OTTAWA — An online discussion about the census on a federal website was suddenly branded “off topic” and public links to it erased, as more groups opposed to the Conservative government’s decision to cut the mandatory long census emerged.
Industry Canada had been leading a wide-ranging consultation on the digital economy for the last two months. With only a few days left for Canadians to register their views, a debate on the census had become the second most popular topic.
Last week, the census was featured on the Digital Economy Consultation home page as one of the top three “ideas,” under a video message by Industry Minister Tony Clement.
“The census long form provides us with critical labour market information that is necessary to carry out long-term human resource planning,” Lee Jacobs of the Information and Communications Technology Council posted to the discussion.
“It is, in our opinion, paramount to save the long form.”
But by the weekend, all obvious links to the discussion thread were gone. The only way to access the page was to input the precise Internet address separately.
An Industry Canada spokesman said Monday that the discussion was moved to an “off topic” section because it was not deemed relevant.
“While the changes to the census are important, they are not directly related to the development of a digital economy strategy for Canada,” Michel Cimpaye said in an email.
The Conservative cabinet decided to cut the mandatory long census earlier this month and replace it with a voluntary survey next year. Clement said the decision was based on the fact some Canadians found the mandatory process coercive and the detailed questions intrusive.
Critics from a wide range of business, social and academic groups say the data from voluntary surveys is simply not as reliable because certain groups are unlikely to respond.
Peggy Taillon, president of the Canadian Council on Social Development, began contacting the department on Friday to ask about the lost links.
“It was interesting that it was removed as it was gaining momentum,” said Taillon, who had posted the first comment.
“Apparently it is becoming par for the course for the government. They don’t want your opinion, even when they do consultation. They really only want to hear from people who are supporting their direction.”
The Canadian Marketing Association was the latest organization to publicly oppose the move, saying Monday that its 800 members depend on the census when making key business decisions.
“This information, by neighbourhood and postal code, supports the growth of the Canadian economy, jobs, and its tax base,” said association president John Gustavson.
While the long census is being replaced with a voluntary survey, the mandatory short-census form will stay the same. It features basic questions, including the number of people in a household and the language they speak there.