Political pressure yields small concession from Harper Government to Francophones

Tony Clement, Minister of Industry and Commerce.

After weeks of pressure from almost every political, religious, business, ethnic and advocacy group in Canada, the Harper Tories made a small concession yesterday in the long form census.

Assailed as a liar by the NDP and Liberals, Clement will face a motion from the Parliamentary Standing Committee to restore the long-form census when the House of Commons sits in the fall. 

Minister Tony Clements said he will add two questions about French heritage on the short form census. This was no doubt in response to the court challenge mounted by the Francophone community.

“The Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities of Canada, which is now slated to argue its case in Federal Court on Sept. 27, has argued that Ottawa’s changes will yield a poorer picture of their presence and undermine the delivery of government services in French. The group declined comment late Wednesday on the new development, saying it had not received “any formal proposal.””

“Mr. Clement explained the concession – and why he didn’t make it earlier – by saying he was acting on “new advice” from the acting chief statistician, Wayne Smith, who replaced Munir Sheikh. Mr. Sheikh quit July 21 after Mr. Clement created the impression the veteran bureaucrat was onside with the decision to abandon a compulsory long-form census.” Globe and Mail

The Francophone community were the only group threatening legal action. The Globe suggested the Department of Justice believed the Government might lose the court challenge.

This is the first crack in the position taken by the Tories on making the long-form census voluntary, a move that officials at Statistics Canada say will make the results unreliable. What might be good for Francophones is still a problem for the rest of Canada which is not included in the Minister’s spontaneous concession.

All political parties agreed to drop the threat of jail time if Canadians didn’t comply with the census, which is an idle threat. No one has ever gone to jail for refusing to answer the questions.

Other minorities like the disabled are being shunted aside by the government.

Government dishonest

Documents obtained by CBC disclose that Industry Minister Tony Clement was looking for a logical rationale for the elimination of the long-form census after the decision was made.

The NPD and Liberal critics on this story were using the word “lying” to describe Clement’s assurances that Statistics Canada backed the changes.

” Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Rae held a press conference where he accused Mr. Clement of lying by suggesting earlier that Statscan supported his decision to scrap the census…“I think the government has been creepy, dishonest and underhanded. I can’t think any other way to describe it,” Mr. Rae told a press conference in Ottawa Wednesday.”  Globe and Mail

If was pretty clear from the resignation of Stats Can chief Munir Sheikh that Statistics Canada was not onside with the Clement. The documents received by CBC show the amount of disagreement. Clement was still struggling to concoct a cover story in mid July.

This does not agree with the assurances given by Clement that there was a statistical and scientific basis for elimination of the mandatory, long form census.

“He wasn’t telling the truth,” Rae said. “Mr. Clement knew that in fact the method was not statistically valid.” …In an appearance at McGill University last month, Clement said the government had “come up with a way that is statistically valid, that StatsCan feels can work.”

But the 200-plus pages of documents show Statistics Canada warned Clement’s staffers as early as March that the response rate for a self-administered voluntary long-form census would be less than 50 per cent.”We know perfectly well that now that StatsCan said exactly the opposite,” Rae told reporters.” CBC

Industry Committee will bring motion to return long form census

At the July 27th hearing of the Parliamentary Industry Committee, Minister Clement was in the hot seat. The expert witnesses and MPs were almost universally against the cancellation of the long form census. (Minutes of the meeting will be available at this site, although not at the date of publication.)

“At the conclusion of witness testimony, the committee adopted a motion that recommends the government restore the mandatory nature of the long form census,” said Michael Chong, Chair, House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.  “I will report this recommendation to the House of Commons when it resumes sitting this September.”

The Tory government has stirred up a hornet’s nest of protest in what should be a quiet Canadian summer politically speaking. The census debate has brought their latest poll ratings back down with the Liberals. It seems Harper’s government is incapable of keeping the lid on their worst impulses.

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