Ottawa’s census move: “gobsmacking jackassery”

A stats-obsessed columnist revels in the uproar


Industry Minister Tony Clement’s decision to end the longstanding practice of sending one-fifth of Canadian households a long census form, which they were required by law to complete, has turned into an unexpected political nightmare for the Conservative government. Many groups that rely on accurate census information are protesting loudly. Clement argues the form amounted to overly intrusive government. Among pundits, the Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner is unusually interesting on this issue, since he’s the author of a stats-soaked book called Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear. Gardner is simultaneously delighted that his obsession is now big news, and horrified (like Maclean’s columnist Andrew Potter) that Clement lacks rudimentary understanding. Gardner calls the census move “gobsmacking jackassery” and entertainingly chronicles the story up to now. Retired stats guru Ivan Fellegi’s protest against the end of the long-form census, was, Gardner observes, “rather like Moses returning from the mountain and explaining to the wayward Israelites that, no, you can’t worship a golden calf, you idiots.”

Ottawa Citizen

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Ottawa’s census move: “gobsmacking jackassery”

  1. Hopefully someone will leak the internal memo regarding consequences of this move from StatsCan.

    • Absolutely! And I liked how Fellegi said that if he had been in charge and had been forced to do this, he would have resigned. Hint, hint at his successor.

  2. It is beyond me why someone clamors for filling out a form that comes with a threat, unless you make money from it or you manipulate people with it. I support the government's take on this, and only willing to fill out onlty the most relevant, not those beyond that smack of snooping in what is going on in one's washroom and bedroom. For the private commisioner to lending his voice to these loud mouths, the same commissioner who is not effective on marketer's abuse and other things, to wonder why he receive only 2 or 3 complaints… is laughable. He should be fired for his department's irrelevance. His department has not done its job at all and just manage to waste tax payers money.

    • Wouldn't the more prudent course of action then be to try and remove the threat of jail for non-compliance?

      • I do agree that some form of census is necessary, but only up to a point. It would be more prudent to cut those questions, that the government or anybody has no business knowing. Anybody who clamors for those forms are much welcome to fill out my form. There is census, then there is snooping…

        • Are youable to share which two or three or ten questions you find to be most snoopy? Just curious…

          • Then Professor you might be one of those lucky elites that applied for waivers when it comes to filling up the long form. Or if not, you are actually one of those who manipulate those datas gleaned from those forms. If you like, I can send you my census form so you can fill it out for me. Your help will be very much appreciated.

          • To be honest, Ariadne, I actually can't recall if I have ever had the occasion to fill out the long form. And I'm not sure what you mean by waivers wrt filling out the long form.

            While my job actually does happen to involve manipulating/analyzing/trending data, none of the data comes from the census.

            Not sure, but I'll guess that having me fill out the long form instead of you is just as illegal as not filling it out at all; on that basis I can't help you out there.

            No, sadly, I was only asking what I truly intended to be a genuine question, trying to figure out what types of questions on a census form are causing the angst. I'm still hoping that you might be able to help me out.

          • Admit it, Ariadne, you don't know what the questions on the census are. You've already given it away with the bathroom comment (drink!)

            Why is it okay for the government to intrude into the life of farmers?

            Why do you hate the farmers, Ariadne?

    • Listen, if you don't understand how government works you really shouldn't be commenting on what it should or should not do.

      • Elitist are you? I do understand how the government works, they ask you many many questions so they will know how much more they can squeeze and get out from you. You might be one of those who wants something badly to support you and your group with little effort? If you want information bad enough, pay for it yourself with your own time and effort. You can also place an Ad in Mcleans telling people of small minds, like me, should not make any comments to upset your sensitivity. God forbid we will pollute the purity of your intellectual minds.

        • It's not about TAKING AWAY from you, it's about PROVIDING YOU with services you pay for with your taxes! How do you think decisions are made about locating hospitals, highways and schools? Do you think they throw darts at a map on a wall while blindfolded?

          • If you read my comment, I said that some questions are necessary but not all. Have you ever filled up the long form or just let your family member fill it up for you?

          • You're not replying to my comment, but I will reply in more details to yours. Let me put it this way: every five years they have to reassess each question to make sure it is still useful, with national consultations etc. This is why they don't ask you if you work in the buggy whip industry anymore.

            And by the way, yes I filled the long form in 1996 and I survived the ordeal. Much much much easier than doing your taxes… nowhere near comparable.

