Census squabble: weak arguments shouldn't have even worse foundations - Macleans.ca

Census squabble: weak arguments shouldn’t have even worse foundations


Lorne Gunter has become almost (though not quite) the lone defender of the government’s otherwise cryptic attack on the random distribution of the census long form. I am not particularly interested in his ethical argument against the long form. There is a case to be made that it is unacceptably intrusive for a government to compile such data, but:

a) neither Gunter nor Tony Clement appear to have a problem with actually filling out the long form—in fact, they say that they will fill it out voluntarily and that others should too;

b) censuses themselves are inherently illibertarian, but not so much so that they haven’t been permanent, constitutionally entrenched features of the United States, Canada, and most other similarly disposed liberal democracies;

c) ethical arguments against the long form are inadmissible when accompanied by myrmidons of statistical illiteracy, as they have been for both Clement and Gunter;

d) Statistics Canada has an unblemished historical record of owlishly strict privacy protection, so any actual Big Brother-type harm done to recipients of the long form is hypothetical; and,

e) isn’t it just the slightest bit embarrassing for a government whose leader has trashed libertarians for their ethical myopia to have minions and media partisans present a libertarian pretext for an action that is not literally among the first 200 policy changes that would be implemented by an intelligent libertarian given plenary power?

So you can count me out of the cheering section. But what really irks me about my friend’s latest column is this bit of tangential recklessness:

…look at the statement last month from StatsCan on the reliability of bilingualism data gathered outside Quebec in the 2006 census.

Even though it was obligatory to complete the long form, StatsCan still believes francophones outside Quebec tailored their answers to skew the totals of French-speakers in the rest of Canada.

To make it appear that there were more French-only speakers than there actually were, francophone organizations allegedly encouraged their members to overstate their reliance on the use of French so federal funding to minority-language programs and schools would continue or grow.

Nobody at all, as far as I’m aware, has made any such allegation against “francophone organizations” outside Quebec. The mass e-mail that encouraged francophones to fib about being unilingual was anonymous, and the identity of its creator is still unknown. At least one francophone organization I checked with about this subject last week positively encouraged members to ignore the e-mail. Statistics Canada never suggested that these organizations had any hand in the propagation of the meme—merely that individuals, as individuals, may have been influenced by it.

Gunter, in attributing to the agency a conspiracist opinion about our semi-official francophone institutions, is flirting with defamation of both. It’s a mistake I’m sure he didn’t intend, and it’s not even relevant to the particular point he is trying to make. But the carelessness does enhance the impression of a fighter flinging muck in all directions because he cannot hope to survive a test of unobscured strength.


Census squabble: weak arguments shouldn’t have even worse foundations

  1. "Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, said the Census, which takes place every 10 years, was an expensive and inaccurate way of measuring the number of people in Britain.

    Instead, the Government is examining different and cheaper ways to count the population more regularly, using existing public and private databases, including credit reference agencies. " Daily Telegraph, July 9, 2010

    I read that Gunter column the other day and I wasn't impressed either because he doesn't really take a position. It was very wishy-washy article that was trying to not anger Libertarians while attempting to convince us to fill out the census anyways because it is not so bad. Gunter fills out the census himself, so it doesn't irk him all that much, NatPost should have got someone who hates the census to write anti-census column.

    I wonder why right wing parties in Canada and UK have targeted the census out of the blue. As Cosh writes, census is hardly a major irritant for Libertarians compared to a myriad of other programs. I would be delighted if governments got out of the business of collecting data on free citizens altogether but that's not at all likely so I wonder why go after the census and rely on other sources.

  2. You might also note that the only organization that has come out strongly for the changes, "CountMeOut", supports the gov. because the software Stats Canada uses is from Lougheed Martin and this somehow supports the illegal gulf war.

    Visit their website and tell me they aren't nutters.

    • I don't know, I'm a big fan of 2001 website design. The retinal burn is a little much though, and I'm not sure the anti-census song is catchy for the reasons they think it is…

    • "d) Statistics Canada has an unblemished historical record of owlishly strict privacy protection"

      I was actually going to mention the Lockheed Martin connection. There's no reason to trust their technology isn't spying on Canadians, as they are after all completely loyal to the American government for which they supply plenty of weapons to.

  3. “Weak arguments shouldn’t have even worse foundations.”

