Sometimes a gaffe is more than a gaffe

POTTER: The comedy of Clement failing basic economics aside, it’s scary that he doesn’t understand his file

Blair Gable/Reuters

Since he became Prime Minister 4½ years ago, Stephen Harper has tormented the press gallery with an almost complete lockdown on government communications, with even cabinet ministers informed that the public is not entitled to their opinions. The assumption has always been that he is just a weapons-grade control freak, but a pair of recent exchanges suggest an alternative theory: that Harper knows something about the ideological leaning of his cabinet that he’d prefer to keep quiet.

Last week, Minister of Industry Tony Clement was given the task of defending the government’s decision to eliminate the mandatory long-form version of the census and move those questions to an optional survey. According to Clement, the long census—which asks questions about respondents’ ethnicity, education and income—is “heavy-handed” and intrusive. Clement mounted his libertarian high horse: “You try to limit the amount of state coercion that you have, you try to limit the intrusiveness of government activities, and that’s the balance that we’ve struck,” he said.

Imagine his surprise, then, to find that some of the people most upset by the decision were members of the business community and economists, all of whom stressed the importance of the census data to the crafting of public policy. Clement then took his case to the Twittersphere. In response to one follower who argued that making the long form of the census voluntary will skew the data by eliminating the statistical randomness of the survey, Clement answered, “Wrong. Statisticians can ensure validity w larger sample size.” This was promptly pounced on by Laval economist Stephen Gordon, who corrected the minister: “Wrong. Large samples can’t fix sample selection biases.”

Clement’s statistical illiteracy is so profound it gives one vertigo. The notion that simply making the sample bigger can’t fix a skewed sample is something undergraduates learn in first-year classes, yet is somehow beyond the mental grasp of a senior minister of a G8 country. And the comedic benefit of watching Clement fail first-year economics is undermined by the cold realization that he fundamentally does not understand the intellectual foundations of the files that he controls. When he is cornered by his intellectual betters, moreover, Clement’s instinct is to reach for the debating-hall comforts of cheap populism.

This exchange was really just the sequel to a previous joust from late June, when Heritage Minister James Moore gave a speech at a conference on copyright defending Bill C32, his copyright reform legislation. After his prepared remarks, he went on to warn against certain “radical extremists” who, he claimed, didn’t believe in copyright at all, and he vowed to confront these radicals in any forum.

Moore’s arguments were quickly challenged on Twitter, and—true to his promise—he found himself in a running (and very public) argument with Cory Doctorow, the Canadian cyberpunk writer and copyright activist. The main bone of contention was a provision in the bill that would give complete legal protection to “digital locks” that control the use, access and copying of works stored on your computer or device such as a Kindle or iPad. These effectively undermine the fair-use provisions in the existing copyright law, and both users and creators find them stifling.

As he lost point after point to Doctorow, Moore was reduced to uttering libertarian incantations. “Have some faith in market forces,” he wrote. “I trust the market.” “Don’t have so little faith in consumers.”

Except the entire point of copyright legislation is to limit the workings of the “free market.” Its function is to grant a state-backed monopoly over the copying of a work to the copyright holder. There are few provisions in the legal system more blatantly market-unfriendly than copyright, and it’s telling—and perhaps not entirely accidental—that a minister who doesn’t understand, or believe in, the most basic concept of copyright is in charge of it.

There are libertarians and there are libertarians. When it comes to Tony Clement and James Moore, theirs is not the principled and defensible small-government ideology of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. It’s more like the sweaty-palmed fanboy libertarianism forged by too many late nights in high school spent switching between the anti-feminist Nietszcheanism of Ayn Rand and the corporatist space fantasies of sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein.

And this bit of lame ideological freelancing by a couple of rogue (and Twitter-happy) ministers has disturbing resonances with a comment Harper himself made last year. When it comes down to it, he told the Globe and Mail, “I don’t believe any taxes are good taxes,” which is just a short way of saying he believes that literally everything the state does is bad.

Stephen Harper has spent a great deal of time fending off the accusation from the left that he harbours some hidden social-conservative agenda, whose diabolical contours will only be revealed once he achieves his much-feared majority.

But what we should really be concerned with is not that he wants to hand the controls of the ship of state over to a cabal of evangelical end-times wingnuts. Rather, the real worry is that when it comes down to it, he’d sooner see the whole thing scuttled.




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Sometimes a gaffe is more than a gaffe

  1. Excellent article. It's not often you see such an accurate description of the Harper government or his incompetent/agenda-laden Ministers, from a main stream media source.

    Digital locks in the new copyright act are as you say a poison pill that removes all other rights granted to consumers in the act.

    And Clement being corrected by experts about selection bias, is a subject that may not interest many Canadians, but the most educated should certainly take notice that the government is not running things scientifically.

    • I heartily second your encomium. I think it's the best Potter piece of the last few years.

      • ''I think it's the best Potter piece of the last few years''

        Agreed!

      • Thanks Julie. I like Dan Gardner's last comment:
        " Let the government's resolve to do the unspeakably stupid be cemented, I say. Sure it will waste money, hurt public policy, hamper business, and make us increasingly ignorant even as information becomes increasingly valuable. But I'll have lots more chances to write about statistical methodology."

        I say this "unspeakabley stupid resolve has been cemented" by Clement-head.

  2. I think the Macleans blog has an urgent need to start sorting its libertarians.

  3. That confirms what I thought. Harper didn't lock down communications because he's a control freak. Simply because his ministers are stupid. Reminds me that time ADQ formed official opposition in Québec.

    • People like you, who make such outlandish claims, are the ones identifying themselves as the clowns around here.

      • If the claims are outlandish, prove it wrong.

  4. Wouldn't it be awesome to see Clement and Moore get Garthed. No bloggers allowed!

    • No, that would be terrible.

