Friday, July 23, 2010

The Choice of Tyranny

For those of you not following, presumably because you live in some other country than Canada, our government has done something supremely stupid.

Statistics Canada, or statscan, is a world renouned stats collecting body. One of the reasons for this reputation is the mandatory cenus – all Canadians are required by law to fill out the census. As well, one quarter of Canadians are required by law to answer a long-form (53 questions instead of the usual 8) questionnaire. This mandatory thing is important, it is ostensibly the crux of the matter.

You see, the current government has exercised its droight de seigneur and made it no longer mandatory to answer all 53 questions in the event that you draw the short straw, so to speak. Statisticians are, rightly, pissed.

The reason the government claims for doing this is that it is an invasion of privacy. Of course, they also claimed that they were doing this with the consent of the head of statscan who promptly resigned to prove that they were lying.

As someone who has used statscan census data in the past, I can tell you that the privacy argument is ridiculous. As much of the data as possible is released, but there are certain products for certain census tracts which are held back because the small number of responses might allow someone diligent enough to use the data to identify individuals. The statscan website FAQ also points out that not even contractors are allowed to see the data.

So, what is really going on here? In Canada we have a government system which is set up to limit the power of any individual. (This is in stark contrast with our neighbours to the south who elect a new king ever 4 years.) For 4 years now Harper has been stuck with a lousy minority government, which means constantly having to consult with the opposition parties instead of just riding roughshod over the country's laws and ideals. I have been led to believe that the entire cabinet is completely under the thumb of the PM, which means this census decision came directly from Harper himself. And I think it has nothing to do with logic or reason, privacy or the census, even. I think this is entirely a case of Harper doing something because he can do it and the opposition parties can't do a damned thing about it.

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