    If more people were to heed this advice, society would be far, far better off than it is today.

  4. I was required to complete the long form during the last census and frankly found it so intrusive I will never complete it again. I would prefer it if citizens were surveyed (note the long form is not a census) voluntarily. If not I encourage all citizens to commit the act of civil disobedience and ignore it. It is a right and tradition to do so.

    • What did you specifically find so intrusive about it? I also filled out the long form and can't even remember the questions aside from age/sex/ identify as what religion/ identify as what ethnic heritage/income bracket. And those were hardly intrusive, your own friends would know more about you.

  5. You're just discovering the "carelessness" of Gunter! Where have you been, man?

  6. Government members seem to be content with recording my communication with my MP in the private Conservative CIMS database … without my consent or any stated privacy policy. Why do they suddenly care if the government, proper gets "too much information" on citizens?

    It is puzzling why this is suddenly an issue. Perhaps after "the elite" (i.e. anyone who believes in evidence-based government policies) "force" the government to lower this trial balloon … the government will have public cover to weaken enforcement of the legal requirement to comply … passively achieving the same result. So far this "natural justice of the mob" practice has been moderately successful in weakening other federal programs. (One commenter elsewhere mentioned non-compliance was appropriate "in the land of the free" … plagiarism from other "lands" should not be tolerated in a script)

    With no ability to provide a credible explanation … it might be advantageous for the Minister to be re-assigned to Public Works … he has a real flair and talent for determining where the best investments of taxpayer monies are to be made.

  7. Certainly it's an issue that doesn't seem to resonate with very many people. A "beige" issue.

    This makes me a little worried. I get the impression that Harper is trying to cater to libertarian-leaners without actually doing anything substantive: a "See? We did something to keep you happy!" sort of meaure.

    My read: either (a) he's planning on doing something that is going to make libertarians very unhappy next and this is a weak attempt to soften the blow, or (b) it's preparation for an imminent election by offering libertarians a (very small) bone without driving away centrists.

    I hope it's (b). The sop to liberterianism is fairly insignificant and the policy itself seems to defeat the purpose of a census altogether.

    • It really is odd. Is he expecting the Freedominion crowd to support him, or not shift their vote to the NDP? I mean, come on, what alternative does the angry libertarian have?

      Is this another "change the words to O Canada" and distract the public with a mini culture war?

      • "….. what alternative does the angry libertarian have? "

        I wish more people voted for fringe parties instead of voting for big parties they don't like but support them anyways. And the Libertarian Party even sounds conservative when they present arguments/policies, not quasi-progressive like Cons do.

        Libertarian Party of Canada: Instead of government dominating the lives of Canadians through taxes and regulations, the Libertarian Party of Canada believes that Canadians should be free to run their own lives. We believe in a just, voluntary society that does not use government power to confiscate property or interfere with peaceful activities.

        Government should act only as our servant and never as our master. http://www.libertarian.ca/

        • "We propose the elimination of all government involvement in welfare and relief programs. Any aid to the poor should be conducted on a voluntary basis."
          "Therefore we support: an end to all compulsory or tax-supported health-insurance plans"

          Libertarians. Sociopaths with rules.

          • Libertarians. Sociopaths with rules.

            Surely you jest.

          • Read their policy statements. Their dream state appears to be Somalia, circa 2005.

            And my name's not Shirley.

          • Tending towards survival of the fittest, certainly. Harsh, sure, maybe even textbook definition of sociopath. But "TV definition" of sociopath, that's a stretch.

            Anyhoo, I will have a closer look at the link from bergkamp (didn't do that yet) to see if there is any hint of a softer side. If not, that could explain why they only got about 0.5% of the popular vote (based on results for 26 candidates).

          • Liberals. People who equate society with the state.

          • This isn't a liberal/conservative discussion, Colby. Don't distract from the discussion with partisan crap.

            Because neither Liberals nor Conservatives are currently advocating eugenics by economics as the current Libertarian party does. I know, the poor and sick have the same rights to contract with the health care provider of their choice as do the wealthy. But if I need dialysis, or open heart surgery, or insulin, and I'm not wealthy, then I'm screwed. That's a policy that promotes thinning the herd, no?

