Farmers still face mandatory agricultural census

Canadian farmers will still be required to fill out a questionnaire about their farming methods, even though the federal government is scrapping the mandatory long-form personal census.

Canadian farmers will still be required to fill out a questionnaire about their farming methods, even though the federal government is scrapping the mandatory long-form personal census because it says it is too intrusive.

In conjunction with the regular census, Statistics Canada also surveys farmers across the country, asking detailed questions about crops and farming techniques.

For example, farmers are asked about the area of land fertilized with manure, whether that manure was spread on the soil, injected into it, or fell randomly from a cow.

CBC News has learned that this survey of farms remains mandatory, although the national long-form household census is being replaced with a voluntary version in 2011.


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Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said the agricultural census has to remain mandatory because it is important for farmers and farm policy.

"If you're sitting and trying to put together policy and direction for where you want policy to go, you need to have that kind of [information] in place," he said.

Canadians are compelled by law to fill out the long-form personal census, which asks detailed information about their homes and lives.

The Tories say the questions are draconian, involving queries on the number of bedrooms in their homes and what time they leave for work. The Liberals say the census asks about the number of rooms in their homes and how they commute to their jobs.

Industry Minister Tony Clement , seen in early June, says he has said all he has to say on the census issue and won't be revisiting it. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Under the changes, 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 were sent the mandatory long-form census.

Liberal industry critic Marc Garneau said the government is being hypocritical by making fun of questions about bedrooms, but at the same time forcing people to respond to questions about farms and cow manure.

"In that particular case they have decided that they need very minute and precise information about the amount of fertilizer that they have put on the field," Garneau said.

The office of Industry Minister Tony Clement did not respond to questions posed by CBC News about the mandatory farmer survey.

Earlier, Clement defended the Conservative government's decision regarding the long-form census.

After a tour of McGill University and the Génome Québec Innovation Centre in Montreal, Clement was asked his reaction to vocal opposition to the census change that has come from a variety of groups, including economists, statisticians, social scientists, minority and business groups and researchers in various fields, including medicine.

"We are with those Canadians who feel that a mandatory census with threats of jail time or fines is too intrusive, too coercive," Clement said. "There are Canadians who are bothered by this, not all Canadians, but there are Canadians who are bothered by this.

"To those Canadians who aren't, if you get the long form census, continue to fill out the long form census."

Clement further defended the decision by arguing Statistics Canada says the new system can work.

"We went to Statistics Canada, and we said, 'Help us come up with a valid way that can collect the data in a legitimate way on a voluntary basis that will not degrade the data'," said Clement. "And they gave us some options, and we chose an option that Statistics Canada said would work.

"I would say to the self-proclaimed experts on this: If you trust Statistics Canada, why don't you trust the option that they put forward to obtain the data that businesses and municipalities deem to be necessary but at the same time respect those Canadians who do not want to be coerced into giving that data."

When the decision was first announced in late June, lead statisticians at Statistics Canada conceded in an interview with the CBC that while more people will receive the longer survey, the fact that it is voluntary means the agency will have to double its efforts to get people to respond. They also said that even that additional effort might not be enough to get the same level of detail as was obtained in previous years.

And while Conservative ministers have said they have heard many complaints from Canadians about how the long-form census is an invasion of privacy, the office of Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart says it has received only two complaints from individuals about the 2006 census.

Over the past 20 years, the office has fielded only 50 complaints, and overall, the number of complaints has declined since 1991.

Clement says his government is reacting to those Canadians who do have an issue with it. He insists the data obtained through a voluntary survey will still be statistically sound and said he will not be revisiting the issue.

The Liberals have vowed to try to amend the Statistics Act to make the long-form census mandatory and are also promising to recall the House of Commons industry committee this summer to study the census issue.