The census: power, knowledge, and role-reversal -

The census: power, knowledge, and role-reversal

How the left abandoned its long-standing hostility to the liberal state


Stephen Gordon put up a (deservedly) well-circulated post today in which he debunks the emerging consensus (agreed to by both the left and the right) that sabotaging the LF census is part of a “right wing” strategy at sabotaging the welfare state, and that the LF census is something that the left should naturally support. “This a puzzling argument”, he writes, because “Before the census became an issue, the Left, not the Right, was the more determined opponent of evidence-based policy analysis.” And he goes on to list a number of key policies where this was the case.

The post reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write on since this started, about how the current left wing opposition to the government’s census decision is not just politically tactical (as Gordon argues). It is also marks a bit of an ideological shift , in that it reverses, or at least ignores, the traditional opposition from the left to the state’s power to coerce and control the population through the  development of statistics and the systematic collection of information.

For you theory geeks out there, I’m just talking about the old Foucaultian power/knowledge stuff. Lots of you are probably familiar with his famous discussion of Bentham’s panopticon, but the key for Foucault is that the panopticon was in many ways just a metaphor for the surveillance society, one where the state’s ability to collect and synthesize information about individuals gave rise to what he called the “carceral continuum”: what connects the maximum security prison, the insane asylum, the education system, and our domestic arrangements is that they are all part of a common surveillance society where we are subject to categorization and the application of official norms of behaviour.

One of the most important figures of the last few decades on this stuff is the UofT philosopher Ian Hacking, who has done a tremendous amount of work, inspired by Foucault, on the development of statistics, the classification of people, and the way those classifications are used to sometimes help or change people, but most often to control them.  One of Hacking’s great contributions was his idea of the “looping effect” — where people internalize the norms and values of the categories into which they are slotted, to the extent to which the act of categorization actually creates the very type of person it purports to be “measuring.”

When I was a grad student at UofT (over a decade ago now, yoiks),  many of my fellow students were beavering away under Hacking’s supervision on projects that were a form of philosophical sociology: they were applying Hacking’s analytic schemes to various common social types (one was the “Jamaican criminal”, I think another student was looking at the very idea of “the battered wife”). These projects were invariably a form of advocacy academia, in that they were aimed at promoting a distinctly left-wing political agenda.

For these long-ago colleagues of mine, it was axiomatic that the state was largely in hock to totalitarian corporate interests. The only reason the state would want to gather the sort of information that is collected in the long-form census would be to protect those interests by giving it the tools of power-knowledge that would allow it to categorize and thereby control the population.

So what does this mean? For starters, I think it suggests that the current opposition by the left to the government over the census decision is largely tactical. But this doesn’t mean the left is being hypocritical, not at all: I think it involves a very welcome abandonment by the left its long-standing hostility to the liberal state. Finally, I think it involves a concession that statistical information is not inherently politically biased — that what matters is how it is gathered, under what circumstances, and for what purposes.

Ultimately, the LF census has to be defended on its own merits — what policies or programs will it serve, and do these themselves serve the public interest. Stephen Gordon is right: framing the debate in terms of left versus right only obscures what is really at stake.


The census: power, knowledge, and role-reversal

  1. "the tradition opposition from the left to the state's power to coerce and control the population through the development of statistics and the systematic collection of information."

    Really? Maybe among the postmodern literary crowd, but social scientists have always been into collecting information. And outside the academy, actual left-wing politics, whether of the Marxist variety in the eastern bloc or the social democratic variety in the west, has always had a lot more to do with the latter than the former.

  2. I think your grad school was sadly out of date.

  3. Pro-intellectual integrity? I dunno. Has anyone ever called you 'autistic' because of your methodology?

    • That's not one of the insults I have endured, since most of my insulters lack the capacity to either spell or define it.

      • "most of my insulters lack the capacity to either spell or define it."

        Pfft, has that ever stopped them before?