          • Only if you think the premise "We all need to provide ourselves with medical care somehow" leads directly to the conclusion that "Every part of the healthcare system absolutely has to be regulated, owned, and managed by the state". This leap depends on considering medical care as a good of a special, trans-economic nature, unless you also think it is pro-eugenic for us to depend largely on markets, as we do, for other non-negotiable necessities like footwear, produce, or home insulation. You can't use YOUR logic to convict libertarians of hateful secret motives they (or most of them) self-evidently do not possess.

          • You start by imagining what my premise is, then base your point on that surmise. That's cheating, Colby. You're not arguing a point now, you're preaching.

            I've said, and I say again, the health care policy proposed by the Libertarians is eugenic in nature, through economic means. You imagine I believe in the pure sanctity of government only health care. That's an assumption on your part. There is a middle ground, Colby. Most of us stand there.

            Anyway, I'll not push your head closer to the screen and yell to try to make my point. I think you and I have a terminal disconnect on this topic.

          • We do, since you keep shouting "Libertarians believe in eugenics!", don't present actual evidence for any of them expressing such a belief, and object to any attempt at an explanation of how you would reach this conclusion. You're not in any position to sniff angrily and demand fairness here, though I think I've been fair.

          • I'm not shouting, Colby. That's overstatement, and an attempt to weaken my stance by making me appear unbalanced.
            My proof? If the stated and printed policies of the Libertarian Party of Canada were turned into public policy, many, if not the majority, of those in need of ongoing and expensive medical care would not receive it. The disabled and ill are, as a class, poorer and less educated than most. The unemployment rate for those with handicaps is astounding. Have a look at the most recent census data if you…err. Never mind.

            Eugenics, divorced from Nazi atrocities in the 30's and 40's, has been government policy before. Forced sterilization of roughly 3000 through the Alberta Eugenics Board from 1928 to 1970, The Sexual Sterilization Act of 1933 in British Columbia and 33 U.S. States from 1897 to 1963.
            Stated policies that clearly ensure results that cause the death of the weak, the sick and the disabled through benign neglect meet the definition of eugenics. The evidence you're looking for is all right there on the Libertarian website.

          • Making you appear unbalanced? Heaven forbid.

          • You've ceded the argument then?

          • Mostly Civil wrote:
            "That's overstatement, and an attempt to weaken my stance by making me appear unbalanced. "

            Actually, Mostly Civil…..your posts make you appear unbalanced.

            Then you ask Colby,

            "You've ceded the argument then?"

            Basically repeating the same error in judgement and logic Colby has already pointed out to you. He did not say he ceded anything, you just assumed he did because that's what you want to believe.

            Like all Liberals, you believe what you want to believe……and unless the facts back up your predetermined beliefs, they are just annoyances that get in your way.

            How's this Mostly……why don't you start believing you are really really wealthy….and that girls actually find you attractive. See if that works out for you.

      • What alternative does the angry libertarian have? I've always kind of gone with "Strategic voting against whichever creep, bum, or bastard currently has the job."

    • I think it is the other way around Gaunilon.

      I think they are seeing a real fall-off in donors (their donations continue in the downward direction quarter after quarter, even if they still kill the other parties) coupled with a rise in conservative complaints to MPs. Certainly, that is what I am observing.

      So I would say it is more of a sop to libertarians who have gotten nothing from this government-growing, deficit-creating, corporate-welfare offering party. I'd say the same thing about the banning of abortion on foreign aid and the appointment of a Coalition of the Idiots on the boards of Rights and Democracy: sops to hard core conservatives who automatically give tons of money to the Conservative War Machine and need to be kept tepid instead of active.

        • There is a lot of data there and so it is tricky to analyze, but it helps if you actually look at the data to reach any conclusions:

          Comparing first quarters:
          2006Q1 – $5.4M
          2007Q1 – $5.2M
          2008Q1 – $5M
          2009Q1 – $4.4M
          2010Q1 – $4.0M

          Last 7 quarters:
          2010Q1 – $4.0M
          2009Q4 – $4.9M (last quarter is almost always the highest with year-end push)
          2009Q3 – $4.5M
          2009Q2 – $4.0M
          2009Q1 – $4.4M
          2008Q4 – $6.3M
          2008Q3 – $6.4M

          What is worse for them than the lost dollars – and more telling – is the actual number of donors has dropped off considerably:

          Comparing first quarters:
          2007Q1 – 45,192
          2008Q1 – 44,665
          2009Q1 – 39,432
          2010Q1 – 32,466

          Last 7 quarters:
          2010Q1 – 32,466
          2009Q4 – 40,004 (last quarter is almost always the highest with year-end push)
          2009Q3 – 39,785
          2009Q2 – 35,217
          2009Q1 – 39,432
          2008Q4 – 49,069
          2008Q3 – 46,871

          You actually have to go back to the first quarter of 2005 to find a lower number of Conservative donors.

