What time do you leave for work? Ottawa’s never actually asked - Macleans.ca

What time do you leave for work? Ottawa’s never actually asked

Clement has been raising alarm about a question that wasn’t on the census yet


If there’s one thing about the long-form census that apparently bothers Tony Clement, besides the way it asks folks about how many bedrooms they have in their homes, it’s the prying into what time honest Canadians leave for work in the morning.

The industry minister has red-flagged this particular census question repeatedly during the controversy of the past few weeks. On July 13, Clement said, “The government does not think it is necessary for Canadians to provide Statistics Canada with the number of bedrooms in their home, or what time of the day they leave for work, or how long it takes them to get there.”

He repeated the point the following morning on CBC Radio’s The Current. On July 20, Clement’s op-ed piece in the Calgary Sun opened with this rhetorical question: “Do you believe the government should be asking you what time you leave for work in the morning?”  And then earlier this week—in his statement responding to Munir Sheikh’s resignation as Canada’s chief statistician over the canceling of the long-form census— Clement again said the government doesn’t think Statistics Canada should ask Canadians “what time of the day they leave for work.”

Why this piece of information is deemed so sensitive I can only guess. But it’s been raised so often by Clement that I looked for it on the 2006 long-form census questionnaire, just to see how it’s phrased. When I couldn’t find it, I asked both Statistics Canada and the minister’s office to point it out for me.

I got two quite different replies. From Statistics Canada’s media relations office came this emailed response: “The census has not ever asked a question on what time a person leaves for work.”

But Lynn Meahan, Clement’s press secretary, sent me a more complex answer by email. “In the 2006 census,” Meahan said, “it was a combination of [questions] 34-37-39 and 46.  46 asks for the address of your work.”

So this requires a bit of triangulation. Let’s roll up our sleeves and lick the tips of our pencils. Question 34 asked, “Last week, how many hours did this person spend working for pay or in self-employment?” Question 37 asked, “Did this person look for paid work during the past four weeks?” And Question 39 asked, “When did this person last work for pay or in self-employment, even for a few days?”

Granted, my powers of deduction are limited, but even if I put on a deerstalker hat and an Inverness cape and lit a pipe, I  could not put the answers to these three questions together, add the person’s address, and tell you the hour the suspect departed for work.

So I’m forced to conclude that the answer from Statistics Canada is the accurate one—that the census has never, in fact, asked when we leave for work. And that Clement has repeatedly raised alarm over a purportedly invasive question that has never been put to Canadians on the long-form census.

There is, however, a footnote here. Meahan tells me that she has seen a “mock up” of the planned 2011 census and that draft would, indeed, have asked, as its Question 48, when the person filling out the form leaves for work.

It seems, then, that Clement has been raising a preemptive alarm about a question Canadians might have been asked next year, had he not cancelled the long-form census. But since he’s the minister in charge, you’d think he could have just ordered that question removed or changed, if it’s so objectionable, and we’d never have heard about it.


I’m told by Statistics Canada that the new National Household Survey, which will replace the long-form census, will ask those who voluntarily fill it out when they usually leave for work. The questionnaire hasn’t been released yet.

Filed under:

What time do you leave for work? Ottawa’s never actually asked

  1. I leave for work at 8:30. The distance I travel to my office is 4km. I take public transit.

    …Wow, I feel so…so…not violated.

    • Good, you've just voluntarily provided information.

      Now, if you actually want to address the arguments people make about the involuntary census, let's try this: we'll ask you questions about your work, and you will either answer truthfully or go to jail. Sound good?

      • Depends, are Maclean's posters the ones asking? Or is StatsCan sending me a form that I send back, anonymously?

        • (1) It's not anonymous. The very first question after filling in your address is to fill in your name and the names of everyone else at the residence.

          (2) Since you're using a Macleans blog as the example of how little you mind volunteering the information, I think we'd have to use Macleans posters to see how little you mind when it's mandatory.

          • Actually, Gaunilon. Representatives delivering the forms instruct people to use whatever names they wish, made up or otherwise, if they are hesitant. Data is used at the aggregate level, individual names are not important. The name given is used in case you need to contact Stats Canada about it. The only other real use is for historians in the future.

          • If I may also add, it's fairly standard practice in research that once manual forms have been entered, and the data entry verified, that the forms are destroyed so as to be completely unreadable.

          • And, if I'm not mistaken, the contact information is used ONLY to ensure a response(accurate or not) from each household, and is removed even BEFORE the data is entered. That's why the serration on the front page!

      • I don't think I trust you like, say, I trust, StatsCan employees.

