Politics

Layton calls for census compromise

NDP Leader Jack Layton says he's prepared to sit down with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reach a compromise on saving the mandatory long-form census.

NDP ready to remove jail threat from Statistics Act, leader says

NDP Leader Jack Layton says he's prepared to sit down with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reach a compromise on saving the mandatory long-form census.

New Democrat Leader Jack Layton speaks during his end of session news conference in Ottawa in June. ((Canadian Press))
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa Thursday, Layton said the compromise could include the elimination of the "bogus" threat of jail time for Canadians who refuse to fill out the survey.

At a news conference, Layton said the prime minister has used census statistics for his own work as an economist and should know the value of having a full, mandatory survey provide reliable data. 

"I am willing to meet with him and discuss the possibilities," Layton said. "We have to preserve the only reliable portrait that we have of who we are as a country."

The Conservative government announced in late June it would end the mandatory long census form for 2011 and replace it with a voluntary national household survey.

Since then, there has been growing outcry from statisticians, community groups, as well as some provinces and municipalities, claiming policy-makers would no longer have reliable information to aid their decision-making.

Jail time a 'bogus threat'

Opposition parties, have accused the Conservatives of manufacturing a crisis on the issue and letting ideology trump factual analysis.

Industry Minister Tony Clement, who is in charge of Statistics Canada, has defended the move, saying Canadians should not be coerced or threatened with jail time or fines for refusing to answer "intrusive" questions by the state.

But Layton said it was time for Harper to stop "hiding behind" Clement and "backbench ideologues" such as Tory MP Maxime Bernier and "take things in hand."

The NDP would be willing to introduce amendments to the Statistics Act upon the return of Parliament to eliminate the threat of jail time, he added.

"It is a bogus threat that has never been used; let's fix that," Layton said.

On Tuesday, Munir Sheikh, the former head of Statistics Canada, told the industry committee he resigned last week because he took issue with media reports quoting Clement suggesting the agency was supporting the government's move to end the mandatory survey.

Sheikh told MPs that "no statistician in the world" would agree a voluntary survey could serve as a substitute for a mandatory census. 

Clement told the committee he recognizes the information gathered in the long-form census is "valuable," but the government has sought to find a "balance" between collecting data and respecting Canadians' privacy.

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