  4. Oh Potter, this is the same reason I never got through your book: You imagine the "left" as being single-mindedly devote to early 20th century academic theories, forgetting that those ideas are far from universal or accepted as common knowledge. It would be like qualifying the "right" as devote entirely to Objectivist philosophy advanced by Ayn Rand in her writings.

    The truth is that across the political spectrum there's a tremendous amount of nuance. Your argument is sound, but it applies only to a small group of "leftists".

    • Thanks for the warning.

    • The truth is that across the political spectrum there's a tremendous amount of nuance. Your argument is sound, but it applies only to a small group of "leftists".

      I think that's right. The "left's" response to the LFC kerfuffle is no more and no less tactical that that of the "right". The issue exists only because killing the LFC is a pure political tactic. The only ideological rationale for the LFC's continued existence or immediate death are promoted by those who perceived themselves to benefit by one outcome or the other. Clearly there are scientific arguments for the LFC, but in our world, sadly, science almost always succumbs to sound bite.

    • "Oh Potter, this is the same reason I never got through your book: You imagine the "left" as being single-mindedly devote to early 20th century academic theories, forgetting that those ideas are far from universal or accepted as common knowledge."

      I've finished Potter's book (the Rebel Sell?), and I would consider myself a bit of a fan of his, but I agree that he overstates how important far-left wing theories are in the wider world. I think his personal involvement in those circles have made them appear bigger in his mind than they actually are.

      • Because most people except themselves think they are full of it.

      • Don't get me wrong: I agree with the core ideas of the Rebel Sell, namely that the culture can't be "jammed" because it is adaptable to change (or something like that, you get the idea). I just think the book missed the opportunity to talk about practical issues, focusing instead on theorists that many of the jammers aren't even aware of.

      • I also think Stephen Gordon's original article is flawed. He cites the Left's opposition to "evidence-based policy analysis" as though there were something of a unified consensus on economic matters. He cites free trade, social assistance, etc. but if there were unanimous agreement then we wouldn't have our Krugmans and Friedmans, would we?

        The left will always reject what it perceives to be skewed right-wing data, and vice versa. Occasionally you'll get one issue that most sensible people can agree on (like, say, the long form census) so we should celebrate these moments and all eat cake.

        • Do 'sensible' people in Canada agree to coercion? It is the requisite of the LFC?

          • Peer review is a conspiracy!!!

  5. Among the technocratic centre-left elites who have run the country since 1921, sure, but not Canada's hard socialist left (to whom I believe Potter is referring). The NDP (and to a much higher degree, some of its more radical stakeholders) has long proposed things that went against the grain of evidence and leading theory*, including:
    -support for bank nationalization
    -raising the minimum wage (provincially)
    -rent control (provincially)
    -opposition to free trade
    -opposition to the HST
    -opposition to corporate tax cuts

    *Which is not to suggest that they are wrong or stupid for doing so. As I have stressed many times before, evidence and theory can only tell us about the outcomes of policies, but not whether or not they are the right thing to do.

    • Then, of course, there's the matter of the aboriginal policies they favour. And the bevy of poverty-fighting policies for the developing world.

      Something about the refusal to accept responsibility for the failures of those policies just screams contempt for evidence-based policy.

  6. " I think it suggests that the current opposition by the left to the government over the census decision is largely tactical."

    Huh. Unless, like me, the motivation of the "left" is based on a belief in good governance. The kind of good governance that starts with good data, and is in line with the old Canadian adage: "Peace, order and good government."

    Also, I'm pretty sure that opposition to the census changes supersedes bullsh*t oversimplifications like 'right' and 'left.'

    "But this doesn't mean the left is being hypocritical, not at all: I think it involves a very welcome abandonment by the left its long-standing hostility to the liberal state."

    How long ago were you in school? Are you still there? On behalf of the "left", I'd like to thank you for you condescension and suggest where you can store it for the future.

    • I think it is all part of a political "placement" of the torries. They are trying to create a rift between them and the Liberals. I.e. they are trying to paint them as "big" government while they are about ridding ATV's and reducing paperwork for guns.

