When you have ideology, who needs facts?
Four years ago, the federal government killed the mandatory long-form census because it was, well, mandatory. It was also too intrusive. Big Government, they said, had no right to demand that million of families reveal the things the long form asked them to reveal.
I once got the long-form census. My beef with it then was that even though I am fourth-generation born-and-bred Canadian, and that my family hardly ever even left Alberta since settling here, I was forced to say that I was an ethnic German.
Other than that, I can’t recall any questions I would have thought intrusive.
But the Tories could and they killed the long form part of the national census. They replaced it with the voluntary National Household Survey (NHS) and intend to repeat that in the next census in 2016.
Even though the NHS cost $22 million more than the long-form census did. Even though the data it produces is not considered accurate.
Meanwhile, the government spends hundreds of millions to spy on us in ways far more intrusive than Statistics Canada ever could be. So much for privacy.
Last week, a flurry of news reports surrounded reports that the federal auditor general and the Treasury Board both blasted the uselessness of the NHS as being too vague, and virtually unsearchable for the data it does contain.
The Canadian Press also reported through an Access to Information request that a major release of data planned for last fall had to be delayed because staff at Statistics Canada discovered major last-minute inaccuracies.
Is Canada’s middle class actually better off than it was in the past, and better off than the U.S. middle class (even though their economy is growing faster than ours)?
These days, it depends on who you ask.
Are job vacancies rising or falling? Is there really a labour shortage?
Again, it depends on who you ask.
The answers to just those two questions have huge implications to our economy, and right now, the experts who mine the data say Canada has a four-year gap in reliable information. Soon to become eight years.
In the past two years, Statistics Canada lost 18.5 per cent of its workforce due to budget cuts. Over time, those budget cuts will prove extremely costly, when government ideology fails to match reality.
The Tories also cut 20 per cent of the research budget of Justice Canada. Canadian Press cites internal documents that say the cuts were a result of legal research that undermined the ruling party’s get-tough-on-crime agenda.
Henceforth, Justice Canada was instructed to create reports that support government policy, not refute it. When it comes to justice, ideology trumps the facts.
The government also cut $1.6 million in subscriptions to printed and online legal databases, meaning that accurate information on the effects of current government policy on crime, prisons and mandatory sentencing cannot as easily be gathered in the future.
Federal statistics on Canada’s makeup (our age, work, ethnicity, how we move through our cities, our housing choices, education levels and a host of other important cultural and economic actions) is now considered so inaccurate that the City of Toronto will not use them.
Red Deer will, though. Global News reported that Franklin Kutuado, our city research and evaluation co-ordinator, says we cannot afford to do the research to get our own data on the level of need for seniors housing, for instance.
So Red Deer will reply on the NHS data, questionable though it may be. He said the city will also consult other databases available to try for a wider picture on the way Red Deer’s future will be roll out.
He suggested this could result in something better than simple reliance on Statistics Canada. (It should be noted that StatsCan was regarded as a world leader in providing reliable national household data, at least before the Tories killed the mandatory long-form census).
But Kutuado may have a point there. Who knows? Actually, that is the point.
Red Deer will also be increasing its reliance on word-of-mouth data in the future to affect city planning.
Council’s next Let’s Talk session is on the budget, to be held on Wednesday, May 21, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Festival Hall. Come and rail all you want, and let the loudest voice decide how this city will grow. Now there’s accuracy for you.
City councils absolutely must listen to their ratepayers. All governments do.
But governments also need accurate facts on demographics, employment, incomes, crime, transportation patterns and housing.
Without that, you’re left with ideology — which ultimately becomes abuse of power.
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.