A few years back former Prime Minister Stephen Harper seemed obsessed with getting rid of the mandatory long census form or, at least, relegating it to an optional or volunteer form. In essence, the long form is a detailed, probing, invasive set of questions from Stats Canada for individual Canadian citizens to answer, the purpose of which was never exactly clear. In the past, the long form was mandatory; if you were one of the 30 per cent of Canadians who received it, you were required to fill it out. Or else.
Harper seemed to take a page from the libertarian handbook…that is, the more you try to force people to do something, the more they resist.
In 2012 Harper was quoted by the Canadian Press as saying, “This has detailed personal information that is being sought by the government. I know some Canadians will have some reluctance to provide that and I know some people think the appropriate way to deal with that is through prosecuting those individuals with fines and jail terms. This government will not do that. In this day and age, that is not an appropriate way to get the public’s co-operation.”
Harper’s government didn’t eliminate the long form. They simply changed the status of it from, “Fill this out or your government will throw you in jail” to “Please fill this out if you have time, it will help your country.”
This past week Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government brought back the mandatory long form census, complete with fines and jail time for Canadian citizens who want their privacy. I don’t think it’s difficult to tell what the feds have in store for us judging by the census form I got in the mail this past week. Right on the front of the envelope is the statement, “Complete the census-it’s the law.”
Apparently the wags and bureaucrats who felt the long census was vitally important neglected to attend the “good manners” class in Ottawa. Have you ever of the word “Please?” You know, after reading that statement on the front I felt like phoning Hollywood Justin and telling him to shove his census and his attitude right up Stats Canada’s inbox.
I’m a citizen and taxpayer of this country and I will be treated with respect. The fact that I got unsolicited mail that said “YOU’LL DO THIS OR ELSE” really helps critics of the federal government and the civil servant culture. It reinforces what a lot of critics say about the federal government, especially a federal government based in eastern Canada, far away from Alberta and its citizens.
Stats Canada swears up and down the information in the long census is urgently required, and it asks questions like “How far do you drive to work everyday?” Maybe that’s important, maybe it’s not. Personally, I feel it should be optional; I shouldn’t morally be forced to answer these private questions. It should be my choice.
Here’s a sample question: “What were the ethnic or cultural origins of this person’s ancestors? An ancestor is usually more distant than a grandparent. For example, Canadian, English, Chinese, French, East Indian, Italian, German, Scottish, Cree, Mi’kmaq, Salish, Métis, Inuit, Filipino, Irish, Dutch, Ukrainian, Polish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Korean, Jamaican, Greek, Iranian, Lebanese, Mexican, Somali, Colombian, etc.” What about the Norwegians? Sheesh, just no respect at all.
Fear not, I’m a law-abiding citizen and I will fill out my census and mail it back to Ottawa using Canada Post. Canada Post is obligated to ensure my mail is delivered without fail. It’s the law.
The funny thing about this entire “long census form” manufactroversy is that after it became mandatory again May 2, we’re told that Stats Canada’s website crashed from the number of people clicking on.
If there’s that much interest, I seriously doubt whether being mandatory or not would make any difference.
Stu Salkeld is the new editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.