Still debating StatsCan in the House of Commons
In early February, the Conservative government voted down my private member’s bill, Bill C-626, which would have reinstated the mandatory long-form census, expanded the authority of the Chief Statistician and replaced the punishment of imprisonment for failing to complete a mandatory census or survey with a fine.
I’m disappointed that the Conservatives voted against this bill – it made sense for a lot of reasons. Census data is used for city planning, for business decisions, to make sure Canada is competitive on the global market, to make sure that social services are available to those who need them, and more. Beyond that, the lesser-quality voluntary National Household Survey costs $22 million dollars more than the mandatory long-form census.
Less than a month after the Conservative majority voted against Bill C-626, Bill C-625 came up for debate. Bill C-625 is a private member’s bill from Joe Preston, the Conservative member for Elgin-Middlesex-London. Bill C-625 does two main things. First, it requires that Canadians consent to release the information they provide in StatsCan surveys. This information is only ever released 92 years after the survey was taken. Second, it replaces the punishment of imprisonment with a fine for not filling out the survey, and for obstructing the sharing of very specific data with authorized representatives from StatsCan.
I don’t see a problem with these provisions, and so I will be voting in favour of sending this bill to Committee for review later today.
Like Bill C-625, my private member’s bill also replaced jail time for failure to complete a survey with a fine. In fact, getting rid of the prison term for failing to complete a mandatory survey was claimed to be a Conservative election promise from 2011. They have had 46 months to put forward this legislation, but they waited until there are only 11 more weeks of parliament for a backbench MP to use his one opportunity to put forward a private member’s bill to fix this issue. Plus, they already voted against it, last month, when I proposed this change!
I also let the government know that I would be open to amending my bill to include the two other provisions in Bill C-625, so that Mr. Preston could put forward another piece of legislation. But, instead, they voted down my bill and now we are again debating the same issue.
Now, I’m happy to take the any opportunity to talk about the importance of accurate, reliable data in the House of Commons. I know that Canadians are interested in this issue – thousands of people from across the country wrote to the government and to their MPs to ask them to support my private member’s bill. Over 60 organizations endorsed the bill. In spite of this, the Conservatives voted it down.
Now, incomprehensively, we are back debating StatsCan. I’m surprised that the Conservatives wanted to bring this issue up again. Canadians have not forgotten their misguided 2010 decision to eliminate the census, and they’re still upset.
I hope the debate about the importance of good data and evidence-based policy continues. Accurate, reliable data is a critical pillar that will enable Canada to thrive, prosper and lead the world in the 21st century.