Working with experts to make my private member’s bill even stronger

On Private Member’s Bills:

A Minister can introduce legislation whenever he or she chooses. As an MP , I have only one chance between general elections to put forward a bill. At the beginning of each parliament, there is a lottery, and each MP (except Cabinet Ministers) are given a number, and they are able to present one bill or motion when their turn comes up. An MP can table in the House as many bills or motions as he or she wants, but can only pick one for the House to debate and vote on.

My place in the lottery was 153, and after three years and four months, my slot is finally here! Later this fall I will introduce Bill C-626, An Act to Amend the Statistics Act, for second reading in the House of Commons.

Statistics Canada

My Private Member’s Bill:

Last December  I introduced my private member’s bill reinstating the long-form census and expanding the independence and duties of the Chief Statistician. I’ve spent the last nine months meeting with more experts (former Chief Statisticians, academics, scientists, business leaders) to see if there were ways to make the legislation stronger. I know from my time in politics that there are often unintended consequences to legislation and policies, and that it always helps to solicit more feedback.

Many people have offered their support to the bill, but a few key suggestions kept coming up.

First, my original bill called for reinstating the census “that conforms, in length and scope” to the long-form census. However, after speaking with experts, I realized that my bill was too specific, and it didn’t allow for the inevitability of new and innovative data collection practices or new sources of data. My amended legislation, Bill C-626, does not legislate a static long-form census but makes room for these updated technologies and practices, and mandates what is most important – the continuity of data series and the maintenance of data quality. Making sure that the data can be compared with earlier census findings is important. We know now that the poor quality of the 2011 National Household Survey (which replaced the long-census) means that we can’t see clearly how the country is changing.

The amended bill also expands the duties of the Chief Statistician to include keeping the public informed about the importance of gathering accurate statistical information and consulting with stakeholders on matters pertaining to the census. Like so many Canadians, I’d like to see a return to a more transparent government, and this means having the Chief Statistician communicate to the public about the work of Statistics Canada.

The last change to my bill has to do with publishing ministerial orders. Statistics Canada is accountable to the Industry Minister, but for transparency I wanted to publish all directives from the Minister to the Chief Statistician, in order to avoid a repeat of the 2010 “census debacle,” when the Conservative government claimed that the Chief Statistician supported the elimination of the long-form census. In response, the Chief Statistician could only resign. I know that there are many reasons that the Minister of Industry might need to direct the Chief Statistician on matters pertaining to StatsCan, so my amended legislation clarifies that only orders pertaining to technical or methodological guidelines and ethical standards for working on national data would need to be made public.

It was great to chat with so many people about my private member’s bill, which should come up for debate this fall.

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