'This is simply ridiculous': The census and Audrey Tobias - Macleans.ca

‘This is simply ridiculous’: The census and Audrey Tobias

The National Household Survey is panned again


That quote above is from a spokeswoman for Industry Minister James Moore, commenting on the fact that a nice little old lady is in trouble for not filling out the short-form census.

But what in particular is ridiculous about this situation? One can make a reasonable argument that it is ridiculous that a nice little old lady would be threatened with prison, if even only in theory, for refusing to fill out the short-form census, even if the basis for the nice little old lady’s refusal is fairly debatable. But the Harper government has had a majority in the House and Senate for more than a year now and the Conservatives promised in August 2010 to remove the theoretical threat of jail from all mandatory government surveys. And so if it is ridiculous that the theoretical threat still exists, then the Conservatives should simply ask themselves why they haven’t moved to spare that nice little old lady the grief.

Is it ridiculous that we still have mandatory surveys of any kind? You might wish to argue as much, but then you’d have to consider what happened when we replaced the mandatory long-form census with a voluntary survey.

The Globe has now reported back on what it heard when it surveyed researchers and statistics experts.

Munir Sheikh, Statistics Canada’s former chief statistician who resigned in 2010 over the decision to scrap the census, said the effort has been a waste of money. “The irony is, we’ve spent more money compared to a census to get data which is largely useless. Why anyone would want to do this is beyond me. Why would you spend $600-million for this?” said Mr. Sheikh, who is now an adjunct professor at Queen’s University.

One analyst says the National House Survey’s income data is “pretty much garbage” and he a few colleagues have penned an op-ed to explain their findings.

In short, all the good news from the NHS is nonsense. The sad thing is that the news is now “official.” It comes from official government of Canada statistics. It will, no doubt, be used in partisan ways. It will be used to confuse the debate about the growing gap between rich and poor. It will be used to make it appear that Canada is becoming more equal, when the opposite is happening…

The income data in the National Household Survey is not valid. It should not be used or cited. It should be withdrawn. The 2016 census should be restored to the non-politicized, non-partisan scientific methodology that existed prior to the flawed 2011 National Household Survey.

And to their concerns these analysts follow various others.

So we can’t know as much about income equality and parts of HamiltonWinnipegSaskatchewan and western and rural Canada have disappeared and the city planners with the country’s most-populace city say the NHS can be relied on for historical comparisons. (With maps and charts, Global’s Patrick Cain explains who didn’t respond.) And, yes, it did cost more to produce less-reliable data.

This also seems rather ridiculous.

Three years ago, in the midst of the tumult around the demise of the long-form census, the National Statistics Council, the government-appointed body that advises the chief statistician, came forward with a series of proposals.

The National Statistics Council recommends:

  1. That, as part of a formal consultation process beginning with the 2016 Census, Statistics Canada examine each Census question to ensure that it, at a minimum, meets one of the following tests for inclusion in the Census:
    1. It is required by legislation or Cabinet direction,
    2. It is needed for small-area data uses for which there is no alternative data source,
    3. It is needed to create benchmarks for measuring difficult-to-reach groups and ensuring that subsequent surveys or data derived from administrative sources can be sampled or weighted to reflect accurately the overall population,
    4. It is needed to assess progress on issues of national importance, for example the economic integration of new immigrants, or
    5. It is to be used as a basis for post-censal survey sampling of relatively small or dispersed groups, for example, urban Aboriginals or people with health conditions that limit their activity.

Even if a question met this requirement, it would still face tests of its overall importance to the Canadian statistical system and the needs of data users as weighed against cost and the intrusiveness of the question.

  1. The Council is aware that other countries have conducted successful censuses without people having to face the potential of jail as a punishment for not filling out census forms. We, therefore, recommend that the Statistics Act be amended to remove jail sentences as a possible punishment for not filling out the Census. At the same time, the Council recommends that jail continue to be a punishment for those who wilfully break confidentiality provisions.
  2. That the Census for 2011 include the long form being used for 20% of the population as the only way, given the very short timeframe, to safeguard the quality of the Canadian statistical system.

That the question series on household activities (question 33 in the 2006 long-form Census) be dropped as it was the question that occasioned the largest number of objections among the substantive questions and since it fails to meet any of the five tests outlined in point 

So review all the questions to ensure their necessity. Drop those related to household activities that have been the subject of complaint. Drop the threat of prison. But otherwise maintain a mandatory long-form census.

If the Harper government adopted those proposals now, it could be sure that in the wake of the 2016 census there would both be less reason for anyone to complain about the reliability of the data and no reason for any nice little old lady to fear imprisonment.

