Liberals move to reinstate long-form census

Liberal MP Marc Garneau is calling on the federal government to reinstate the mandatory long-form census, despite continuing insistence by the Conservatives that it is intrusive and unnecessary.

Liberal MP Marc Garneau introduced a motion in the House of Commons Tuesday calling on the federal government to reinstate the mandatory long-form census, despite continuing insistence by the Conservatives that it is intrusive and unnecessary.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures while responding to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

The Liberals, along with the Bloc Québécois and NDP, argue the 40-page version of the census provides valuable data that economists, social agencies and municipalities use in making policy decisions.

"Why is it that this government did not realize that by switching from a compulsory census to a voluntary census that they would be jeopardizing this priceless database?" Garneau demanded. "It was clearly a bad decision.

"There have been over 350 well-respected groups that have said 'Stop this insanity. Do not do this. This is the wrong thing to do,'" he said.


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Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe added to the demand during Tuesday afternoon's Question Period, asking in French why Prime Minister Stephen Harper would change the census "when he knows full well that this will jeopardize the reliability of data that ... civil society groups depend on?"

Conservatives remained undeterred, however, reiterating their position that the census demands too much private information from Canadian citizens.

"The government's position is clear," Harper responded in French. "We recognize that some people are a bit reluctant to give personal information, and we intend to work in co-operation with the public."

Government House leader John Baird quipped to the CBC's Julie Van Dusen that the government has no place in the bathrooms of the nation, alluding to a question on the compulsory census regarding the number of bathrooms in a respondent's home.

And in the House of Commons, Industry Minister Tony Clement asked MPs from the Liberal, Bloc and New Democratic parties: "If someone in your riding does not want to complete the 40 pages of personal, private questions about their ancestry or parts of their belief system, about their day-to-day routines or about the state of repair of their homes, is it the appropriate government response to harass them until they relent and comply?"

Garneau's motion removes a threat of jail time for those who refuse to fill out the long-form census, maintaining only that they should be subject to a fine of up to $500.

Conservatives oppose the possible punishments, calling them inappropriate.

Injunction sought on census switch

The Conservative government scrapped the mandatory long census form for the 2011 census in June, replacing it with a voluntary national household survey.

While all Canadians will still receive a mandatory short census, one in three households will be sent the new household survey as well. Previously, one in five households received the mandatory long-form census.

Statistics Canada has since acknowledged the data will not be as reliable, and some of it unusable.

Meanwhile, a group that represents minority francophone communities across Canada is fighting changes to the census at the Federal Court of Canada in Ottawa.

On Tuesday, the Federal Court continued to hear arguments from the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities, which says Ottawa will no longer be able to fulfil its obligations under the Official Languages Act without reliable data from the mandatory long census form.

The group wants the court to restore the long-form census quickly, saying government officials see the middle of next week as the deadline for any changes.


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With files from The Canadian Press