        Considering you are a) anonymous

        b) are most likely a Conservative party staffer in rural constituency office, bored out of your mind, and passing the time trying puncture Liberal arguments before returning home to your mum's basement to spend the weekend playing World of Warcraft and checking Facebook.

        c) essentially dishonest.

        • I confess I'm curious about the reasoning.

          (a) You know by name the StatsCan employees to whom your census info goes?
          (b) Is it all party staffers you distrust, or just Conservative ones? Also, why "rural"?
          (c) Now I can certainly see how one might conclude that Gaunilon is a bit dim, and quite possibly socially maladjusted, but if he were "essentially dishonest" wouldn't he try a little harder to hide these characteristics by echoing anti-Conservative sentiments here?

      • You are an tea party wannabe idiot. Do you vote? Do you show up for jury duty when asked? Do you believe you should answer questions about your background when applying for a passport? Do you fill out your revenue canada forms properly? These are just a few responsibilities of being a Canadian citizen. Nobody has ever gone to jail over the Long Form Census. And it's hard to believe that any of the Harper servile underlings have even read the census form. For they in all their backwater redneck wisdom, if they could read, the like of Pierre Polievre or Clements would know that "when you leave for work?" or a number of other "intrusive" questions they cite…don't exist in the Long Form Census. Just the like these Conservative thugs to make crap up on something they know nothing about and yet it is their job.

    • Anytime between 8:30 and 9:30.
      Between 950m and 1.1km depending on the route (according to Google Maps).

      That said, and all potential privacy implications (or lack thereof) of the above aside, what time I leave for work is not that useful a question without a lot of other information that's not currently asked. (e.g.: How long does it take me to commute? What time am I supposed to start work? Maybe these things were going to be asked, but it hasn't been stated one way or another.)

      Actually, looking at that last one, it suddenly dawns on me that it's not a good question to begin with as it ignores people who work shifts and therefore can not accurately state what time they leave for work. (Short of "varies".)

      • I suppose they could say "fifteen minutes before my shift starts" or something like that, but you've made a good point. Also, if the objective for the question is to discover how bad our gridlock is and if we can 'flex-time' our way around it a little more efficiently, the shift workers response I suggested wouldn't be helpful.

  2. "Meahan tells me that she has seen a “mock up” of the planned 2011 census and that draft would, indeed, have asked, as Question 48, when the person filling out the form leaves for work."

    Isn't that supposed to be confidential?

    • Yeah, usually. Only "final" copies are generally FOI-able. But hey, if they want to open their mouths about it, who are we to stop the flow of voluntary information?

      • I am assuming this is a different Lynn and I don't mean to dis either of you, but perhaps we should look for a more credible source before we assume there is no dis in the information she provided.

        • actually

          I was thinking about Tony. His hiding behind 69(1) cabinet confidences seems to be more than just a little selective.

        • LOL. We're not the same Lynn. And no offence taken – I'm speaking to my general observations in working on requests for FOI releases.

  3. You know, in all this hullabaloo, frouferaw and brouhaha I had completely forgotten that in 2006 I did in fact fill out the long-form census.

    I remember being a little peeved that I had to do it. Was a bit confused because the short-forms also came in the mail and then having to deal with a couple calls asking me to fill ou the long-form and send it in a few weeks after I had already filled it out and sent it in.

    However, I do not have a single recollection of the questions that were asked and in no way do I remember feeling that this was some sort of intrusion and that my personal information, like so much vital essence, was going to drained away from me for some nefarious purpose.

    For crissakes people, it is only every five years. Your chances of being one of the randomly selected people is fairly small and it is NOT an intrusion but rather a CIVIC DUTY to help with the proper functioning of our country and to give us a true picture of who and what we are over time.

    Give Michael Ignatieff some credit when credit is due. I believe he said it best on this subject:

    "You think education is expensive? Try ignorance!"

    • Yeah…I don't think Ignatieff was the one who coined that phrase. I'm pretty sure I saw it coming from teachers, first.

  4. C'mon John, you gotta read between the lines!

    First of all, they know where you live.
    Secondly, they know where you work because you just told them
    They know how you travel, and can figure out your logical route.
    They know what kind of work you do because you told them that too! So they can make pretty good assumptions about what hours you keep. They even know if you are working steadily – remember, they know if you worked last week or not!

    So it's child's play for government agents to do some deductive reasoning and figure out – within 1/4 hour – what time you leave for work each morning.

    Now, for the really scary part.

    They also know what your wife is doing, when she's home, when she's away from home, whether there are children in the home, how many bedrooms you have and how many bedroom closets for hiding in!