Indeed, let us mind our elders. Ms. Tobias rationale for refusing the short-form census might be debatable and it might be ridiculous that she is theoretically being threatened with the theoretical threat of prison, but on her way to court this week she seemed actually to have maintained some faith in the civil responsibility of the census and the usefulness of reliable data.

“What, are they going to put a little 89-year-old in jail? Well, let them,” Tobias said, defiant and livid that it has come to this. “Shouldn’t the federal government face the same courts for killing the long-form census?”


‘This is simply ridiculous’: The census and Audrey Tobias

  1. The Harper government, self-declared stewards-par-exellence of the public purse (just ask them), wasted an additional twenty-two million dollars in collecting data that is, according to most credible authorities, nothing but junk.

    They were warned of this probable outcome but, as usual, they knew better than everyone, especially those damned field-specific experts.

    • Why do you think the probable outcomes were not their intention in the first place?

    • $22 million extra is a small price to pay to be able to say “my gut says…” in order to win every debate. Somewhere, there is a tear of respect and happiness gleaming in G W Bush’s eye.

      I’m starting to think that every debate about the census in the House should begin with “The Minister in charge of this change, that unestimable imbecile Tony Clement…”

  2. The Conservatives should have just killed the long form Census, as opposed to continuing to spend money on something that it clearly worthless.

    • To be more specific.. something that they made worthless.

    • No doubt evidence-based policy is worthless to radical con ideologues…

    • You may want to look up the definitions of clearly and worthless. You may not be aware of what they mean.

    • It was nearly worthless before, except for purely academic pursuits. It became entirely worthless when the Tories made it optional, destroying any statistical validity it may have had. Since they decided, rightly or wrongly, that it wasn’t worth keeping intact, they should have had the ballz to just cut the entire program. They’d have actually saved some money that way. The basic census gives us what we need. It never needed to become anything more than that.

      • “It was nearly worthless before, except for purely academic pursuits.”

        Further suggested cuts:
        Health Care – nearly worthless except for purely medical pursuits.
        Canadian Forces – nearly worthless except for purely military pursuits.
        Fisheries and Oceans – nearly worthless except for purely fish catching pursuits.
        Natural Resources – nearly worthless except for purely resource extraction pursuits.


        • Was that supposed to be a rebuttal? You appear to be arguing that because some departments are good, that means all departments are good.
          Why don’t we have a federal dept of yarn and wool? It would be nearly worthless except for balls of yarn and wool sweaters. And who could possibly be opposed to wool sweaters? What a powerful argument to bring back the useless long form census.
          We need a long form census that is mandatory because we need health care! Great point.

          • Nice one!
            I think you just came up with the killer argument that would convince any sheep farmer to sell off the flock:
            Wool – totally useless except for clothing a a few other things.

            Geez yer smart.

          • Compared to you, I’m Einstein.

          • You’re on a roll!
            Einstein – worthless except for some academic papers.

        • Clearly you can’t come up with a cogent argument in favour of preserving the long form census, and instead resort to silliness. You might want to quit while you’re ahead.

          • Actually, I thought your argument in favour of it was sufficient.

    • If I don’t understand something, I do tend to blow it up with dynamite. Is that wrong?

  3. Mr Harper, willing to go the distance to spend whatever it takes of your hard earned cash [even if it doesn’t work] in order to protect you from prying busy bodies in the govmint. But remember, you’ll still go to jail if you don’t fill em in properly.

    Catchy ad eh?

  4. I have refused to fill out the census for almost two decades now, not yet charged and seemingly left alone. Why not fill out the census? Simple; because Statistics Canada LIES. Stats Cans grossly under reports inflation numbers resulting in lower raises to workers, pensions increases to retirees, etc., while allowing the Bank of Canada to justify an abnormally low interest rate that robs from responsible savers.

    Refuse the Census and tell them why.

    • You descendents will not thank you when they strive in vain to find you in census after census. At least leave a detailed tombstone inscription, please, and mandate that many copies of your obituary be distributed.

      • As a fellow genealogy junkie, Amen to that.

    • I think yours is an outlier opinion. StatsCan was regarded internationally as one of the most competent organizations in the world in their methods of gathering data, impartially analyzing it, and unconditionally respecting/protecting the anonymity of its sources. Other nations regularly consulted them in establishing or refining their own data-gathering capacity. You could question the validity of their criteria (as you seem to be doing), but their integrity and impartiality was unimpeachable.

      The Harper Cons have pretty much torched that reputation and credibility. I marvel at how a) clueless b) ruthless c) corrupt d) all of the above, they are.

      • So you agree the official annual inflation rate has been hovering around 1-2% for the last decade? Have you been shopping for groceries or putting gas in your car lately? Oh, I forgot, Stats Can doesn’t always include those pesky “volatile” items, do they?

