Optional Long Form Census a Blow to Racism
July 17, 2010 by Paul McKeever
Canada’s Conservative government has announced that completion of Canada’s “long form” census will cease to be mandatory in 2011. Shrieks of condemnation can now be heard from a wide range of interests. None of them are justified. To the contrary, this is one step the Harper government has announced in recent history that is actually praiseworthy.
Pursuant to the instruction of Industry Minister Tony Clement, on June 28, 2010, Statistics Canada announced, in part, that:
The 2011 Census will consist of the same eight questions that appeared on the 2006 Census short-form questionnaire. It will be conducted in May 2011.
The information previously collected by the long-form census questionnaire will be collected as part of the new voluntary National Household Survey (NHS). This questionnaire will cover most of the same topics as the 2006 Census, but will exclude the question asking for consent to release personal census information after 92 years as this is only required by the census. The NHS questions will be made available by the end of July.
The National Household Survey will be conducted within four weeks of the May 2011 Census and will include approximately 4.5 million households. (emphasis added)
The government does not believe it is appropriate to force Canadians to divulge detailed personal information under threat of prosecution. For this reason, we have introduced changes for the 2011 Census.
The rationale for objecting to lifting the mandatory completion of the long form are numerous. According to the CBC, the long-form of the census includes questions about religious affiliation every 10 years (2011 being the next such year) and religious groups complain that they need the data to deliver programs and services and to track changes the “religious landscape”. The Star reports that Canadian Medical Association journal needs long-form information for health care planning. In short, a good number of private associations like getting free data, and are quite happy to have the federal government threaten Canadians with fines and jail time in order to get it.
Others, not focusing upon the use to which census data is put, complain instead that taking a gun from the heads of those asked to fill out the long form will undermine the quality of the data. For example, the Ottawa Citizen’s Dan Gardner, and a host of statisticians about whom he writes, express concern that:
…the switch from a mandatory to a voluntary form will bias the data in many ways and increasing the number of households that get the long form won’t correct the biases. It will just produce more numbers. That are biased. And not comparable with past census data.
Toronto Dominion Bank senior economist Drummond has complained that if the long form is optional, white middle-class individuals will submit a greater percentage of the long-forms, leaving minorities, aboriginals and the very wealthy under-represented in the data. He says that, eventually, the data would be useless.
Implied in such complaints is an underlying belief that the data collected with the long form should be used by government. So, what exactly is the nature of the data that so many are clamouring for, and to what purposes can a government put such data?
In 2006 – the year in which the most recent long-form census was sent out to Canadians – talk radio host Robert Metz described in great and illuminating detail the questions set out in the 2006 long form, which he refused to file. Metz is the founder of the pro-free-market Freedom Party of Ontario and a long-time opponent of the census. In his account (which is a must-read for anyone weighing in on the issue of continuing to force people to fill out the long form), he explains that the long form of the census divides Canadians into discrete collectives distinguished by race and wealth:
None of the census questions relate to any proper function of government or of its proper relationship to the citizen: the administration of justice, maintenance of an objective court system, or the function of the military. They’re all about genetic make-up and wealth redistribution.
Many opponents of the plan to make the long form optional take the position that the long form does not take too long to fill out. Others, like Liberal Party industry critique Marc Garneau argue that:
“…no one has gone to jail over the census, at least as far back as 1981. Only about 50-60 people are charged over each census, with about six having to pay fines”.
Metz’s account anticipates that argument, and responds as follows:
But again, fines and jail sentences are a secondary issue, particularly when rarely enforced. The real significance of Canada’s Census lies not in the seemingly senseless questions being asked, nor in the threats of penalties directed against us, but in what we are being told about our collective future. Sadly, if the racists and other collectivists who design and administer the Canadian Census have their way, Canadians can expect a continued reversion from a productive society — which survives by consensual trade in which wealth is earned by productivity — towards an uncivilized jungle inhabited by warring tribes forced to segregate and divide themselves according to a genetic code.
Now, before the reader rebuts that Metz, an unflinching advocate for individual freedom and free markets, might be misrepresenting the purpose of the collection of such data, consider the statement issued last Tuesday by Armine Yalnizyan, an economist with the collectivist Canadian Centre for Policy Initiatives:
The long form is a critical tool that helps business, communities and governments decide where you need your money…
Without this information, we are all punching in the dark. Without this information, we cannot properly allocate our resources. The people who will pay most dearly are those who are already most vulnerable: the poor, aboriginal communities, recent immigrants and racial minorities.
Yalnizyan essentially agrees with Metz about the intended use of the data is to redistribute wealth to collectives distinguished by race. To conclude that those not getting “our” resources (i.e., government subsidies) thereby “pay”, it is necessary first to assume that the money taxed out of the pockets of those who earn it is, in fact, money that is owned by, and owed to, Canadians collectively. Characterizing collectives of individuals defined almost exclusively by race as those who “pay”, Yalnizyan confirms Metz’s summation that the collectives in question are racial collectives; that the census is a tool to impose and facilitate tribalism (a state of affairs in which government governs not individuals, but collectives distinguished by race, sex, nationality, et cetera).