          • I agree, the hope was to gain some $ (and activate some volunteers) by doing something that was in such an unsexy area that nobody would care. (I am using sexy in the Raiit way here)

            On a different note, I hope all can agree that it is encouraging that so many people are kicking up a fuss. We will get much better government if we can sell the government on the impression that we give a damn.

          • Looking at the annual donor figures:

            2009 – 101,385
            2008 – 112,184
            2007 – 107,492
            2006 – 108,890
            2005 – 106,818

            Sorry, I don't see any "considerable drop-off" based on annual figures, rather than Q1 figures. If anything, the annual figures point to a stable donor base.

            Looking at the annual totals:

            2009 – $17.7M
            2008 – $21.2M (election year)
            2007 – $17.0M
            2006 – $18.6M (election year)
            2005 – $17.8M

            2008 and 2006 were higher because they were election years. 2009 is an improvement over the previous non-election year, 2007. All in all, the numbers seem remarkably stable over the last four years. I don't see the evidence for a decline.

            Comparing 2nd quarters:

            2009Q2 – $4.0M
            2008Q2 – $3.5M
            2007Q2 – $3.8M
            2006Q2 – $4.0M

            It should be interesting to see if 2010Q2 is in the same ballpark.

          • You don't think they would have any concern about a 10% drop in the number of donors from last year? You don't think they would have any concern about a 7% drop from their average number of donors? Certainly, it is hard to characterize that as "stable". Especially when 2010 has started out indicating further erosion. They are down about $1M from the last quarter and about $1M from their average.

            The reason (one reason) for their success in fundraising is they take a telemarketing approach to it. As any telemarketer knows, the nitty gritty incrementals are everything. A drop of 7% when there should be growth is cause for much consternation, let alone an absolute drop of a noticeable and sizeable amount, especially when the other side is growing during the same period.

            And that is just from the blunt instruments that Elections Canada has. They would have much more finely honed analysis of where the money is still coming from, not coming from, etc. (they have made good use of the long form census data!).

          • You don't think they would have any concern about a 10% drop in the number of donors from last year? You don't think they would have any concern about a 7% drop from their average number of donors?

            Not at all. 2008 was an election year, and also the year of the "coalition crisis", so it makes perfect sense that the 2008 fundraising and number of donors were roughly 10% higher than normal.

            A drop of 7% when there should be growth is cause for much consternation

            Again, 2008 was an election year. Parties tend to raise more funds in election years. A minor (7-10%) drop in the year following an election year is normal and expected.

            They would have much more finely honed analysis of where the money is still coming from, not coming from, etc.

            I'm not sure what you're talking about here. You mean breakdowns by province?

  8. The Census is nothing more than a make-work program for civil servants. This is why the most rabid response to the long-form's new optional status has come from groups like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives–a far-left 'thinktank' (purveyor of the horrid rabble.ca website, which calls Canadian soldiers 'war criminals' and police 'pigs', along with indulging in Zionist and 9/11 conspiracy theories), sponsored by PSAC ("pee-sack"). The truth is that anyone with a LEGITIMATE interest in immigration, demographic, taxation, income, or other data can obtain this information from relevant government agencies that already collect this info. Defenders of the mandatory, invasive, long-form census are 180 degrees out of synch with the majority of Canadians.

    • Reality has a leftwing bias. Be a Conservative and stay deluded! Stand up, rightwingers, against intelligence and objectivity!

      • To reiterate: immigration, income and taxation, environmental and every other kind of PUBLICALLY RELEVANT data collected by StatsCan's random–and mandatory, under penalty of law–census is ALREADY COLLECTED AND AVAILABLE FROM VARIOUS GOVERNMENT AGENCIES. Pee-sack and their propaganda mill the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is merely having a conniption, because a bunch of grossly overpayed, defined benefit pension-covered public servants won't be paying dues to a union that funds antisemitic and seditious propaganda. All of the other people (academics, corporate entities) flipping out over changes to the census are mad, because Canadian citizens will no longer be coerced, under Federal law, to share their intimate details.

