was thinking about this today… StatsCan would do well to maybe publish the long form questions in the major media 6 months in advance, explaining what the questions are, and what they are for. If the gov took the time to explain to people why they need to know where your grandparents came from, or what colour your skin is, why all that has to be tied to identifying information and the steps that will be taken to protect this information, perhaps people might be more accepting. It would also allow people to object in a way that wouldn’t risk fines.

    That seems a damn good bit more reasonable than thrusting a form in someone’s face and saying “fill all this out now or pay a $1000 fine”

  2. I don’t have a problem with the census being mandatory. I don’t have a problem with the government collecting information it can’t get elsewhere. I don’t have a problem with long and short censuses (censi?)

    I only have a problem with how the government has used its powers to collect personal information that is both identifiable to individuals and can be abused in terrible ways or is completely redundant and available from other sources. That we haven’t had a massive breach of security and abuse of this information is more lucky than anything else, and there’s no reason we should expect that to continue in the future.

    Stop asking questions that make people uncomfortable and there will be acceptance and compliance.

  3. XUP says:

    I agree with the Squid on many points — I do think the form needs some serious revamping, but I don’t think a mandatory census should be scrapped altogether. I vote for Harper dumping the blame for this whole mess on Tony Clement and asking for his resignation. Then he will come out smelling like roses — roses that smell a little skunky, but roses nevertheless.

  4. I see this problem a bit differently than many people, I think.

    I do think that the long form, as I have seen them (having been required to fill out a bunch of them… in fact, the most recent Census was the first time I haven’t received a long form since I’ve been an adult… 1983) is that the information gathered there has absolutely HUGE potential for abuse.

    Consider the 2001 long form… a form I objected to and did not complete in its entirety.

    Problem 1: A goodly chunk of the information is already provided to the government. An efficient and well-run government should not be asking me for this information again. Doing so is called “poor information management”. I don’t care what excuses StatsCan has for asking again or separately… if the information has been provided to the government, then the information is available for government use. If policy or other bullshit has gotten in the way of that, the correct thing to do is fix the policy or other bullshit.

    Problem 2: Some of the questions have no obvious positive use except to discriminate against people (mostly white, English-speaking men). Additionally, although we enjoy a relatively benevolent government at this time and have historically, it may not always be the case… much of the information on the long form could be used for horrible purposes in the hands of a less-than-benevolent government, or even agencies within an otherwise not-too-bad government. It’s not a matter of “well it’s never happened” because Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Ceaucescu, and so on had never happened before in those countries either. The safest route is simply for the government not to collect certain information.

    Stepping through the 2001 long form (because it was handym and I am familiar with it).

    There is a bunch of identifying information requested. Many people feel uncomfortable about this part, myself included. Take this away, and some of my objections go with it.

    Next there are generic questions about whether or not people at your residence are disabled. But it’s a vague and generic question, that is subject to interpretation by the answerer. As it is written, everyone should answer “yes” since “yes, sometimes” is one of the options! It’s a poorly written question, but not really objectionable beyond that it is poorly written.

    Then questions about birth and citizenship. If you are not an illegal immigrant, the government should already have this information. It is thus redundant to answer it here. Collecting it in this way is poor information management as the info now exists in two places, and due to collection errors may be different in both places. If you are an illegal immigrant, you’d be an idiot to fill out the census and tell them where you live.

    Then there’s the first fair question (or it would be fair if it wasn’t attached to identifying info): can you speak an official language well enough to have a conversation. That’s fair enough I suppose. But the questions after that glean information that can only be used to discriminate against English people.

    Then there is the ethnic question. In a progressive country, NOBODY should be interested in this information. They even had to add a note in the preamble of this question because on previous censuses people were putting in “Canadian”. I think many, if not most, people consider this question to be inappropriate. This is a question that the government simply should not be asking.

    Next there is a status indian question. Again, the government should have this information on file already, it is redundant.

    Next there is what amounts to an apartheid question, especially given that they’ve already asked an ethnicity question, now they basically want your physical appearance. I find this question utterly offensive. It is a question that the government should not be asking.

    Then follows 2 more status indian questions.

    Then there’s a religion question. A fair and democratic government that represents everyone should have no interest in people’s religion. Asking this question at all is bad, tying it to personally identifying information is horrible.

    Then there’s some questions about how much people move around. I have no problem with that beyond the attachment to identifying information, but even then it’s not that big a deal.

    Next are some education questions. No major problems here either, although I dislike that the answers are attached to identifying information. One of the questions, however, is better asked of schools than individuals.

    Next is another ethnicity question: where were each of your parents born. This is another “what business is that of the government?” questions. Again, there is no positive use that I can see for this information, but I can dream up a stack of plausible negative uses. And with this being provided with identifying information, the potential for abuse is huge.

    Question 33 particularly offended me as it refers to unpaid house and child work without considering that such work is, for the most part, the responsibility of the person doing it. In my estimation, most people should, in fact, be putting “NONE” there because cleaning your house and raising your kids is your responsibility. Anything you do OVER that should go here. But the intent of this question is to inflate the apparent value of doing those things you have to do anyway by comparing them to other people’s paid work. It’s unreasonable and is used primarily to devise policy that would discriminate largely against men.

    Then there are some employment questions which would probably be OK without the housework question and the identifying information.

    Then there’s some income questions that should not have to be answered by individuals as this information should be provided by CRA. Thus, this is redundant. I don’t buy the “well people give better info to StatsCan” excuse. Too bad. Income is reported to the government through CRA. If it’s good enough for them, it should be good enough for statscan.

    Finally, there is a bunch of redundant questions regarding housing that would be better served by getting it from the government sources where the entirety of that information already exists.

    We are spoiled in Canada… we’ve had relatively few instances of gross government abuse. However, one need only look as far back as the RCMP in the early 70’s to see a branch of government overstepping its bounds and abusing information it had. How big of a step would it have been for the RCMP to corrupt the census and get access to the long form info and its associated identifying information? I think we should be thankful they didn’t… or maybe they did and we haven’t found out? We have a surveillance-oriented government right now, and I think a good many Canadians don’t feel the government can be trusted with this kind of information when it can be tied back to an actual piece of paper with identifying information.

    Some of the questions on the 2001 form are simply vile. I remember thinking I was in South Africa in the 80’s when I got it. No government in this country should be collecting that information in the first place, let alone tying it to personally identifying information.

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