Statisticians and the bedrooms of the nation

Tony Clement and the resignation of Munir Sheikh, the chief statistician of Canada

Of all the strange elements in the government’s case for eliminating the long-form census, the most absurd has to be the Conservatives’ fixation on the census question about how many bedrooms are in a home.

In his statement this evening acknowledging the resignation of Munir Sheikh, the chief statistician of Canada, Industry Minister Tony Clement once again singled out the supposed invasiveness of this particular query.

“We believe it is not appropriate to compel citizens to divulge how many bedrooms they have in their houses,” Clement says, “or what time they leave for work in the morning.”

Now, we all know why inquiring about the hour Canadians begin their commute is offensive—that was the first bit of information the Stasi always collected on their quarry. But why is the matter of bedrooms so sensitive? Does it have something to do with the state meddling in, you know, the boudoir?

If that’s it, perhaps overheated Tory imaginations would be cooled by reading what Statistics Canada itself says about this matter in its handy guide to the questions on the 2006 census and why they were asked:

“Information on the number of rooms and bedrooms in homes and on housing costs is combined with data on the number of persons in households to assess the economic situation of families in different regions. Provincial and municipal governments use this information to measure levels of crowding within households and to develop appropriate housing programs.  Information on the age of dwellings and their need for repairs is used by municipalities to develop neighborhood improvement programs.”

I’m going to guess that it would be a challenge to read that dry, sensible explanation and maintain a proper libertarian sense of alarm over state intrusion in private matters. I mean, who writes this stuff—bland and harmless statisticians just trying to do their jobs?