When I wrote my blog Research has become a “Dirty Word” in the Federal Government , I had no idea how far the government would go in dismissing valuable research to help guide important government decision making. Well the recent news about the long –form census being canceled threw me for a loop. When I first heard the news that government would oppose the mandatory long-form census, I thought it was a rumour, or worse a joke or prank but no this is really happening.
Based on news reports, last fall the government decided that they would oppose the mandatory long-form census. Since then, nothing has changed their mind. This policy is being denounced by almost every leading institution and commentator in Canada. See Maclean’s for list
Tabethy Southey in her column: Long-form census? Nah, we’ll ask Paul the octopus points out the Industry Minister explained that they can compensate for the fact that certain demographic groups are likely to forego completing the long-form census because “statisticians can ensure validity” with a “larger sample size.” ( i.e done voluntarily).
This isn’t the case. Simply put, no matter how broad a sample size statisticians use, the fact that some groups are likely to be underrepresented will mean that the database will be faulty.
You wonder why this decision was made. (the privacy argument is quite weak- the government knows there are provisions in the legislation preventing answers from being linked to the person giving them. They also know that neither the privacy commissioner nor the committee that crossed the country studying what should be in the census heard complaints about long-form privacy concerns. Canada’s privacy watchdog has received only three complaints about the census in the last decade). Perhaps it has more to do with how this government wants to develop policy.Without detailed data it will be easier to promote and defend public policies that appeal to conclusions based on personal opinions. Politicians seldom want to let the facts get in the way of their opinions based on what their constituents tell them at their local Tim Horton’s. In other words we have government who would rather not be confused by the facts. But is this the way to run a government? It means the country’s course will be shaped more by assumption and emotion than by proof and reason.
As Jim Travers points out , credible information is the starting point for sound decisions. Municipal, provincial and federal planners rely on the census for that information, as do businesses, academics and ordinary folks curious about their changing world.
For example, when political parties, including the party in power, want to get elected they make a great deal of use of the census long form demographic results in tailoring their campaigns and advertising.
Let’s face many people happily divulge large amounts of information on the comments card at a chain restaurant, and provide their phone numbers; they give intimate details to dating sites. They provide tons of info on web sites and they have no idea that when they sign up for a card that gives them points or some type of membership they are giving corporations an incredible amount of personal information.
How about social media sites like Facebook? Any privacy issues there?
Without scientific information, parliamentarians fly blind when developing policies or approving legislation… I suspect they like this scenario.
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