          • I can provide for myself, and my family without government social programs. I watched my father have to live off the government for ten years of his life and it nearly destroyed him. I will never do that. Many of us are not like you liberals who live off the government tit! Get a job ya Lazy bum!

        • He's an Iggy clone

  3. Afews years ago Harper quietly cut funding to Stas. Can by the equivalent of $102 million per annum due to the reduction in the % allotted for it in the Budget. Don't forget the right wing mantra of hating "Big Govenrment" and when watching Baird I thought he was a Tea Pary senator from Alabama… all part of the Great Plan.

  4. there is no question on bathrooms! Bedrooms is asked, but is used to indicate adequacy of housing (crowdedness). Instead of sinking to patrisan politics, can we talk about the science of survey taking and who uses this information (eveyone). If you care about the types of services govt and businesses supply then you should care about the quality of this information.

    • How is it exactly the job of any government to know the number of bedrooms in a house? Let us say my house is deemed crowded, will they then provide me with a bigger house? Or this information then be used by private sectors in marketing what we have to buy? Don't give me that crap about it being kept confidential, the results of those census are then used by special interest groups, private sectors, political groups, and others to manipulate and herd us. Do not get me wrong, I still support having a census but not the long form. Only those questions that are extremely necessary in governing but not for outside sectors. Let those groups pay and work in getting them. I would also agree it is good to have an accurate population count but really a long form?

      • If they really wanted to know how many bedrooms you have they could simply go to city hall and look up the building permit for your house. All the info is there.

  5. I do understand that some of the questions are important but not all ( a short form will preferrable). And if the long form is so important, how come only 20% of the population are forced and threatened to fill it? How accurate is 20%, that people howls at the moon for its reinstatement? Are they afraid, they will fail in herding us like sheeps?

    • Talk about being herded like sheep!

      You don't bother to find out what the questions are, you don't understand, or even try to understand, statistics, sample size, bias, etc. (I don't understand it, either, but I'm trying) . No, you have deicded that whatever Harper does is right by you, and he has asked people to defend his long-form census decision, so here you are.


  6. I have refused to fill in any form the government demands I must fill in or be fined. Go ahead and fine me, I wont pay.
    Any government that taxes any type of food should be removed and hung from the nearest tree!

    • I disagree. Anyone that eats junk food should have to contribute more to help pay for the excessive free health care they will require.

      • LMAO there is no such thing as free health care….. all food that is bought in any store is junk food. Pesticides, growth hormones….. and plenty more chemicals maybe you should read the lables. The only chance one has at eating real food is grow it yourself.

  7. Bull sh!t. Its a smart move for the base. Besides the only reason for the long form is to force information out of us for stupid Liberal social experiments. They should not be mandatory! Imagine imprisoning or fining someone for refusing to answer a series of personal questions. That is how Liberal despotism works though!

    • Building a road in your community is a stupid Liberal social experiment? Or maybe you're just a teenager having fun with dad's computer.

  8. Greg Weston said he was harassed for weeks about filling out an industrial form. He was threatened and can see why the form can be made voluntary where instead of 1/5 of the population surveyed there will be 1/3 of the population done voluntarily. Clement didn't go ahead and do this on his own he asked Stats Canada to give their suggestions and the one Tony chose was made by them. So if Tony is a fool so must all the members of Stats Can. be. How can we have all these poor fools working for Stata Can who are so ignorant of Statistics??? Smarten Up!!!

    • Anytime politicians want to do something they ask the public service to submit 3 options: "no change", "easy scenario" and "tough scenario". The reason StatsCan replied was because they were asked, not because they thought it was a good idea.

  9. I once had to do the long form. I lied on almost all of it . There are far too many questions about things the government and who ever they sell the results to do not need to know. As far as I'm concerned all the government needs to know is how much money I made and if I paid the proper amount of tax on it.

  10. Is Harper also planning on making jury duty optional? How about filing tax returns? Both of these state mandated activities are presently mandatory and should obviously be an affront to Harper's new found libertarianism. no different than asking 20% of Canadians to complete a long form census every 4 years (or is it 10?)?

    • I would expect he's considering doing away with juries altogether. After all, if the police caught you, you must be guilty–and, now that we have lovely mandatory sentences, we only need the judge to hit the gavel and read out the prison term. Next, since the Conservatives don't need to be told anything in order to know everything, they'll just send a bill to your house to collect the taxes. No need for you to claim anything or justify anything–it won't do you any good anyway. Just pay the bill.

      But I think the census is done every five years.