Clement won't back down on census

Industry Minister Tony Clement has dismissed calls for him to reverse his decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census.

Industry Minister Tony Clement has dismissed growing calls for him to reverse his decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census, saying he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are on the same page on the issue.

Industry Minister Tony Clement acknowledges he would fill out a long-form census if he received one.
"There's not a micron of difference of opinion between myself and the prime minister on this," Clement told the CBC's Rosemary Barton in an interview on Power & Politics with Evan Solomon.

During the interview from London, Clement said the government has taken a "compromise position" between privacy concerns and ensuring usable data from the next census in May 2011.

Clement's comments came a day after Munir Sheikh, the head of Statistics Canada, the national statistical agency, resigned in protest over the move to scrap the mandatory survey.


Should the census be mandatory? Take our poll.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the Liberals and NDP slammed Clement's "ideological" decision, saying it has thrown Statistics Canada into "chaos" and will leave policy-makers and organizations across the country flying blind.  

The Conservatives have been on the defensive since Clement announced at the end of June that the long-form part of the 2011 census would no longer be mandatory because of privacy concerns. Canadians who receive the long form would be able to refuse to fill it out.

The furor escalated after Sheikh cancelled a planned town hall meeting with Statistics Canada staff, then announced Wednesday evening on the agency's website he was resigning over the issue.

In his statement, Sheikh insisted a voluntary survey cannot be a substitute for the mandatory form.

Clement says he'd fill out long form

Clement, who is in England on ministerial business, acknowledged he doesn't consider long-form questions — such as how many bedrooms one's house has — as intrusive.

The opposition Liberals say the reputation of Statistics Canada is 'hanging by a thread.' ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))
"I don't, but I've heard from Canadians who do," he said. "I've heard from Canadians who are concerned about other questions, like whether someone in the household has a mental or physical incapacity, they're concerned about questions about the characteristics of their commute to work."

The embattled minister also said he would fill out the long-form census if he were to receive it, but has to be "respectful" of those Canadians who are concerned about the "very private nature of those questions and give them a chance to opt out if they so choose."

Earlier Thursday, Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale told reporters in Ottawa that the reputation of the internationally renowned agency is "hanging by a thread at the hand of a bumbling minister and a Conservative government that simply doesn't believe in fact-based decision-making."

"'Don't bother us with facts,' they say," Goodale said. "The result is a general dumbing down of government."

The change, he said, will threaten basic services Canadians rely on, including hospitals, transit systems, jobless benefits and schools.

Goodale said he plans to call Clement before a parliamentary committee to determine what information Statistics Canada provided him before he made his decision.

He also ridiculed the claims of former industry minister Maxime Bernier that his office had received thousands of emails from people who were opposed to filling out the mandatory form.

In a separate news conference held shortly after Goodale spoke, the NDP's Charlie Angus called on Harper to overrule his minister.  

Tories using Tea Party language: NDP

Angus said Clement questioned Statistics Canada's integrity and left Sheikh no choice but to resign after suggesting earlier this week that the agency was on board with his decision to scrub the mandatory survey.

"Tony Clement says that he wants to abandon the long-form census, and he said that Statistics Canada supported him. Now we see that is clearly not the fact," Angus said.

The Conservatives, he said, are importing the anti-census language of the "fringe" of the U.S. Republican Party and the Tea Party movement to attack an "extremely credible" organization.

"This is a manufactured crisis to play to a partisan base," Angus said.