Liberals demand meeting on long-form census

The Liberals want to reconvene a Commons committee to call Industry Minister Tony Clement to testify about scrapping the mandatory long-form census.

'We want to speak to Tony Clement,' Garneau says of industry minister

The Liberals want to reconvene a House of Commons committee in Ottawa to call Industry Minister Tony Clement to testify about scrapping the mandatory long-form census.

At the end of June, the Conservative government quietly announced it would be replacing the long-form census with a voluntary survey. Statisticians, researchers and academics have decried the move, arguing it will result in skewed and unreliable data.

The government has refused to reverse its decision, insisting that because the survey will be sent out to more people than was the long-form census, enough people will fill it out to get worthwhile data.

Clement and other ministers say they have heard many complaints from Canadians about the long-form census and the fact that it was mandatory, under threat of fines or jail time.

The Liberals' industry, science and technology critic, Marc Garneau, told a news conference Wednesday that he and his fellow Liberal MPs have never heard such complaints.

"And that's why we want to speak to Tony Clement. We want to hear about these anecdotes that he's obviously referring to, that people are telling him that it's intrusive, that it's a breach of privacy, that it's coercive. We want to find out, what is the basis on which they want to change things?" he said.

Census one of few 'civic duties': Garneau

It's clear Garneau and the Liberals don't believe Clement has heard many complaints because Garneau said the decision is based in ideology.

Meanwhile, the office of Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart says it has received only two complaints from individuals over the 2006 census, only 50 complaints over the past 20 years and that overall the number of complaints has declined since 1991.

Garneau said the long-form census, which was sent out to 20 per cent of households, is one of the few "civic duties" asked of Canadians, not unlike jury duty.

In a written statement Tuesday, Clement said the short-form census, which is still mandatory, will provide a sufficient demographic picture of the country.

"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 day they leave for work or how long it takes them to get there," Clement said. "The government does not believe it is appropriate to force Canadians to divulge detailed personal information under threat of prosecution."

Garneau argued Clement does not understand how scientific data is gathered or used, and that the census has to be mandatory to get responses from a wide variety of people. He said that information from the long-form census is essential for the development of sound government policies.

The industry, science and technology committee is already returning to sit later this month to study an unrelated issue. At that meeting, the Liberals say, they will move a motion to study the census issue, and if that fails, they will use a special procedure to compel a meeting on the census.

With files from The Canadian Press