Whether they realize it as explicitly as does Yalnizyan, the opponents of making the long-form optional are condemning not merely privacy and the freedom not to provide information, but also the individualism and free markets that the long form data is ultimately intended to undermine. Whether the opponents want unpaid-for data or consistent statistical history, their objections are in the service of the most vile form of collectivism – racism – and of that well-known toxin to any economy, central planning.
It would give me great comfort were I to believe, as Liberal Party industry critic Marc Garneau somehow does, that the Harper Conservatives are motivated by a desire to put an end to central planning:
By attacking the census, this government is throwing us in the dark on immigration-related issues. They’re doing the same for aboriginals, visible minorities and the disabled, and for those arguing for the need for pay equity…That’s what the Conservatives’ endgame is here -to permanently hobble the government’s ability to enforce legislation and deliver social programs aimed at our most vulnerable.
To be sure, the economic case against the practicality of central planning is as damning as the moral case against it (the immoral being the impractical, such will always be the case, in the long term, as knowledge grows). But, alas, I do not share Garneau’s belief that the Conservatives are using privacy concerns as a cover story for a secret agenda to end central planning. The painful evidence is everywhere about us that the Harper Conservatives have no particular affinity for free markets, and no particular opposition to central planning. Billions of dollars borrowed by the federal Conservatives to bail out or nationalize private companies – after having campaigned against such deficit spending; cuts to the rate of the inherently single-rate, less invasive GST instead of to the progressive rates of income taxes; soccer-mom hand-outs at taxpayer expense; quiet and countless transfers of billions across little community groups like Youth for Christ of Langley, BC: all stand as the best evidence that the Conservatives’ only agenda is to do whatever it thinks it needs to do to stay in power.
Moreover, such Conservative actions have been backed also by Stephen Harper’s unequivocal condemnation of free markets; a condemnation not made in public to lefties and righties alike, but to a closed-door conservatives-only audience in 2009 at the Manning Centre for Building Democracy. In that speech, he condemned liberals for thinking government to have a role in all economic decisions, and condemned “libertarians” for thinking government to have no role in economic decisions. Like so many on the left, his argument was founded upon the falsehood that the west’s economies are free markets, and that it was the alleged free market – rather than fraud, credit inflation and government mandated loans to the uncreditworthy – that led to the current economic crisis. Playing second fiddle to no Keynesian, Harper made it clear he thinks individuals are all irresponsible children that need governmental parenting from cradle to grave:
Now, I know the libertarian – and I am sure there are a few in this room that define themselves that way – the libertarian says, and it’s a perspective that I have a lot of sympathy for, let individuals exercise full freedom and take full responsibility for their actions.
The problem with this notion is that conservatives know from experience that people who act irresponsibly in the name of freedom are almost never willing to take responsibility for their actions. I don’t speak *just* of individuals who may have ruined their lives through drugs or crimes or whatever, but look at Wall Street, the great free-enterprise financial institutions who wanted so much freedom from government regulation. They were the first in line for government support when the recession hit. And now I read, I read yesterday, that now some of them are saying they don’t like that this government money may limit their freedom.
These are not the words of a closet capitalist. They are the anti-capitalistic (i.e., anti-free-market) words of a man who, first and foremost, likes the Prime Minister’s chair.
It is true, in my view, that the Conservatives do not at all care about the quality of the data collected in the long form of the Census. And I would quite agree with any leftist who said that the Harper Conservatives, in fact, have no real need or desire for census data: I sincerely doubt they will use it to identify spending priorities, and I suspect that the only reason they did not announce scrapping it altogether was to ensure that the various people wanting free data (including Conservative-friendly religious organizations) could not argue that they have been deprived of it (they are left, instead, making sleep-inducing technical arguments about statistical accuracy, and other things that few voters care about).
Though it pains me to say it, the decision to eliminate the mandatory completion of the long form is not founded upon a secret Conservative agenda to end central planning. It is, in reality, nothing more than an effort to feed a bit of red meat to that slender, politically homeless demographic that nowadays finds itself so uncomfortable associating itself with a Conservative Party so bent upon managing the economy, pandering to the more radical religious elements, and setting itself up as a hand of god that will deliver us from such evils as the decision to smoke a bit of cannabis. For years, the conservatives have dangled the carrot in front of that constituency, winking and smirking – but never voicing – a false promise to deliver a pro-free-market, pro-individualism revolution. The mandatory long-form is a long-term gripe of that constituency and making it optional – without eliminating it – is only the latest half-hearted attempt to maintain whatever party loyalty there remains among those who cherish individual freedom and capitalism.
I do not think the Conservatives will gain or maintain much loyalty among those who cherish freedom and capitalism, but neither do I think they have much to lose by taking the step they have taken (unless they commit the cardinal sin of, again, reversing themselves to fend off the Liberals and other collectivists). Nonetheless, making the long form optional accomplishes something more important for conservatives and non-conservatives alike. I anticipate relatively few people will volunteer to spend their time filling out an optional long-form census and, if that ends up being the case, the Conservatives will at least unintentionally have struck a blow against that most destructive and dehumanizing form of collectivism, racism.