      Whether you agree or disagree with something that is being said, more conversation is better than less conversation. I find I learn more from those I disagree with than those I agree with. I only wish Moore (who has blocked me on twitter) understood this — Clement has not blocked anyone that I'm aware of.

      • I agree with what you say. However, governing a country is not a conversation. They may speak all they wish, just get their damn hands off the levers.

    • get garthed ? qu'est-ce que c'est ?

  5. How much foam dripped on your rough draft Andrew?

    • f4hg,You are right on. It seems to me that when Andrew Potter labels people Evangelical End times wingnuts, he is loosing the argument, because it shows his limited choice of words. People of Character do not use language like that.
      The entire article drips of venom,symptomatic of hatred toward opposing viewpoints.

  6. It's more like the sweaty-palmed fanboy libertarianism forged by too many late nights in high school spent switching between the anti-feminist Nietszcheanism of Ayn Rand and the corporatist space fantasies of sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein.

    This is in orbit. But I think I disagree. The story I always hear is of the Scottish governor of Hong Kong who wouldn't even hold a census on the grounds that it would give government grounds for more involvement. Steyn likes that one. Perhaps the Hong Kong economy has more to do with concentrating the entreprenures of a nation into one island of freedom than that particular bit of history but I really do favour the notion that having as limited of a census as possible would be on the balance a better thing if it discourages excessive and bad public policies – even if it makes it harder for useful policies to be well done.

    And then, I'm not too comfortable with the assumption that human government will always have good intentions in the first place to all the groups it's gathering all this information on.

    • The classic approach of two wrongs makes a right. Never gets old does it?

      • One right can outweigh the wrong that coincides with it.

        This is the first (-) rated comment I've ever been proud of. I know I write like a dork but I don't think it's that or particularly bad logic that's really causing this one.

        • If you post a comment on a Wherry or a Potter thread and it gets thumbed down, you can be reasonably confident that you've said something true.

          Good job on this one – I thought you made some good points.

          • Thanks a lot, doubly so because of course I remember your comments as some of the most interesting from when I had a regular internet connection Gaunilon. Only at Macleans can a comment about "evangelical wingnuts" re-evolve into talking about Social Compact Theory!

    • It's not like decisions requiring good statistics won't still be being made.

      The link between C-32 and the Census is obvious: The special interest groups most calling for the form of Copyright that the government delivered use statistics of debunked methodologies to justify the alleged severity of the "problem" that they claimed needs to be solved. The statistical methods used don't differentiate between copyright infringement, misapplied technological measures, competition with other copyrighted content, or other non-copyright related market forces.

      We really know very little about the nature of the "problem", or even if some of the observed changes are a problem, and yet the government is acting as if the statistics were valid and they were bringing forward a tried-and-tested solution.

      Bad numbers lead to bad, intrusive and expensive policy — I only wish that less data lead to less government intervention as suggested above, but that is not what I've observed!

    • What on earth makes people like you think that simply not having information will restrict the government from making public policies? I fail to see any connection there.

      All I see is that not having information will assuredly lead to worse, less effective, less efficient policies being enacted.

      I mean, seriously, I don't understand the fundamental disconnect in how people think, "I don't trust the government making policies with my information" leads to "If I give them less information, they'll do less." Hello? If you don't trust the government to do a good job in the first place, what on earth makes you think they'll be responsible and refrain from doing a bad job simply because they don't know enough?

    • Thwim the reason I think less information could lead to less intervention is based on the Hong Kong governor's decision to reject any census for that reason. It's pretty certain that no census would mean way less intervention.

      I think the debate we have then is what the differences would be between some information and a lot of it. I can think of a point against me like this: On the difference between male and female wages, basic information would show the clear disparity. A lot of good information might account for lifestyle differences like a preference for work that can be more easily dropped during maternity and even comparing the relative danger of the work men and women do. (80% of workplace deaths are male) You would come out with a more accurate number remaining to attribute to discrimination – probably leading to less intervention! In a choice is between good and bad information, I totally agree with you Russell although I didn't expect to. (…continued)

    • …I think if the choice is between more good information and less bad information it's a toss-up and I would choose less information because it goes with my concern about governments with bad intentions as well. For classic liberals like Harper the way to look at it is to ask how likely it is for the scope of information in a Canadian census to be sustainably reduced or whether there's a possibility in actually increasing the accuracy of the statistics that make governments interfere.

  7. I was sort of on board with this article until the last paragraph.

    "But what we should really be concerned with is not that he wants to hand the controls of the ship of state over to a cabal of evangelical end-times wingnuts. Rather, the real worry is that when it comes down to it, he'd sooner see the whole thing scuttled."

    Yes, that's right, secretly Harper wants to sink the entire Canadian ship of state. Actually he's probably one of those enemy agents that Fadden was warning about. Good grief.

    • Yeah, I didn't even see that until after my own reply which proves that my skim-reading is working wonderfully at focusing on the sane and interesting things people have to say.

    • "Whether Canada ends up with one national government or two governments or 10 governments, the Canadian people will require less government no matter what the constitutional status or arrangement of any future country may be." — Stephen Harper

    • Don't conservatives believe in small government? Wouldn't it make sense then to ensure that agencies can't do their jobs, and therefore can be discarded as incompetent and unnecessary?

      • No, actually, that would be dishonest. What would make sense is to decide which agencies are incompetent and unnecessary based on their actual role and performance, and then discard them.

        • Ah, and having less information certainly helps in that cause.

      • I think Gaunilon answered your comment with his reply to ChrisinKW.

    • "sort of on board"?
      For someone as rational as yourself, you let your political affiliations get in the way of your judgment a good deal.

      Now I have to admit that the passage you quotted is indeed over the top, but Harper's comment of "no tax is a good tax" is on the same level.

      • My political affiliations? What are those, exactly?

        Ok, we're agreed that the passage is over the top. Actually I'd say it's kind of nuts, rather as though Potter had another "Mike Duffy is a despicable human being" moment. Whether Harper has made similarly nutty statements is beside the point and doesn't exonerate Potter's nutty statements.