    Tony Clement is not being alarmist, enough! He's been lulled into the same false sense of security as the rest of you fools! I wouldn't complain that they want to know what time you leave for work, I would sound the alarm that they want to know when your wife and children are home alone!!!


      we have unregistered weapons and we know how to use them

    • Reading between the lines, are you suggesting my wife is sleeping with Tony Clement?

      • LOL – c'mon, I bet your wife has better taste than that.

      • Or your daughter??

  5. As I mentioned in another blog post here: it appears somebody has finally pointed this out to the minister himself. As illustrated by his CBC interview:

    "I've heard from Canadians who are concerned about other questions, like whether someone in the household has a mental or physical incapacity, they're concerned about questions about the characteristics of their commute to work."

    Though I can't help but wonder whether that occurred because Barton seems more likely to push back on talking-points and obvious falsehoods than some other CBC hosts.

    • Chances are they already have details on your mental or physical incapacity as your medical treatment and drug receipts would be attached to your SIN number via your tax return … if people were really worried about that.

      Ms Barton is doing a good job.

      • Not to mention if anyone in the household is filing for disability benefits.

        Of course, this will lead somebody to say "Well, if the government already has it why do they need to ask me again?"

        To which I once again reply: a single, anonymized data source is easier to work with and offers a larger guarantee of privacy. Particularly when the other option is getting a number of disparate government agencies, who may or may not use interoperable data storage formats, to share the data — an option which would not permit the data to be anonymized, as a method of linking the various entries together would be necessary.

        (It would also likely be cheaper than attempting what would almost undoubtedly be the massive — both in terms of costs and time required — undertaking of overhauling all government databases to be both interoperable and cross-referencable.)

        • Agreed!

          You'd almost think the census questionnaire was purpose-built by experts !

        • And because Canada Revenue Agency is (supposedly) prevented by law from disclosing your personal and private information to anyone else–even another government department! There is a service agreement between HRSDC and CRA for things like pension and EI, but even that I think is one way from HRSDC TO Canada Revenue Agency.

          That's why every year your tax return asks if they can give your name and address to Elections Canada. If you don't specifically approve it, they can't.

  6. Dear Mr. Court Officer.

    About this "Jury Duty" thing. Since I probably won't get called even if I do show up, and I have to fill out a form, tell you where I work and that sort of stuff, Tony Clement has said I don't have to show up. And your threat of a fine or jail time? I won't be coerced, damnit. I won't! I've written my MP!.

    Civic duty? Pah on your civic duty.

    Guy on the voters' list.
    ("wait, the voter's list has my name?"

    • The funny thing is the Voters' List, when I was a kid, was stapled to a telephone pole in the neighbourhood with everybody's name, address etc. so that people could check for themsleves that the information was accurate.

      Ah, such simpler times. It is good that our Conservative government want us to return to the good ol' days when nobody locked their doors and everybody was happy.

      Physical and/or sexual abuse, alcoholism, tuberculosis, drunk driving, these are all modern problems that have only exixted since 1971, The same year the long-form census came out. Coincidence? I think not.

  7. Now it finally makes sense. During working summits, who do we know who was late for the all important photo-ops?

    Now, why was he late?

    So, clearly the time you leave for work, and all information about bathrooms is very, very sensitive.

    • And the question about bedrooms? Should probably be about bathrooms.

  8. It's interesting that a lot of the Conservatives talk about "personal responsibility" in terms of criminal justice, or in opposing the welfare state, or in opposing abortion – but god forbid you impose on people to fill out a f***ing form every five years.

  9. I'm lazy and don't want to look it up myself – is not filing the census a penal offence that you can go to jail for, or is the only way you can be jailed is if you don't pay the fine?

    Seeing how the media constantly repeats that old bit about farmers going to jail for selling wheat outside the wheat board, I would ask anyone who answers to cite something mroe reliable than media reportage.

    • According the Statistics ACT – my sense is that it is an either or;

      31. Every person who, without lawful excuse,

      (a) refuses or neglects to answer, or wilfully answers falsely, any question requisite for obtaining any information sought in respect of the objects of this Act or pertinent thereto that has been asked of him by any person employed or deemed to be employed under this Act, or

      (b) refuses or neglects to furnish any information or to fill in to the best of his knowledge and belief any schedule or form that the person has been required to fill in, and to return the same when and as required of him pursuant to this Act, or knowingly gives false or misleading information or practises any other deception thereunder

      is, for every refusal or neglect, or false answer or deception, guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to both. 1970-71-72, c. 15, s. 29

      • excellent! thank you for doing my legwork.

        I am not in favour of eliminating the census, but sticking with the fine would be preferable, to me. (not that anyone was ever jailed, as I understand it).