        • Even if I did agree, your grievance has nothing at all to do with StatsCan’s methodology or record of integrity (before the HarperCons wrecked them).

          • You have yet to respond to my so called “grievance” so let me repeat it before it gets buried in your doublespeak and hyperbole; Stats Can. intentionally manipulates the inflation numbers, resulting in underfunding of ANYTHING that is ultimately based on the “inflation rate” and thus they have absolutely no moral grounds to demand truth, information or accuracy under threat of kafkaesque legislation. I really don’t care if their methodology in counting how many refrigerators or microwaves an average household has is the ‘envy of other countries’ Statistics Canada is a waste of taxpayers money, and no, I am not a Harper supporter, never was.

          • Unfounded. No proof whatsoever. Give it a rest.

          • They don’t intentionally manipulate it. They just haven’t bothered to fix what is clearly wrong with the index, and in fact, is wrong with every inflation index the world over. They never should have allowed substitution and hedonics into the calculations. But StatsCan follows global statistical trends, and that’s the way its done nowadays. Don’t confuse basic herd mentality and institutional inertia for intentional manipulation.

      • They do understate inflation, no doubt about it. They do so through substitution and “hedonics”. But they’re not doing anything different than any other agency tracking inflation around the world does. Governments everywhere have a vested interest in keeping official inflation figures below real inflation. Ditto for GDP. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s just a method of indexing that no longer serves its original purpose – to accurately track the true cost of living. And there’s no motivation to fix it, since it would mean every indexed government pension, tax bracket and tax credit would have to be adjusted upwards more aggressively each year, and governments would have less money to spend.

        • Like I said…

  5. this article is garbage, since it didn’t state the reason she refused, because the census was handed over to an American corporation that made ammunition and bombs to be compiled. I can see her point, since she simply does not think that kind of corporation knowing the stats of every Canadian citizen is appropriate.

    • I believe, based on what I know of Stats Can’s, standard practices that Lockheed Martin supplied IT solutions to Stats Can, but they do not process the data. If you have information that shows that they do, please provide that.

      If the data HAS gone to Lockheed Martin, then this is a huge issue, in my opinion.

      • I’m pretty sure that is what the court case is going to decide, but has ANY huge corporation EVER not taken advantage of some back door or loop hole to profit them alone? I’ve never seen it happen

        • StatsCan uses their software. That’s it. I used to work for federal departments and we used SAS and SPSS Modeler for stats analysis , and Cognos Impromptu (formerly an independent Ottawa company, now owned by IBM) for basic data mining, and there was never a chance that any data went to any of those companies. Those were huge contracts, especially SAS. I don’t see why or how Lockheed Martin could possibly be any different.

    • Your tin foil has is on too tight.

      • WTF someone questions whether a huge corporation is using the data it collects and you start calling them insane. F*%K YOU, YOU IGNORAMUS! are you really that naive?

  6. Another Harper lie – all front and no substance.
    Whip up the base, publicise the fact that you have cahnged something but fail to actually follow through in reality. As Wherry said, they’ve had more than enough time to get their stupidity ratified and into the law, but they haven’t.
    I guess they were too busy defrauding voters, planning attack ads, paying thousands of PR people to tarnish the turd they call their record AND they know their base are too stupid to realise they’ve been duped.
    And like a real modern Conservative they expect others to cover up for their inability to actually do their job as the remarks of Moore’s spokeswoman show only too well.

    “This is simply ridiculous. No Canadian should be treated this way,” said Jessica Fletcher, Moore’s communications director, in a note to CBC News.

    I guess they wouldn’t have been treated this way if the law had been changed like you said it would, you’ve had the time but it appears you can’t get it done.

  7. A: Beyond knowing how many of us there are, it is none of the worthless piece of crap federal government’s goddamn business knowing any more than that about us.
    B: I defy anyone to provide an example of a federal government program that is an unqualified success AND is a direct product of sound planning based mostly upon census data beyond the basic “how many?” and “how old?”.
    C: The Feds already know everything the actually need to know about Audrey Tobias. Everything. What can possibly be gained, by any wild stretch of the imagination, by prosecuting her? The only logical explanation here is that the Crown prosecutor has an intellect that’s a mile wide and an inch deep. There is no potential upside here for the Crown. Just as jailing farmers for the heinous crime of selling bootleg wheat was the death knell for the Wheat Board, sending a little ol’ lady off to the hoosegow for being a census resistor will only result in more Stats Can employees learning the hard way that McDonalds is hiring.

  8. Please attend the sentencing with Audrey.

    When: Wednesday Oct 9 at 10 am
    Where: Courtroom #122b, Old City Hall (Bay & Queen)

    Tobias can be sentenced to jail
    and/or pay a fine.