        As to Harper's comment, he's just pointing out that taxes are a necessary evil. Do you disagree? I don't.

        • I don't really buy into the notion of "necessary evils", it just seems like a easy way to shrug something off rather than thinking about it. Wars are a "necessary evil": don't think about it just accept it. I can't say I think that's a healthy attitude about anything.
          Nothing is inherently "evil" or "good". The only real distiction I make is "stupid" and "smart". A smart tax (meaning a fair one that helps the government create things the citizens need) is a good thing. A stupid tax (unwarranted that isn't being put to good use) is a bad thing. And so this is why it's, in my mind, much more complicated than "taxes are a necessary evil": we need to find out why we're being taxed and how the money is being spent to be able to appreciate or oppose a decision.

          But then again we're at odds over government: you seem to think that governments are a necessary evil. Or least that's the vibe I get from reading your comments.

          • "Nothing is inherently "evil" or "good".

            That's a bizarre statement. Rape isn't inherently evil? Child abuse? Genocide? Come on.
            Anyway, whether you buy into it or not, the statement that taxes are not an inherently good thing is a perfectly defensible one, while the statement that Harper wants to sink the Canadian ship of state is just loony.

            "But then again we're at odds over government: you seem to think that governments are a necessary evil. Or least that's the vibe I get from reading your comments. "

            Not at all – I've never been much of a fan of Social Contract theory. I just think, as a general principle, that everything should be decided at the lowest possible level of authority. It follows that government should be as small as possible. Therefore I view small government as a good thing, and bloated government as a bad (and entirely unnecessary) thing.

    • I think you're being kind. Statements like the one you quoted reveal Potter to be the wingnut around here, not Clement. Also, his implications that Clement is not intelligent, and does not understand the file, are malarkey. Clement understands the issues fine. He just doesn't think that free data from the government coerced from citizens is the be-all-and-end-all to Canada. And there are plenty of people who agree with him.

      Of course, him and Wherry will find no limit to academics and corporations who back them up. Why? Because of course academics and corporations want free data! They're not the ones handing over their personal matters, and they're the ones who benefit from it, with not a cent of their own money spent, nor the slightest effort on their own part to collect it.

      • Fair point. As I understand it you're saying that the coercion outweighs the good achieved, and I could be persuaded of that.

        However, while Clement touches on this, (a) it's a pretty minor issue on the grand scale of coercions to which Canadians are subjected, and (b) he also seems to be making the case that any ill effect on the census can be counterbalanced by a larger sample….which is bogus, I think.

        As to Potter being a wingnut, I don't think that's true. I just think he's very partisan, a little out of his depth on a lot of the stuff about which he writes, not very familiar with the arguments from the conservative side of the political spectrum, and a little too caught up in the thrill of having his name on a masthead to parse his words as carefully as he should.

        • he also seems to be making the case that any ill effect on the census can be counterbalanced by a larger sample

          I don't think he is making that claim. When it comes to statistics:
          -eliminating selection bias is good
          -increased sample size is good

          Clement is not wrong that a bigger sample size is better.

          Most of the people arguing about this issue are restricting themselves to a single thing: OMG, there will be more selection bias with an optional form! Clement has not denied this. Clement is simply arguing that there are other things to consider, and that the selection bias is not the be-all-and-end-all of the issue.

          As for Potter, I'm sorry, but the quote you provided is prime wingnut! No question. Is he always a wingnut? Maybe not. But he tends to jump the shark. A lot. And I'm particularly annoyed by journalists who make the claim that everyone in the goverment is stupid and myself the journalist is genius. Put Potter and Clement in an IQ contest and my money is on Clement, because I've read enough Potter to know his logic is like spaghetti.

    • I wouldn't say sink the whole ship as he still needs feds money to pay for his fighter jets to protect his oil interests.

    • That's the line that struck me as well. Yes, because massively increasing federal government spending to hitherto unknown levels is the first step in scuttling the federal government. I'll never understand why so many columnists are willing to sacrifice credibility on a given subject in exchange for a dramatic concluding line. For me, anyway, that last sentence ruined an otherwise insightful column.

  8. Andrew – i'm pimping your blog elsewhere. In the meanwhile, I commend you for resisting reaching for the CAPS LOCK – this needed to be SHOUTED to the world

  9. I think the real issue is that the government simply doesn't want to have information that is inconvenient because it contradicts their ideologically-based policy positions. The "tough on crime" agenda is a perfect illustration of that — don't let facts get in the way!

    • This actually reminds me of during the last federal election, the candidates for my riding were all being interviewed on the radio, and the subject of crime stats actually dropping came up, and Pierre Poilievre basically said Stats Canada had no idea what they were talking about. This was the first time I'd ever thought of Homer Simpson's line about "You can prove anything with numbers" could not be recognized as a joke.

  10. I think — think! — Potter's point is that Harper would be in the same camp as someone like Grover Norquist, who famously said "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."

    But I don't agree with that. I think there's a larger void of principles and policy at the heart of the Harper government than either the 3D chess people or the "hidden agenda" people would admit. I'd argue that there is very little coherence to what Harper has done in his time as PM.

  11. Re: Harper's anti-tax quote

    Let's not forget the 2006 election when he stated "I fundamentally believe that all taxes are bad" ouch….

  12. Clement was tossed out of his provincial seat in Brampton not just because of the general backlash against the Harrisites, but because he got all his facts backwards on P3 hospitals and cost us way more money for far less hospital (fewer beds) than was promised. So I'm not at all surprised by the nonsensical "reforms" he's spearheading for the census. The G8 porkbarrelling in his constituency implies they don't think his current seat is terribly safe either. This man needs to be chased out of office.

  13. Clement… fundamentally does not understand the intellectual foundations of the files that he controls.

    A true but needlessly narrow observation. Does any CPC minister "understand the intellectual foundations of the files that he controls"?