      I'm offereing 2 for 1 odds in my office on a fall election.

  7. "For these long-ago colleagues of mine, it was axiomatic that the state was largely in hock to totalitarian corporate interests. The only reason the state would want to gather the sort of information that is collected in the long-form census …. "

    I always think of my nan when I think of The Left but she absolutely hates the census even tho she is hardcore Fabian who loathes capitalists. As I have been writing here for at least a month, the census debate has been much more than left/right, it is visceral reaction to what you think of government collecting data that is none of its business. The two polls I have seen so far say Canadians are evenly split, even Con party is divided between Reform types who don't like census while SoCons want long form coercion to continue.

    Harper choose a bi-partisan measure to get the latte liberals in a lather this summer.

    • Fabians???

      My gawd, it's no wonder Cons are always in the dark. What year do you people live in anyway??

      • Currently they are eagerly signing up for one of those Conservative cruises on a brand-new ship called the Titanic.

        • LOL cripes they must get their news by passenger pigeon!


          Ticket sales are probably booming!

          • Just because the name is old, the left is still inheritors of the Fabian outlook. Don't trash eveything because it has been around before. As you know darn well, Fabianism (soft socialism) was the alternate to communism.

            I can't see the attraction when almost every attempt to install some sort of socialistic govt in the provinces has been a dismal failure because they know how to spend but haven't a clue how wealth is created. What they won't get from Canadians is socialism as the ultimate – the state owning the means of production.. Why? Because those whop aren't socialist are not stupid.

            Canada has had a reasonable mixed economy up until now and you don't need statistics to know that the baby boomers are going to cost more for health than the revenue will bring in in what are sure to be uncertain times. . And still the left, including leftish liberals want a national day care program! Quebec has one because the rest of us are paying for it indirectly becasue of largesse to Qujebec.

            As for statistics, having them hasn't prevented governments from launching foolish programs.

            As for seniors, it is an historical fact that of those over 65 15% will require care other than acute care. About 7% of those will need facility care. The balance can be kept independent in their homes with assistance for home nursing, homemaker and handyman service. Lacking the latter, the requirement for facility care will go up as will the cost as "room and board"factors in.

          • Instituting national daycare would serve the economy first and foremost, not socialist ideals. I say this because the obvious benefactor is the economy if you break it down.

            Two parents working, hiring a third person to care for their child VS one person working. The subsidizing of the daycare comes out of the taxes, and because in a daycare one person cares for several children there is an efficiency gain and more paid work being done.

            The far-left would sooner pay mothers to stay home and care for their children citing being a mother as work that should be paid and supported by society.

            The far-right would sooner pay the workers more and stick to traditional values where the mother stays home because that is her "role" while the father works and brings home enough to support the family.

            So frankly, I think calling national daycare socialist is a misnomer. It's really a fiscal conservative position.

    • Nicely said, bergkamp.

  8. In 2006 the left-opposition to the LFC was due to the involvement of Lockheed Martin in the computer systems. There was a fear that they would be able to put their horrilbe corporate hands on our precious, precious personal data.

    Now that the c/Conservative government has decided to do away with the LFC (for whatever reason) there is a purely tactical reaction from certain elements of the left to whatever this government does (perfectly understandable IMHO).

    There have always been debates on what a census is used for and once one starts to count people they can be controlled. But they can also be properly serviced as well.

    The debate should lie in what the use of the census data is (control vs. efficient and proper programme design) not in some false ideological divide.

    • "… there is a purely tactical reaction from certain elements of the left to whatever this government does"

      Sure, absolutely. But there's a principled reason to oppose the trashing of the long-form census: good data is the foundation of good policy. Making government stupider is never a laudable goal (at least to those who believe it's capable of some good); just because the right has no principled stand (and maybe a tactical opposition) on the matter doesn't mean that the left has similarly abandoned its principles.

      THAT, I would argue, is the false ideological divide here.

