By Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, July 15, 2010
The quinquennial census (every five years) consists of a short form sent to 80 per cent of households and a longer one that the remaining fifth must answer.
The first provides the population estimates Ottawa uses to allocate $60 billion in transfer payments to the provinces and territories.
The second helps build a national portrait, down to the neighbourhood level. The only data of its kind, it’s widely used by businesses, governments, hospitals and such agencies as the United Way to provide products and services — from daycare, schools and public transit to retail outlets and seniors care.
However, starting with the next census, due in May 2011, the Tories have decided that the longer form would no longer be compulsory.
This has upset a whole lot of people, with good reason. A voluntary survey is not a census. Its data would be skewed, some groups having responded and others not, like the super-rich at one end and the very poor on the other.
While Mr Siddiqui points out that Harper does not like the analysis being done by StatsCan, because it is fodder for government criticism, (as it no doubt is), the real problem for Harper is that his government is one of abstract ideology without a human component, and the government's approach to the census is just another example of that approach.
Reductionism by government of the human component, the human perspective, the actual need to provide better options for Canadians, based on some accounting, or some political/accounting (cover) is an approach that all neo-con governments have been using, and getting a "pass" from the media, itself owned and operated on the simple principle of "profit" as the only motive for its existence, for at least the last decade-plus. Short-term, self-serving thinking drives the stock-market "crawl" that has no business on our television screens, as it does the pursuit of profit over everything else in business; and it follows, that many people have come to conflate "government must be run like a business" into a political mantra.
Government must never be run "like a business". It must be run like a government! (duh!)
And the differences are large and many.
Governments are supposed to be creating opportunities in science, the arts, technology and in social services as well as in business. (Certainly their purpose is not restricted to the last item!) And that means gathering significant data so that those many, important goals (not mere functions) can be better achieved, by a complex network of groups, associations, and the public generally. And that does not mean that "special interest groups" have taken over, as has been and will be argued by the "right".
So it is not only a change of this decision on the census that Canadians want and expect from Harper; it is a fundamental change in thinking, even in "feeling" that word so hated by the 'right' because it smacks of the "feminine".
And that reduction of "compassion" to a function of the feminine is another aspect of the kind of reductionism that Conservatives (also conservatives) foist on their attempts at governing no matter the geographic jurisdiction. Balancing the books while also paying attention to the authentic needs of the people of the country is not rocket science, but it cannot be accomplished through fear of the facts that a full and complete census will unveil.
Reducing the driving impulses of the government to "holding onto power" at all costs, is another self-sabotaging, short-term drive that compromises the effectiveness of government as well as the enrichment of the lives of its governed.