    Let's be clear, here: our Minister of Defence is Peter MacKay. Peter MacKay, I tell you. QED.

  14. According to Clement, the long census…is “heavy-handed” and intrusive… “You try to limit the amount of state coercion…the intrusiveness of government activities”…

    …spoken by a minister of a government that appears to be perfectly comfortable with the arguably rather heavy-handed, intrusive and coercive methods by which G20 protesters and Torontonian bystanders were beaten, clubbed, rubber-bulleted, corralled, and detained for over 24 hours without charge.

    • And who carpet-bombed his riding with a dazzling array tax-funded goodies in the run-up to the G8

    • Just to pile-on… This is the same Tony Clement who wants to shut down Safe Injection sites based on "research"
      - the research being a "non-peer reviewed and online-only Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice (JGDPP)." [OK, I'm cut'n'pasting from the Wikipedia Insite article. Sorry, if I was a minister, I get better references...] "Based on this article, Tony Clement told an August 2007 meeting of the Canadian Medical Association his belief that Insite should close was reaffirmed. Clement stated that "there has been more research done, and some of it has been questioning of the research that has already taken place and questioning of the methodology of those associated with Insite."

      This is a minister of the crown who doesn't care if lots of Vancouver East-side types overdose and die. You think a few hundred statisticians bother him one bit?

      • He also went to a WHO meeting and said he didn't believe in Harm Reduction. I'm still stunned by that one.

  15. I have to admit to finding current politics confusing.

    Normally Conservatives in Canada are the first to say the federal government is trampling areas of provincial responsibility, but when you look at the areas of provincial responsibility that the "digital locks" of C-32 protect, trampling the provinces is the core policy being pushed. The fact the Bloc isn't screaming bloody murder about C-32 makes me wonder if they've recognised the implications yet.
    http://BillC32.ca/faq

    It may be like not knowing that copyright is a state granted monopoly with a clear public policy purpose, the Ministers in charge also don't understand the technologies they are trying to "protect" in C-32, or the statistics or privacy they are randomly manipulating in the census debate.

  16. A least James Moore attempted to address Cory Doctorow's points – even if he was unable to articulate a reasonable defence of the Digital Lock issue. Other 'regular' Canadian citizens who attempted to engage him on Twitter were simply blocked – this despite his rallying cry to address critics wherever they may be.

    • I think it was a call to "shout down" critics, more than address them. The folks being critical of C-32 have to use full sentences and references to national and international law and precedents. Those in favour get to shout twitter-sized slogans.

      But, for the curious: http://twitter.com/no_mpjamesmoore

  17. I wonder how much of the idiocy displayed by Clement over the last couple of days is just the minister following orders to defend the new policy, against his own better judgement. Haroon Siddiqui reported over on the TorStar that the directive came straight from the PMO, against the advice of both Clement and Jim Flaherty.

    • That is my understanding as well. Blockheaded as Clement and Flaherty are, even they can understand the necessity of robust data for government planning. For whine about government as the neo-Cons do, I notice they have formed one here in Canada. One presumes that they'll need to make use of reliable, unbiased statistics from time to time, even for their own interested purposes.

      • Alice Funke over at the Pundits' Guide blog had a very interesting column last weekend about how census data is used in elections, and that the CPC is actually the party that's best at using it: http://www.punditsguide.ca/2010/07/how-the-census

    • Conservative ministers get that order a lot it appears. I can think of many instances over the years when ministers have continued to repeat lies after they've been outed in the mainstream media. Lately there's been Jason Kenney saying that he never thought that interns should be subject to questioning at committees, when he's on video years earlier saying the opposite. The truth simply doesn't matter to them, because it's no longer disgraceful/harmful to their careers to lie.

      • You know, being the electorate, we could very well make it harmful to their careers to lie to us like that.

        • Oh sure, we could.

          But precedent shows we won't.. unfortunately.

        • People have been thinking that for too long. It's time to face reality, and that is there are enough people who don't care about lying politicians, that they negate the votes of those who do care and notice the lies. The people who don't notice, but care about lying are also too numerous. That leaves us in the minority to change things by voting out lying bums.

          A strategy that might work is to get elected ourselves, but that is more work than most people are trained to do, and we'd have lying politicians as our co-workers.

  18. Those opposed to Clement may have a point. I think Clement does as well. However, this is simply not something that bothers me at all, and I suspect it's the same with most Canadians. So I think that the more heated the opposition becomes, the more Canadians will see the opposition and the media as out of touch.

    There are plenty of good arguments against the mandatory long form of the census.

    One of them is this: If people are gonna hand over their personal data, they should be compensated for it. Of course the corporate world and academics will complain! They love getting stuff for free!

    Secondly, the data is already biased. Making it non-mandatory changes nothing, because there are lots of people who refused to fill it out anyway.

    Potter is fixated on one small part of the issue.

    Clement's statistical illiteracy is so profound it gives one vertigo. The notion that simply making the sample bigger can't fix a skewed sample is something undergraduates learn in first-year classes, yet is somehow beyond the mental grasp of a senior minister of a G8 country.

    What malarkey. Clement understands the statistics perfectly well. What he doesn't care for is the implication that these statistics are the be-all and end-all of Canadian life and must be handed over by force for free.

    Potter makes himself look like a complete dunderhead coming out of kindergarten with such childish drivel.

    If people want this data, there is nothing stopping them from getting it.

    • Clearly you don't understand statistics if you think that a larger sample will compensate the bias of not making this mandatory.
      This is a science we're talking about, there's no arguing this.

      If you want to argue the politics of this then that's fine, but let's level the field: if we're going to talk politics, let's not pretend we're talking about a science. And Clement is doing just that: he's trying to justify an ideological position using numbers. Unfortunately the two don't mix and he ends up looking incompetent to anyone who knows what he's trying to talk about.
      And that's the point of the article: that the two mentionned ministers are incapable of making informed decisions on the policy they are meant to be in charge of because they don't understand the issues, they only care about the ideology.

