Tom Mulcair misrepresents my Bill C-626
Tom Mulcair, leader of the NDP, should have let the NDP critics, MP Kennedy Stewart and MP Lauren Liu, handle the response to my private member’s bill.
Since I first started working on my Bill C-626, to bring back the mandatory long-form census, I have actively sought a range of opinions. In fact, after spending the summer speaking with researchers and former Statistics Canada senior staff, I revised the original bill to make the proposed legislation even stronger. I am still interested in hearing concerns about the bill, but suggestions would be most helpful if they were made after some thought.
First, Mr. Mulcair writes that my bill “sets a lower threshold for the number of households sampled in the mandatory census.” It is true that my bill does not fix in legislation at 20% the fraction of households who receive the long-form census. There is no requirement to do that now, but 20% has been recent practice. After speaking with many statisticians, former public servants and former Chief Statisticians, I learned that data collection methods are rapidly changing. In the future, it might not be necessary that 20% of the population fill out the long-form census. My bill explicitly requires, “distribution to the percentage of households the Chief Statistician considers necessary to ensure an accurate statistical representation of the Canadian population and its constituent groups.”
A major point of my bill is to support the professional and scientific competence of the Chief Statistician over short-term political imperatives. I believe that experts in the field of statistics, particularly Canada’s Chief Statistician, are able to decide the appropriate sample size, and that this should not be mandated by politicians.
Mr. Mulcair goes on to falsely note that my bill, “does not contain a provision to ensure that future censuses are comparable over time.” In fact, my bill amends Section 19 of the Statistics Act to explicitly state that the census must provide, “for data series continuity and the maintenance or improvement of data quality.” Insisting on data series continuity is exactly how we ensure that the census can be compared to previous findings. Again, statistics experts emphasized to me that it would be a mistake to enshrine the exact form of the census in statute because data needs, sources, and collection methods are changing. Instead my bill trusts scientists and other stakeholders and insulates them from political imperatives of the government of the day. That is why my bill is different from that of NDP MP Brian Masse.
Lastly, Mr. Mulcair writes that C-626 “lacks important measures… to limit the amount of Ministerial interference.” This is absolutely false. My bill requires that the Minister publish, in the Canada Gazette, any directives to the Chief Statistician regarding technical or methodological guidelines and ethical standards, so that Ministerial directives are made in an open and transparent way. This limits interference while respecting the accountability of the civil service to the elected government. Neither these measures, nor any other are found in NDP MP Brian Masse’s bill.
Furthermore, Bill C-626 requires that the Chief Statistician be chosen in a way that safeguards the credibility and integrity of the office. For that reason, a process is established which is similar to that whereby officers of Parliament are chosen. In this case there is extensive consultation with stakeholders by appointing a search committee representing senior representatives of the civil service, the statistics profession, and the Canadian research community. There is also consultation with the leaders of all official parties in the House of Commons because the Chief Statistician should be credibly non-partisan.
I met with the NDP’s deputy Science and Technology critic, MP Laurin Liu, to go over the details of Bill C-626. I think that Ms. Liu understands the legislation’s intent. By contrast, Mr. Mulcair’s response is based on falsehoods. Such an unthoughtful, partisan attack, misrepresenting a piece of legislation about the importance of data and evidence, is not what I would expect from MP Kennedy Stewart and MP Laurin Liu, NDP critic and deputy-critic for Science and Technology.
I’m glad that the NDP will be supporting my bill. But I hope that we can have a real debate and stop trying to make political points by misrepresenting another MP’s work on data collection and evidence-based policy.