      • "there's a principled reason to oppose the trashing of the long-form census: good data is the foundation of good policy. Making government stupider is never a laudable goal (at least to those who believe it's capable of some good);"

        I agree completely with you. I just wish this government could come out and actually state their opposition to the LFC from the position of being against controlling people rather than bringing out all the blather and nonsense that they have used up until now. If they did then we could have a true and proper debate in the country.

        I would like to think that the position you have outlined – Making government stupider is never a laudable goal – would win the day.

        • But the Harper government is not against controlling people; they would find it easier to control people by having private databases which only they could access, instead of StatsCn which maintains the privacy of individuals. Like the Conservative CIMS.

    • I completely agree with TJCook, but there is also the concern (from this "lefty" anyway) on what the eventual outcome will be of this. Obviously, the Household Survey will be a dismal failure. At this point I don't think anyone on either the left or the right has any intention of filling the damn thing out. So, since we have nicely all agreed that this information is necessary our next alternative is to gather up all the information collected from all government agencies and put it together into a robust profile of 'you', then combine the statistics to get a robust profile of 'us'. Heck, we've already collected this information, it would be much cheaper to just use it, and isn't that what other country's are doing these days?

      Many years ago there was a kerfuffle with two or three MPs (Reform? Alliance? New Conservative?) when some constituents tried to get their help on various things. The MPs actually told the constituents that they wouldn't bother to help, since said constituents didn't vote for them anyway, and weren't likely to do so in the future, so why should they? That's because they had a database of households and votes. Now imagine if that database included every single thing you ever interacted with the government about.

      Sean–I am ashamed.

      • Actually one of the M.P.s who yelled at a sick veteran that he wouldn't help him because he hadn't voted for him was Tom Wappell – a Liberal (although he was actually a conservative by any real measure).

        • Thanks for that. It also highlights that once this thing gets in, it will be next to impossible to get out again.

  9. We tend to push ideologies too far, and even as they fall by the wayside, many reflexively retain the values that under-girded them. The 70's saw the bloated Keynesian welfare state expand too far. Back then it was the right that had new ideas – welfare reform, privatization, public choice economics, central bank independence, tight monetary policies, etc. These policies did not square with the values that Keynesianism had promoted, and so the left fought a war of values.

    By 2007/8 we had probably pushed too far in the other direction. Finance unleashed created serious collective action problems, and was not compatible with other key institutions (eg. bailouts plus financial deregulation). The formal models based on far too little data and far too much conjecture have begun to crack. Yet to some extent, the project of Ayn Rand has succeeded (Rand argued for capitalism as a moral system, not as a tool). Big government deficits are seen as a premise for future kleptomania, rather than as a salve for the unfortunate. Even on the left a public choice analysis of the Tory stimulus prevails (government as a rent-seeker). Levitt is able to make a pretty penny selling books that are essentially about homo economicus, as Thomas Friedman's shoddy journalism preaches from an outdated globalist hymnbook (globalization is not bad, but the world is also not flat, nor will competitiveness flow from everybody adopting the same generic policies).

    Less educated people tend to be a store of ingrained values, and increasingly, they are the advocates of hyper-capitalism, just as they were once the last true believers in the Keynesian world.

    • But these are the same old positions of the past….even the ancient past.

      "The budget should be balanced; the treasury should be refilled; public debt should be reduced; and the arrogance of public officials should be controlled." Cicero.

      • The pendulum is pretty ancient. Lets look at the Julio-Claudians (you can go earlier to the battle between the populares and optimates, or Gaius Gracchi vs. the patricians if you want). Augustus was a nation-builder, but also a spendthrift. Tiberius was a tightwad who restored the treasury. Caligula in turn spent heavily on spectacles and foolish missions abroad – but also on bread for the people. While Claudius did undertake some big projects he also reformed and improved the management of the treasury. Finally his successor Nero's policies yielded the term "bread and circuses", which is still used to impugn people's fiscal responsibility.