      • Clearly you don't understand statistics if you think that a larger sample will compensate the bias of not making this mandatory.

        I've taken graduate courses in probability theory and statistical methods and I have a graduate degree in Mathematics. So don't give me this crap. I've even taught statistics to undergraduates. I have a broader understanding of statistics than 99.9% of the population. People like you and Potter who throw broadsides claiming others to be dumb and yourselves to be genius, you're revealing yourselves to be children and nothing more. The only people looking incompetent around here are you and Potter.

        -large sample sizes are good
        -eliminating sampling bias is good

        Nobody, not me, nor Clement, says that one compensates for the other. The reality is a heck of a lot more complicated than that. Your simple sound bites are useless.

        But at the same time, increasing the sample size will always provide better results. Period. Nothing Clement has said is false. If you don't understand that, you need to go to school yourself.

        Of course making the form optional will reduce the accuracy. By a lot. So what? Clement knows this. I know this. Framing the issue as one of smart people vs dumb people is absurd. There will be no harm to Canada with this decision. None.

        There will be people who refuse to fill out the form. Big deal. The sky will not fall.

        • But they're not increasing the sample size, are they? They are just sending the form to more people.

          As per other news stories, 95% of long forms are returned. That's the equivalent of 19% of the population.

          Now, the voluntary form will be sent to 30% of households, and they expect a return rate of 60%, which is 18% of the population.

          So really, you are getting the same amount of data, even a bit less, but it will be more biased.

          • Have you ever looked at the questions on the long form, not the short – that is still mandatory. Would they really result in getting accurate datas? When you really think about it; are the choices enough of an answer? Might be yes, if you are glancing at it at the surface but think at every question very carefully and the choices might not be enough to answer those questions. And are they really necessary for governing? The short yes, the long-Nahhh.

          • I got the long form in 2006. I didn't even know it was mandatory.

            I just had a look at the short form for comparison (you can find both here: http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/200

            The short form only asks what your first language is, not if you speak either or both official languages, for example. So if I had only completed the short form, the government wouldn't know what languages I speak (and they would have to assume I speak neither official language).

            And that's just the first example.

        • There will be no harm to Canada with this decision. None.

          Congratulations on your Math degree. May I ask where you studied, that offered such a robust minor in Prognostication of Future Consequences of Arbitrary and Untested Political Policy? I'd love to audit a course or three…

      • gee, that was well replied, no sarcasm.

    • And if people wanted the railroad, there was nothing stopping them from building it privately. If people want a military, there's nothing stopping them from funding one on their own. If people want schools, there's private ones — why should we all be forced to pay for public ones.. hell, why should we be forced to send our kids to school at all?

      The answer to all of these questions is that there is such a thing as a public good. Where the benefit is too low for a private entity to justify the cost of undertaking the action, but which, when leveraged with the economies of scale that a government can provide, become very cost effective for the benefit of society as a whole.

      Sure the private firms and academics could do their own data gathering. But in order to gain data with the statistical validity of the census, they'd have to pretty much duplicate the census. For what the research would get them, way too high a cost for each of them individually. Which means if we left it to them, it wouldn't get done and we'd all be the poorer.

      • I'm not going to get into philosophical arguments regarding what is a public good and what is government overreach. I know from experience there is not much that you would not prefer government to do, despite the fact that governments generally do things worse than private enterprise.

        But one thing is for sure, there are lots of successful governments in the world that do not insist on a mandatory long form census. And in addition, there have always been lots of people who have refused to fill out the "mandatory" long form census, and none of them have been fined or thrown in jail. The mandatory census was never mandatory.

        We're talking about a freakin' census and you're talking about public goods. I guarantee you, the impact upon the lives of Canadians following this decision will be completely invisible. Public good? Give me a break.

        if we left it to them, it wouldn't get done

        Wrong. It would. If it's valuable, it will get done. If it's not valuable to anyone, it will not get done. Simple as that.

        Everybody knows, if you want something to be done well, or in a timely manner, the last place to look is the government. If people want it, it will get done.

        • Care to point to these successful governments?

        • If you keep this up s_c_f, I'll end up coming around to your side.

          Must…stop…..reading……

        • Yes, everybody knows (except for the Statistical Society of Canada, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Canadian Marketing Association, the Canadian Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities, the Executive Council of the Canadian Economics Association, the director of the Prentice Institute at the University of Lethbridge, the senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian Institute of Planners, the Canadian Association for Business Economics, the editorial boards of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Calgary Herald, Winnipeg Free Press, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal, Victoria Times-Colonist, Halifax Chronicle-Herald, and Ottawa Citizen, the Canada Census Committee, Ancestry.ca, city planners in Calgary and Red Deer, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the former head of Statistics Canada, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, the Quebec Community Groups Network, the president of the CD Howe Institute, the Canadian Council on Social Development, the United Way in Toronto, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, former clerk of the Privy Council Alex Himelfarb, pollster Frank Graves, the chief economist of the Greater Halifax Partnership, the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario, the executive director of the Société franco-manitobaine, provincial officials in Quebec, BC and PEI, and possibly a good part of the voting majority who chose candidates other than Conservatives in the last federal election.

          These benighted entities perhaps see the free market as a poor solution for managing public good issues, or perhaps simply rue the break in continuity of data that will devalue the work already done, and which will place future work into an unstable realm until enough decades pass to build up a large enough database to begin to see trends again. But it's probably just a media conspiracy fooling them into thinking that.

