Census reinstatement motion passes

MPs have adopted a Liberal motion calling for the Conservative government to reinstate the mandatory long-form census, a symbolic move the Conservatives are expected to ignore.

Government shrugs off latest call for saving mandatory long-form survey

The House of Commons has adopted a Liberal motion calling for the Conservative government to reinstate the mandatory long-form census, a largely symbolic move the Conservatives are expected to ignore.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the Conservative government should admit its 'mistake' in cancelling the mandatory long-form census. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))
The motion, which passed 152-141 in a Wednesday evening vote in the Commons, also calls for the Statistics Act to be amended to remove the threat of jail time for those who refuse to fill out mandatory surveys.

The vote comes after Ontario and Quebec lodged formal complaints about the change, which has been condemned by numerous statisticians, policy, language and religious groups as well as several municipalities.

The Conservatives have insisted the move to a voluntary survey is a "balanced" approach that takes into account the concerns of Canadians who feel uncomfortable being forced to give personal information to representatives of the state.

During Wednesday's question period, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP Leader Jack Layton both called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to acknowledge he made a mistake with his government's move to scrap the mandatory long-form census, saying more than 350 experts and organizations across the country have come out against it.

Harper replied that the voluntary long-form census will be distributed to more households than ever before, and that Canadians shouldn't be threatened with sanctions such as prison time or fines when asked by the government to reveal personal information.

"We will treat people like the responsible adults they deserve to be treated as," the prime minister told the House.

Liberals ensure defeat of Bloc EI bill

In a later House vote, enough Liberals, including their leader, were absent to ensure a bid by the Bloc Québécois to enrich employment insurance benefits was defeated, even though Ignatieff threatened an election over the issue just a year ago.

Earlier in the day, Ignatieff emerged from his caucus meeting to declare Bloc MP Yves Lessard's bill, C-308, was "loaded up with stuff" that the Liberals wouldn't support and announced he would give his MPs a free vote.

He said the proposals made sense when the country was in the midst of an economic crisis and the unemployment rate had spiked, but are "not fiscally responsible" now. Ignatieff also accused Human Resources Minister Diane Finley of trying to "change the channel" on the census motion when she warned the bill, if passed, would force EI premiums to rise by $7 billion annually.

"This Bill C-308 is DOA," he said. "It's going nowhere. It's a complete waste of time."

Both Layton and Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe blasted Ignatieff for reversing the Liberals' earlier position on EI enrichment.  

"I guess there's not much room for the unemployed in the big red tent," Layton said scornfully, a reference to Ignatieff's oft-repeated metaphor for his party.

With files from The Canadian Press