        • Please stop playing games.

          We're not discussing the Roman empire….or your bizarre idea that bread and circuses was meant to impugn fiscal responsibility

          We are discussing old…ancient…philosophies….which have no relevance to the 21st century

          • You brought up Rome. I am merely pointing out that Cicero's (who was never really in a position of power) sentiments were hardly uncontested, and that there was a tendency to vacillate between "bread and circuses" and tightfisted policies.

            With bread and circuses I meant to say impugn people's fiscal irresponsibility.

          • You were trying to brag, and I'm not interested.

            It's an old philosophy…which has no relation to the 21st century.

            Bread and circuses are a distraction. Nothing more.

            Like American Idol.

          • My humblest of apologies for bragging. From what you suggest learning information about the Julio-Claudian emperors is not useful information, but I am confused since you have also said that information is always useful. Luckily I am not a computer in the original Star Trek, because I would probably explode right about now due to loopy logic.

            As for bread and circuses, they were not merely a distraction. A large proportion of the population of Rome was poor and malnourished. Getting bread from the government was hardly a distraction from them. Circuses probably were a distraction, but what is wrong with wanting to be entertained? Bread and circuses (plus the legion) was big government circa 1 AD. While some of the more spendthrift emperors – eg. Caligula and Nero were pretty bad ones (though that may reflect who wrote the history-books), others, like Augustus are generally considered to have been good emperors.

          • Everyone knows who the Roman emperors were….however I was quoting Cicero and his ancient philosophy

            Bread and circuses were a known distraction in Rome….from the reality of their impoverished everyday lives.

            Just like American Idol and so on, are for Americans today.

          • The history of the Roman Empire is hardly well known by anybody but a very small number of scholars, strategists, and interested amateurs. From amongst those that know the history well, some have been able to draw upon it as an endless fount of examples of failed and successful strategies, which have been applied to great effect – if one where interested in building an empire.

            Can you think of how that would be relevant to today's political mileu, dear Emily?

          • I found it to be most enlightening, if quite a bit disheartening. It's good to have a long-term perspective of this stuff, I think, and I thank you for providing it.

          • Emily, you are seriously silly about fundamental human motivation. That hasn't changed, nor has the necessity for the ruling power blocks to provide circus when there is a real or looming shortage of bread. Just regard world leaders' fawning attendance on mass sporting events which are proliferating by the month.

          • What a silly thing to say.

          • I was referring to Emily's "please stop playing games" silly post.

  10. The major reason Keynsian economics doesn't work today is that governments only go with the spending and borrowing. It is fashionable to trash it as outmoded but governments only play half the game. The other half is that governments must aggressively get rid of the debt in good times. Martin did a bit and Harper meant to but his good intentions were warped by the inter-nation dogma that stimulus spending was the thing – which most economists disagreed with. I gues politics trumped economics.

    I see in this crowd it is also fashionable to trash older ideas, as if the latest graduates necessarily had all the answers. Someday your professors will be negated too, as economics is a most fickle trade, pretending to be a science when it is just guru talk.

    • Actually economists all agreed on a stimulus, and so did the G20….including Harper.

      Old ideas suited old times….not today.

      The global economy is still a mess, and will remain so until people think in new ways.

    • "Martin did a bit and Harper meant to but his good intentions were warped by the inter-nation dogma…"

      Isn't it funny how conservative politicians seem to get bonus points for (assumed) good intentions, while liberal politicians are graded down on their actual accomplishments?

  11. But this doesn't mean the left is being hypocritical, not at all: I think it involves a very welcome abandonment by the left its long-standing hostility to the liberal state.

    Surely I can't be the only one to remember that "liberal" and "liberty" arose from a common word, that was supposed to mean something along the lines of freedom? Exactly where are you going with "liberal state" here, Andrew?

  12. Andrew,

    I loved this post. Thank you.