        • Yes, everybody knows, except for the Statistical Society of Canada, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Canadian Marketing Association, the Canadian Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities, the Executive Council of the Canadian Economics Association, the director of the Prentice Institute at the University of Lethbridge, the senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian Institute of Planners, the Canadian Association for Business Economics, the editorial boards of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Calgary Herald, Winnipeg Free Press, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal, Victoria Times-Colonist, Halifax Chronicle-Herald, and Ottawa Citizen, the Canada Census Committee, Ancestry.ca, city planners in Calgary and Red Deer, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the former head of Statistics Canada, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, the Quebec Community Groups Network, the president of the CD Howe Institute, the Canadian Council on Social Development, the United Way in Toronto, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, former clerk of the Privy Council Alex Himelfarb, pollster Frank Graves, the chief economist of the Greater Halifax Partnership, the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario, the executive director of the Société franco-manitobaine, provincial officials in Quebec, BC and PEI, and possibly a good part of the voting majority who chose candidates other than Conservatives in the last federal election.

          These benighted entities perhaps see the free market as a poor solution for managing public good issues, or perhaps simply rue the break in continuity of data that will devalue the work already done, and which will place future work into an unstable realm until enough decades pass to build up a large enough database to begin to see trends again. But it's probably just a media conspiracy fooling them into thinking that.

        • Incidentally, that's a myth that governments generally do worse than private enterprises. 4 out of 5 private enterprises fail within the first 5 years. How many governments fail within the first 5 years? Sure, if you take a look at various specific activities of government, you may well find a private enterprise able to do better. Find me a private enterprise that handles even half as much as a gov't has to deal with and does it as well.

          The difference is, you simply don't see the business failures that often because they quietly disappear. Government, being much larger, is much more visible, and it is doing a great many more things than any single private enterprise, often with far less direct input and information about their extremely large market than most companies are getting about their far narrower markets. The census is one of the ways the government attempts to correct this.

          And you, who complain how government does things badly, are in favor of worsening that tool so that they'll do even worse? So.. once your nose is off, do you really think your face will feel better?

          • Who's talking about "a private enterprise"? We're talking about private enterprise, not a private enterprise, which are two entirely different critters.

            Key point: the failure of 80% of private enterprises is in fact the strength of private enterprise.

          • Yeah, most of us grow beyond the logic of 13yr olds once we hit high school. Or are you going to argue that a 70% failure rate is worse than an 80% failure rate.. or that a 100% failure rate is better?

            If 80% of employees failed, would you call that a strength of employees?

            If 80% of police services failed, would you call that a strength of police services?

            No.. the strength isn't in how many fail, the strength lies in that there are so many trying that even the failures can't stop it from progressing. Somehow, I imagine you don't want to empower a similar number of governments to all be operating at the same time so that we can "weed out" the ones we don't like by seeing how they fail.

            Hint: When a business fails, it primarily effects the management and employees of the business, with only tangential effects on the customers. If a government fails, it effects everybody.

            Sure, a completely free market might eventually correct everything, but the key word in that statement is "eventually". After all, eventually the universe will die from heat death. Personally, I wouldn't want to wager which one would come first.

          • FACLC has it right. The fact that 4 of 5 private enterprises fail is one of the reasons why private enterprise is better. It's also one of the reasons government does things poorly. It means that 4 out of 5 government agencies are worse than the average successful private business.
            But it's actually worse than that, because there are other factors that come into play, such as the fact that even successful government agencies will eventually deteriorate due to the lack of competition, and that entrenched interests will always prevent the best from rising to the top in government.

          • Hint: Government = Corporation.

            The primary differences are that for governments we grant a monopoly on force, and, at least for democratic ones, everybody gets an equal say as to whether the management should be changed. Or do you really think we should establish a military with an 80% failure rate so that we know the 1 in 5 times it succeeds, we've gotten it right? Try thinking about what your idealist fantasies might actually mean if they were applied in the real world.

      • Why would I give this kind of information to a private enterprise? It's none of their business how many bedrooms there are in my house.

        • But when Stephen Harper, Neo-Fascist (TM) wants to know, not even remotely a problem, right?

          • I'd far rather give my information to a government where I can vote on the leaders than a private company which I can't.

          • I see. Most of the time you act like you don't trust Harper, Flaherty, Clement, Kenney and the rest. Suddenly you change your mind.

          • Thankfully, there is a distinction between our public institutions and the individual men and women representing and governing (for) us at any given time.

            This allows me to recognize that what these individuals are doing might not be in the interest of responsible government.

          • Did I say I'd rather give my information to any particular individual you named? No? Perhaps you need to learn how to read then.

          • Stats Canada is not Stephen Harper. They are indeed very protective of their data. I have relatives who worked in other branches of government who needed data from them and they were a pain to deal with in the sense that they will not give out any data that could remotely identify an individual.

            Here's the 2006 information for my census tract: http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/2006/d

            You now know everything there is to know about me…

          • They are indeed very protective of their data

            Until the day they are not. Or the day they make a mistake. Neither of which can happen if they never have the data in the first place.

          • I can say the same thing about my bank. Are you saying I should keep my money under the mattress?

  19. "But what we should really be concerned with is not that he wants to hand the controls of the ship of state over to a cabal of evangelical end-times wingnuts. Rather, the real worry is that when it comes down to it, he'd sooner see the whole thing scuttled."

    After reading the perhaps slightly over the top Armageddon Factor by Marci MacDonald (if even 10% of the factoids in the book are accurate), it is the cabal of wingnuts that should concern all Canadians that prefer to keep religion out of both the state and the bedroom.

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/

    • Believe me most of thatbook is nothing but bigotry and inaccurate, not only 10% slightly but most of it. She did not even have the guts to interview the people mentioned in that book. If that is your source, boy no wonder your reasoning is so scewed.

  20. Andrew Potter, your titlte should have read,
    "SOMETIMES A GOOF IS MORE THAN A GOOF"

    Look at the guy for God's sake !

    • I agree 100%.

      • Make that 3.

        • LOL – I like your approach bonneau to getting support for your comments and more thumbs up. s-c-f, are you taking note?