    • Linking the legitimate work of StatsCan with anti-zionist 911 conspiracists is lame lame lame. You're as bad as the loonies you mention.

      • No–I'm linking the taxpayer (i.e., MY) funding of dithering civil servants, to pee-sack's union dues, which end up funding crazy antisemites, Maoist and Castroist apologists, and sundry flaky traitors.

    • I would say the most rabid response to the census came from Stephen Gordon, a man whose radical tracts include "Statistical Comparison of Aggregation Rules for Votes" and "Asset Returns and State-Dependent Risk Preferences". Gordon is part of an insidious cabal of economists, businesses and civil servants that want to take OUR information to improve economic forecasting and the distribution of government services.

      • He probably wears glasses and has more than one bookshelf, too. Get him!

  9. weak arguments shouldn't have even worse foundations

    But isn't the awful foundation the main reason the argument is weak?

    I offer the following:

    weak arguments ALMOST ALWAYS have even worse foundations

  10. Actually the whole census is out of date – there are better ways of getting this information and it is already collected. Anyone legally entitled to be in Canada (and frankly I don't give a rat's a$$ for those that are not in Canada legally) will likely have a health card (because it actually has some value) and health departments in every province maintain and update this information and guess what? They publish it regularly – it is non identifying and tells you how many males, females of what ages and where they are living. That probably is as much information the census needs. I would health records data as a more reliable source that the census which is already out of date by the time they do anything with it.

    Now, if you want more information – it should be voluntary.

  11. One question sir,

    So what I have heard is that people volunteering to fill out this survey will horribly skew it. However, if forced by law, with threat of penalty, somehow the survey becomes neutral source of vital information– interesting.

    • So because the census is presently imperfect, making much of it useless is preferable?

      • Imperfect, as opposed to useless? I don't know, I am not a "Scientist" or, Thank God!, a " Social Scientist". To me, the choice between shitty science and even shittier science sounds shitty.

      • I don't look at it as a 'pat on the head' that, somehow, I earned, or should be pleased about. I look at it as policy that the government implemented.

        I don't care how useful it is to some. If I don't want to tell you simple facts about myself , and my family, then I won't. If I do want to tell you, then I will.

  12. If something good is to come of this, I hope the government moves dramatically in the other direction, and makes all Statistics Canada data free. If information is a public good (a premise that underlies our sacrifice of a little liberty), then the government shouldn't ration it out, particularly since it can be freely reproduced.

  13. Instead of a census, one should indeed use other methods to gather information.

    Just do as the NDP does…….

    Count union members, or folks on welfare…..and if the number is fairly high for that region………consider it an NDP stronghold.

    If however, the region is filled with independent, resourceful, and above all, taxpaying citizens……it's most likely Conservative.

    White collar criminals, organized crime, and other assorted crooks and thieves…….we're probably looking at a long time Liberal riding.

  14. Pot smokers…hippies, protestors, 911 Truthers and other assorted Tin-foil wearers…..we're looking at the Greens.

  15. Holly stick wrote:
    "Reality has a leftwing bias. Be a Conservative and stay deluded! Stand up, rightwingers, against intelligence and objectivity! "

    That may be true for your reality Holly, however, your reality is far different than the average THINKING Canadians' reality. You know…those Canadians who actually pay taxes and can hold down a job. Your reality is skewed based on the medications you forget to take.

    If we want to see what the world under the LEFT would look like, one simply has to go back and watch the video's of the losers during the G20 who insisted on breaking windows and burning cars. But credit where credit is due…..at least Jack Layton and Lizzy May were able to rouse their supporters out onto the streets for a few days.

  16. Hey James Halifax, you speak of pot smokers.. how about those drunk nascar conservatives who seem to have lots of family members that are part of AA (alcoholics anon). Ever consider that alcohol and NASCAR are just as bad as POT? I'm not a pot smoker but it's the same as alcohol, you hypocrite.. in fact drunk driving is worse and more damaging, and a lot of conservative rural nascar fans are drunks. I know of many personally.