    (To add a bit of snark: You do seem to confuse the academic and social justice left with the actual real political left: but that's kind of your job, isn't it? – as resident interpreter of intellectual trends)

    I read a lot of Foucault both in undergrad (for course work) and post-grad (out of interest) and generally found his insights fascinating. I also have nodded along while reading Hacking. However, having done my post-grad stuff in the UK, in War Studies, a country and an academic discipline generally not sympathetic to continental philosophy or critical theory, I really have had no idea how Foucaultian-style analysis was being applied in the real world. Sociologists studying, say, the growth of the professional officer class used these concepts – but the emphasis was always empirical.

    So I had no idea lefty intellectuals would oppose the census based on Foucaultian (at root gramscian) ideas regarding power and hegemony. Fascinating.

    When the sovereign dreams he dreams of the plague…

  13. It is astonishing Potter can associate support for the mandatory long census with support for the liberal state. When he was back in school reading Foucault and Hacking, maybe he should have read a theorist of the liberal state or two, like J.S. MIll. If he had, he would not have said something so absurd. The mandatory long census — essentially an elaborate research program sponsored by the state using its coercive power to conscipt citizens — is antithetical to the liberal state. And I wonder how Potter would classify people like me, who care about accuracy? Worrisome isn't, especially coming from someone cheerleading for the right of a statistical agency to compel information from citizens so they can classify them according to categories that may be . . . well . . . quite inaccurate.

  14. Was it Mill who said that although not all conservatives are stupid, all stupid people are conservatives …

    Just wondering.

    • So all you smartypants liberals won't mind spending eternity in the opposition benches then…lol. You can console each other by explaining to anyone who will listen how smart you are.

  15. If voters tend towards the centre….

    The centre isn't a fixed point, but one that has been, is being, and will be moved as a result of scrimages like this curfuffle.

    The current government however seems to prefer….

    Hey, this Harper bunch just isn't normal, are they? They don't play by the rules. Well, sure those "rules" aren' really rules and tend to favour the formation of some species of liberal government…

    • Excellent observation. The "center" IS a moving target to some degree. Though of course it's fairly easy to define at any particular point in time, since the position is reflected in our current cultural memes.

      For example, the center point on the census debate is easily determined once the debate has raged for a few weeks and the results are analysed logically; Most people think that it should be left mandatory even if we focus mostly on fines rather than jail time. You might add the caveat that the questions should perhaps undergo a review process that minimizes questions that might be perceived as overly intrusive.

      In the past I've been a progressive conservative voter, but as long as the CPC continues to attack the democratic institutions we've designed to provide the public with independent and factual reviews of the results and effects of government policies, I can't begin to consider voting for them.

      Politicians are supposed to provide oversight and represent the best interest of ALL Canadians using facts, not muzzling opinions they don't agree with and hiding information from the public.

      • P_K you arn't getting what I said. "We" didn't design the institutions as they are currently construed, "to provide the public with independent..etc.," No, liberal-minded Liberals did. These institutions reflect a world view that was assumed to be universal, but was actually only the unfolding of entailments inherent in a particular axiomatic system – liberalism and its brothers, sisters, and first cousins.

        As I see Harper's theme emerging, it looks to me that he has chosen to act as opposed to speachify. Actions speaking louder than words; what, what. Strategically, he is faced with a number of tactical disadvantages. I believe that, in his reading of the landscape, he can see numerous deployments that are unconsciously mal-disposed towards him – senate, several major media outlets, public advocacy/NGO crowd, judiciary, major components of the bureaucracy, insufficient seats in HoC- yet, having the helm and an agenda he has to steer through. What would Napoleon do? Why, a whiff of grapeshots just the thing to bust up a mob.

        • Facts are facts, and if one cannot openly and honestly debate those facts, but would rather play political games, then they don't have my support.

          There are always different opinions on the facts, and it is often the case that both sides of a debate can be said to be correct from a certain point of view, but this government doesn't even try to debate the facts or forward a cogent point of view. Worse, they not only hide from facts, but go out of their way to deny them to the general public.