  21. It's easy to see how 10 governments implies no Canada at all. Besides, this Census proposal will end up costing money, not saving it — not to mention it will leave us in the dark, blindly fumbling while the ship sinks. Canadians may prefer Harper's hand on the rudder but what if he insists on throwing out our maps and charts?

    • I don't think he was advocating two or ten governments; I think he was making the point that regardless of the fate of the separation question, Canadians would still be better off with less government rather than more.

      I'm not a fan of this census decision, but even if we take for granted that it's a mistake it still doesn't follow that Harper's goal is the destruction of Canada. That's childish hyperbole.

      • Perhaps it is. But without our maps and charts, the good ship Canada is liable to crash upon the rocks.

        • Also, I wouldn't consider the census data to be our "maps and charts". More like our inventory and crew manifest. Still valuable, but the maps and charts are the philosophy of God-given rights and the laws that derive therefrom.

          • Disagree. Statisticians are the cartographers of public policy. They allow us to see where we've been and where we are going. Debase their work and we lose our depth of vision. The chain of command is the rule of law.

          • Numbers are never the same as a plan; they are merely the data to which principles are applied to formulate a plan. It's the principles that guide us, and the statistics to which we apply them.

            We agree that the statistics are important, but let's not forget that it's the principles that govern where we want to take those numbers and how we ought to do it.

          • On this we are agreed. Statistics and predictive models are indispensable tools through which we arrive at good policy. It's by virtue of tradition and principle that we're able to keep the ship sailing without too many falling from the rigging.

    • Your talking as if the whole cherished census is abolished. The short form is still mandatory only the long census form is not. The last time the country almost fractured was when the Liberals were in office. Your exagerations do not help your argument at all nor the reputation of the above said "journalist". Evangelical wing nuts? Sinking ship? Don't you know that many countries are getting rid of the long form, not only our sinking Canada? They must be evangelical wing nuts also? That word has been thrown out a lot. All evangelicals must be worst than Al-Queda and Taliban combined, that they terrify people like the above journalist and automatically disqualify them from running an office? I did not know that being evangilical is a crime here in Canada. I am glad I am not religious nor into politics at all, or I might be singled out based on that faith.

    • 1 government = current federal government
      2 governments = quebec separates
      10 governments = 10 provinces

      And now I feel like the count on sesame street

      • All those options except for the first mean the destruction of Canada.

  22. Going on a diet is healthy. Becoming bulimic is a disorder.

    • Yes, and equating the two is folly.

      Likewise, advocating for smaller government is healthy; trying to destroy the country is treason, and equating the two is folly.

      • Stating that the size of government and tax rates must be kept to the point where it is as small as possible to ensure individual rights and freedoms is healthy. Stating that "no tax is a good tax" is clearly unhealthy. Either what he said is moronic, or he's a liar.

        • The concept that living in a society requires each individual to give up something (e.g. tax money and a certain measure of freedom) in order to be secure is neither a new one nor a stupid one. It's called Social Contract Theory, and has been promulgated by some of the most brilliant thinkers in history.

          I happen not to be a fan of Social Contract Theory, but calling it "moronic" is just wrong. The idea is that possessions are good, and giving up possessions is bad. However giving up a percentage of one's posessions is necessary in a society in order to pay for communal protection and services. In this sense, taxes are a "bad" thing but a necessary evil in a society.

          Please tell me this isn't the first time you've encountered this line of thinking.

          • Harper said in plain anglais that no tax is a good tax. I'm arguing that some taxes are good taxes and not evil, while others are unnecessary. How am I arguing against SCT?

            You may be interpreting Harper's quote differently than I do; but when I walk through a hospital and see people with cancer whom are getting treatment because of our tax dollars, I don't view that as a "necessary evil." I view the idea of the elimination of taxes, which would in my opinion, lead to less social cohesion and more division as "moronic." Harper states his views on taxes (and public spending in general), then spends us into a 56 billion dollar hole. Either he doesn't know what he's doing (hence "moron"), or he believes that taxes are a good thing yet states the opposite in order to shore up his base (hence "liar").

          • The problem is that you are equating "evil" with "must be eliminated".

            By "necessary evil" people are explicitly referring to something that is bad but must be preserved because of some greater good. That, I think, is Harper's view concerning taxes. It's not unreasonable. It's certainly not moronic or dishonest.

            As to sick people being treated in hospital, let's be quite clear: they'd be treated regardless of taxes, so don't give taxes the credit for the treatment. Countries without socialized medicine also have hospitals filled with people receiving treatment. In fact, they have more such hospitals and better such treatment.

          • Skewing the line between 'necessary evil' and just plain 'evil' is something that shouldn't be done in any setting. Everybody knows that evil, in terms of ideology, is the implementation of government control that substantially reduces the liberties of citizens. Tax policy and a national census are far from that.

            I don't consider paying taxes for certain services as an 'evil' or 'necessary evil'. Taxes are necessary in order to pay for basic services. Without taxes, as much as people like to moan about them, we wouldn't be able to fund our military, our schools, hospitals, or pave our roads. I don't see paying taxes for roads, bridges, or some form of health-care system is an 'evil,' nor do I see it as a 'necessary evil.' The free market must have a say, and government shouldn't control everything. People have a right to receive treatments at a hospitals, rich or poor, and receive the best treatments available without extreme financial burden. You're idea that a citizen should keep all the money they make and not have to give it away as a 'good' and anything else as a 'necessary evil' is utopian. It may be nice if that was the case. But that isn't reality. In my opinion not giving some money to people, who are not as well off as me, so they can receive treatment in a hospital is borderline immoral. More private clinics should be allowed in this country, but not at the expense of those whom are less well off.

  23. Just another Liberal attack article.

    • Just another Tory hack commenter

  24. Now at least we know why Harper muzzles his folks. With intellectual lightweights as noted they leave too many openings for anyone with a grade eight education ( I don't mean to belittle those with a grade education) to pounce on. This is why Harper runs the communications like Stalin.

