Critics won't change census decision: Clement

Industry Minister Tony Clement says he won't change his mind about scrapping the mandatory long-form census, despite mounting criticism of the decision.

Industry Minister Tony Clement says he won't change his mind about scrapping the mandatory long-form census, despite mounting criticism of the decision.

The Conservative government is scrapping the mandatory long form in 2011, replacing it with a voluntary national household survey. All Canadians will still receive a mandatory short census and one in three households will be sent the new household survey as well.


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Previously, one in five households were sent the mandatory long-form census.

Ever since the move was announced in late June, statisticians, researchers, academics, municipalities, religious groups and others have decried the move, arguing it will result in skewed and unreliable data.

In an interview with CBC Radio's The House, Clement says that despite the criticism, coming during the summer when many people are not paying attention to politics, he is not going to take another look at the issue.

"No, we're not," he said. "We've heard from Canadians from all walks of life who are quite relieved that we're taking this position as well."

Clement and other Conservative ministers have been arguing that many Canadians complained to them about the intrusiveness of the questions on the long-form census and the threat of fines or jail time if they don't complete it.

Opposition MPs say they have not heard such complaints and the privacy commissioner has said complaints about the census have actually declined over the years. 

Full farm census still needed

In the radio interview, Clement did not address the concern that the change will cost more money as the new voluntary survey will be sent to more households than before. But he did explain why the mandatory long-form agricultural census was not scrapped. 

Clement says the agricultural census is used for valuable measures "that will help farmers," adding, "The argument obviously to farming associations and to farmers is, 'You fill out the form, it'll help the government help you in your farming activities.'"

Critics of the government move have been arguing that's exactly what the regular long-form census does for the general population, and particularly for minority and disadvantaged groups.

Clement concedes that he did not consult with the groups and organizations that rely on census data. But he says that when the government approached Statistics Canada about changing the census, the agency gave three options to balance the concerns of those against the long-form census and those who rely on the data obtained.

Clement says the government chose what it felt was the best course, but he would not reveal what the other two options were.