Axing long-form census a serious mistake

I’m sure getting rid of the census sounded like a good idea.
After all, getting rid of the mandatory requirement to fill out the long form of the census would save us all from the prying eyes of government by eliminating an annoying and intrusive infringement on our freedom.
Well, after taking a serious look at things, and hearing from statisticians, economists, bankers, and many others, it’s becoming obvious that the Harper government has made a mistake and should shelve its hair-brained census reform plan.
For those who don’t know, the census is the government survey used to collect information and analyze trends in our society over time.
The first census in what is now Canada took place in 1655, and they always have provided our governments, businesses, researchers, and charities with a snapshot of our society to help them carry out their work.
Every five years, the census is sent to homes throughout the country in order to count the number of people, families, and average number of family members, find out what types of housing we are choosing to live in, the languages we speak and where we speak them, and to find out more about immigration and migration patterns in Canada and between our provinces and regions, among many other things.
There are other ways to gather this sort of information, but none that are as cost-effective, accurate, and effective as the census.
For some reason, though, the federal Conservatives have decided they don’t need to know much about our country they were elected to govern.
It really is bizarre. Mr. Harper simply has decided that Health Canada no longer needs to know where the aging population is living in our country or how many of our elderly are living with caregivers.
I guess the Conservatives just will hold a lottery to see who gets health care funding or throw some darts at a map instead of relying on all that scientific gobbledegook.
So why should we keep the long form then? Well for starters, the data that is collected is an enormous help to governments who actually are interested in spending our tax dollars wisely.
I know there are only a few such governments left nowadays, but this information enables them to provide us with better public services, avoid wasting our tax dollars on programs and services that aren’t needed, and identify positive trends (i.e., greater number of people graduating high school and college) and negative ones (declining birth rates) over time so that they can craft policies to improve our standard of living.
Businesses and charities also rely heavily on the census data to tell them where certain types of customers and donors are located so they can save, invest, and raise money as needed.
In short, it helps governments and businesses operate more efficiently and more effectively.
While I support keeping the long form, I also support keeping the completion of the census as a mandatory requirement for Canadian citizens. Like anyone else, I am concerned about privacy, but we’ve got to be rational about this concern.
Our federal governments have conducted some form of the census for more than 350 years and–shockingly–we continue to live freely in a democratic society.
I’m also comforted by the fact that the “data” only is useful at the group level, and that the responses of individual households are of absolutely no concern or value to the analysts at Statistics Canada.
I see completing the census once every five years—and the long form version about once in a lifetime—as a civic duty akin to paying taxes or serving on a jury.
Completing the form takes just 30 minutes of our time and collects less personal information than is gathered by credit card companies, banks, and even some websites nowadays.
Completing the census is an important public service that helps increase our overall standard of living and makes our government more efficient.
In short, I think the Harper Conservatives are becoming increasingly paranoid and inept, and should be able to recognize they’ve made a serious mistake by scrapping the long-form version of the census.

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