        • Why are the judges letting everyone off without jail time? Maybe we need minimum sentence legislation. And no credit for time served. And no pardon's either. Why are the Conservatives soft on census crime?

  10. Apparently Dave Tilson's beefs carry a lot of weight in the CON party…

  11. Other questions we've never been asked that we should alert the minster about:

    Twin, Queen, King, Lonely (check one)
    When you get to work do you actually do any?
    What don't you grow on your farm?
    Is there anything you aren't telling us, that we should know?
    Is that a marijuana plant on your back porch window sill next to the watering can?

    • Queen. And nicely dressed.
      Yes, but perhaps not the kind I'm being paid for.
      No. Yes. Damnit!
      It's actually in the garden, behind the Lamb's Ears.

  12. I always find it interesting when Canada's politicians focus on "work", the concept of which I'm not entirely certain they are familiar with. But, if they keep bringing up the idea enough times, perhaps we will be convinced that they actually "work" for a living.


  13. By the way, Maxime "Briefs Optional" Bernier has gone silent, which leads me to conclude that he was freelancing before. Of course, with him, one never really knows.

    • Or, he's figured that someone's going to take the fall for this, and he'd rather it be Clement.

    • And is the time it takes to get to work measured from Maxime's front door or Julie's (or wherever he's 'sleeping' tonight)?

  14. Worked ESL with newcomer to Canada – PhD student, wife working as CGA.

    He, his wife, baby, mother visiting from China living in small apartment with kitchen/living room, computer room/bedroom – so 1 enclosed area with a door.

    Surely this says something about Canadian citizens' (they were) living conditions … particularly when you compare it with "starter castles". Oh … this must be the Masstuhh. Beautiful.

    • That's a pretty bizarre complaint… if it is in fact a complaint at all.

      A young family lives in a bachelor apartment , she works, he studies, and it's kinda cramped when the MIL is visiting.
      Meanwhile, other people live in big, luxury homes. What exactly is the injustice here?

      You say "Surely this says something about…" but I'll be damned if I can figure out what it's supposed to be saying.

      • Well the MIL is there for her 6 month visa or whatever … then the other inlaws come over for the same period. Even in a town of 200,000 these people can spend a lot of time immersed "in China" : movie theatre, everything.

        Sorry for my lack of clarity – I just have the impression that many Tim Hortons people think "reality TV real estate" is normal and what they should aspire to. And … many Canadians can't be bothered learning about another culture or language – even out of curiosity or for national unity.

        If you were trying to figure out how "broad" Canada is, as a government planner (housing, energy use, programs, social cohesiveness) you'd really want both Conrad Black and these people reporting on their situations. That's really all.

  15. I'm told by Statistics Canada that the new National Household Survey, which will replace the long-form census, will ask those who voluntarily fill it out when they usually leave for work.

    In other words, Clement is dissing his own voluntary form. Good God, how incompetent is this clown?

    • You don't know the half of it!!!

  16. If Tony Clement finds the census invasive I wonder how he feels about Toronto Police misleading Torontonians into believing that they were required to present IDs to police within 5 metres of the G20 perimeter.

  17. The current ruling of the supreme court might just silence this debate. I do not know how far reaching will this ruling be, but according to the news, supreme court has just ruled that any Canadian can be compensated if his/her charter of rights are violated, even without the misconduct by authorities. Is mandatory census a violation of one's chartered rights and freedoms? Anybody knows?

  18. Okay, so let me understand — the offensive question that they're using as justification is one that is being added during their reign, to a replacement document they themselves have commissioned?

    The census situation is now officially satire-proof.

  19. give me your first and last name, your address, your sin so i can have it on file, you're big brother has gotta look out for you right?

  20. OK, OK I'll answer.
    I left for work in 1946.

  21. What if you have a Blackberry? You never leave for work. You're always there.

    • You could claim your car and home as office locations for tax purposes, except of course that taxes are going to become voluntary and nobody's going to pay them anymore.

    • You will have to provide them with access to your Blackberry so they can verify that it is being used for work and you aren't playing games – with it or with them.

  22. I work out of my house. Sometimes I have to go to various locations to meet with people, take photographs, buy supplies. Sometimes I just go work somewhere else because I want to get out of the house or the neighbour is working on his house and making noise. Sometimes I work in the morning, sometimes I work in the evening. I do not own a suit, cannot tie a tie, and rarely wear socks in the summer. None of that is a secret, although a lot of people seem to find it odd. Tony "Shamwow" Clement wouldn't understand any of that though…he's too busy funding pork-barrel projects in his riding .