New Liberal government reinstating long-form census, but won’t talk penalties

The new Liberal government is making good on a promise to resurrect the mandatory, long-form census which was killed by the Conservatives, but is vague on the details of how people will be persuaded to fill it out.

OTTAWA — The new Liberal government is making good on a promise to resurrect the mandatory, long-form census which was killed by the Conservatives, but is vague on the details of how people will be persuaded to fill it out.

The 2011 mandatory, long questionnaire was axed by Stephen Harper’s government, which said it was intrusive to threaten people with fines and jail time for not answering personal questions — a nod to the party’s libertarian base.

The Conservatives replaced the long-form census with the National Household Survey. The response rate declined from 94 per cent in 2006 to 68.6 per cent in 2011.

Navdeep Bains, the minister of innovation, science and economic development, said the new government is focused on evidence-based decision-making over ideology.

“Today, Canadians are reclaiming their right to accurate and more reliable information,” Bains told a news conference.

“Communities will once again have access to high-quality data they require to make decisions that will truly reflect the needs of the people, businesses, institutions and organizations.”

But neither Bains nor Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos would discuss specific consequences or penalties which might be imposed to ensure the mandatory questionnaire is filled out.

Some groups have been shown to be less likely to fill out the forms, including indigenous Canadians and low-income earners.

“The law is the law,” and the law has not changed, said Bains. He said the government plans to roll out a “robust communications plan” to ensure people know it’s no longer an option to choose not to fill out the form.

The Statistics Act refers to a census of population and to a $500 fine or three-month jail term if a person refuses to fill in forms they are required to complete. In 2014, Toronto resident Janet Churnin was given a conditional discharge and 50 hours of community service for refusing to fill out the 2011 short form.

The decision to do away with the mandatory long-form census met a wave of criticism in 2010, from a wide range of voices. Religious groups, municipal planners, economists, the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities and aboriginal organizations were among those who petitioned for its return.

Former chief statistician Munir Sheikh resigned over the census debacle, after then-industry minister Tony Clement publicly suggested that bureaucrats supported the idea of a voluntary survey as an adequate replacement for the mandatory questionnaire.

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