  25. Harper quietly cut Stats. Canada annual funding by about $102 million 2 years ago and I see where the Frazier Institute people are now clamouring for private polling firms to gather all census information thus robbing Stats Canada of data they sell, just about the only revenue generating instrument they have. Hmmmmm……..do we see a Reform/Alliance Agenda here at all, like the "starve the beast to impotenece then close it" mentality of these rightwing nuts?

  26. While I take your larger point, your notion that copyright law is an infringement on the free market is wrong. Absent property rights you do not have free markets, you have the commons (incidentally this is why many right wingers are taking an anti-property stance on the environment). Copyright laws are analogous to the guards at Renaissance trade fairs, or today's police forces – they aim to guard property, with the sole difference being that the property in question is not tangible (I suppose the fact that ideas can become public domain may represent a curtailment of the free market, but your monopoly point does not fit the picture. It is like saying that the government has given me monopoly rights to use goods that I own, which is sort of true, but is kind of the point of captialism).

  27. Look at this:
    http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/04/28/what-canadians… – By Andrew Potter

    This is interesting:
    "The poll, by Angus Reid Strategies, surveyed 1,002 randomly selected Canadians on religion at a moment" -( I assume this poll was voluntary since it was performed by a private company – also check the sample size out 1,002 as in 1.002 representing 34 million people).

    Then Andrew states:

    Canadians like to think of their country as a model for the world of how all sorts of people can get along together. But when it comes to the major faiths other than Christianity, a new poll conducted for Maclean's finds that many Canadians harbour deeply troubling biases. Multiculturalism? Although by now it might seem an ingrained national creed, fewer than one in three Canadians can find it in their hearts to view Islam or Sikhism in a favourable light. Diversity? Canadians may embrace it in theory, but only a minority say they would find it acceptable if one of their kids came home engaged to a Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. Understanding? There's not enough to prevent media images of war and terrorism from convincing almost half of Canadians that mainstream Islam encourages violence"

    Now I would suggest Andrew you began that article by saying:

    "Canadians like to think of their country as a model for the world of how all sorts of people can get along together, but according a deeply flawed, horrible skewed voluntary survey with a sample size that a Grade 10 math student would laugh at…..blah blah blah

    • This is my favorite part of your current article

      "There are libertarians and there are libertarians"

      As in: There are well-educated, renowned, powerful, and intelligent Libertarians whose work (specifically in the area free-market economics) has influenced the world. These fine gentlemen taught at the best institutions, and were both worldly in their outlook and respected among their powerful peers – both in government and business."

      THEN, there are those goddamn low-class. uneducated, childish LIBERTARIANS! who don't understand what's good for them for them – JUST FILL OUT THE FORM!!!

      Oh yes!, Mr. Potter, there are Libertarians and there are Libertarians LOL

      • Not that it matters to me, but you; lets quote Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman on the importance of an involuntary government census.

        • But no worries Andrew, you get an involuntary census out to me, and I'l write F** ** on it and send it back.

          Promise not to get the RCMP on it

  28. HARPER, YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARD! I READ YOUR SPEECHES!!!

  29. What are Potter's qualifications and a few of the people making such assinine comments. Clement is no dummy as Potter has tried to insinuate and Harper has more brains than all of you put together. What arrogance by you Liberal bloggers and inferior journalists from Macleans who print these garbage articles.
    Shame on your own stupidity!!!

    • Clement is no dummy?

      Prove it.

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  31. Did anyone expect this creationist chiropractor to understand basic statistics?

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  33. Scarey, isn't it. These morons in power and even dumber ones waiting in the wings. It is obvious the bulk of McLeans readers are left wing loons who absolutely relish being all wrapped up in Mommy Governments blanket.

  34. Many businesses rely on TPMs to protect their investments. If we, as consumers, don't want to purchase products containg TPMs, that is our choice. Creators have the freedom to offer their works, DRM free, if they choose.

    Is Bill C-32 perfect? No, but it's a great start. Something needs to be done to protect the investments made intellectual property, and their enormous contribution to our economy and the JOBS they provide for Canadians. This reform is LONG overdue and it's about time Canada's laws are brought in line with our international trading partners.

    • No, Bill C-32 isn't perfect, far from it. But I have yet to hear from anyone exactly how the TPM measures in C-32 will actually help protect intellectual property owners. TPM is based on cryptology, and other types of cryptographic applications work very well. TPM as applied in the copyright industry is ineffectual and cannot work, by design. If you want to know why, consult your local cryptographic expert.

      So, given that TPM can not, and will not, work as expected, can you please supply a step by step description on exactly how TPM as applied in C-32 will help copyright holders? Forget about how the way the law is phrased, allowing distributors to walk all over user and creator rights. Forget about how internally inconsistent this makes C-32. Just tell me how it will help the copyright holders. In simple, straightforward, logical terms.

      A badly formulated law is worse than no law at all.

  35. I just want to write to thank you for the gift of this sentence, Andrew.

    "It's more like the sweaty-palmed fanboy libertarianism forged by too many late nights in high school spent switching between the anti-feminist Nietszcheanism of Ayn Rand and the corporatist space fantasies of sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein."

    It's not only expressed thoughts I've already had better than I ever could, but has also changed my life for the better.

    Thank you once again.

  36. Copyright reform is needed.

    Artists need to have their work protected from theft!

    • Certainly Gord, I agree with you. But bill C-32, in particular the TPM measures, isn't going to help artists.

      TPM is based on cryptology, and other types of cryptographic applications work very well. TPM as applied in the copyright industry is ineffectual and cannot work, by design. If you want to know why, consult your local cryptographic expert.

      So, given that TPM can not, and will not, work as expected, can you please supply a step by step description on exactly how TPM as applied in C-32 will help artists? Forget about how the way the law is phrased, allowing distributors to walk all over user and creator rights. Forget about how internally inconsistent this makes C-32. Just tell me how it will help the artists. In straightforward, logical terms.

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