          Pick a topic and what do you see? In every case, rather than put forward an intelligent argument they play divisive politics. I've yet to see one sensible defence of their actions in the past six months. Acting without consideration is foolishness from any sensible conservative perspective.

          They're so caught up in the "game" they've taken leave of their senses.

          The opposition is irrelavent. Governments defeat themselves because Canadians give benefit of the doubt. If the CPC had simply held to the center right and appeared reasonable, they'd be looking at a majority today I have no doubt.

          As it is, the only people undermining them, is in fact them.

          • Maybe you aught direct your ire at von Neumann and his game theories. He is largely responsable for having introduced the idea of "gaming" the system.
            Besides, why is it OK when one side games the system and not OK when the other does? Did you vote PC in the past when you were outraged at the Liberal gamesmanship?

            You may not like the divisive politics, but it is a one sized pie available for cutting up. The Harper approach may appear mean spirited to your (closeted) liberal sympathies, but what is he to do? Playing by the gentlemanly rules of the game will get him clobbered. His aim is to break away enough voters to retain power. Like it or lump it (you lump it), it is working – for his party.

          • Until 2008 I had never voted Liberal federally. In 2004 and 2006 I voted Green, and before that always PC.

            I've since come to regret not voting for Martin in 2004. When the worst thing people can say about you is that you take your time considering the evidence before taking a stance, or refuse to unneccesarily take a stance on trivial issues, that seems trite in comparison to the past 4 years.

            I don't buy the notion that one must become a thug to defeat a thug. That's not to say leaders shouldn't make strong statments or consider the optics of a situation, but there's no need to be mean spirited and petty about it at every turn.

            The thing that bothers me most though is the undermining of fact-based decision making and the inability of the CPC to justify its stances with sound arguments.

            I can put up with a lot of garbage, but an absence of fact and accountability for the reasons behind one's decision making doesn't fly with me.

            The fact that I even voted to Dion would shock you if you knew me personally.

          • And for the record, I'm not okay with ANYONE gaming the system. Pieces me off in fact, which is why the Greens have been getting my vote so often.

            Just as Elections Canada has limits on campaign spending, I think there should be limits to party spending on ads outside of elections too.

  16. Jenn: "…we've already collected this information, it would be much cheaper to just use it, and isn't that what other country's are doing these days?…"

    The Germans thought the same thing, but once they switched they realized the data wasn't that solid and was very expensive to compile in this manner.

    Then there's the issue of privacy. Currently our government departments are not allowed to share information or compile databases on individual Canadians. (security and criminal databases aside).

    The mandatory survey is actually the least intrusive, most accurate and most cost effective way of gathering that information.

    There's a reason the world is shaking its head at us.

  17. See, that's interesting. Because all one needs to do is interact with a lot of left-wngers for a couple of seconds in order to determine that they lack any intellectual integrity whatsoever.

  18. What a bunch of nonsense…the socialists of Canada are against doing away with the LF because PM Harper initiated its downfall. It's how politics today are done. Gitmo is still just as open today, nearly two years after Obama's election, as it was under Bush, yet you hardly hear anything about it. Why? The media (who are predominantly socialist) are in Obama's corner, that's why.

    I could never ascribe noble intellectual intent to anything coming from the left.

  19. In any transference of roles there is a continuum that is traveled. I too enjoyed Gordon's piece for drawing attention to a partisan role 'reversal' and I noticed that the break had to do with abandonment. That is, the Harper government has abandoned the role of chief survey writer. In effect they signaled that they are 'serving' those non-gov't interests by administering a grand survey and including the questions 'they want'. So when Potter writes: "what matters is how it is gathered, under what circumstances, and for what purposes." he is bang on. The point is none of it matters to the Harper government. It's like they're along for the ride and not in control. They have signaled that the gov't doesn't need it's own crafted statistics to support government policies. How then do they plan to support their policies? How will they educate the public that what they are doing is in our best interests?