Census Reprise

Why did the 2005 long-form ask whacky questions about housework? (In your household, how many hours each week did Person A spend cleaning house? What about Person B? How many hours did she or he put in?)

I can only suppose that someone – some group – was scouting around for data to support the idea of a publicly funded housewife’s allowance. Some feminists at the time harboured a picture of put-upon women slaving away at the dirty jobs in low-income households and getting mighty little in return. Some were in favour of sending such women a little help from government coffers; a monthly check perhaps.

The form was designed to elicit a comprehensive picture of household income. In the opinion of people I talked to at the time, the household-income questions were galling and time consuming.

Stats-Can gave you the option of authorizing census-takers to call up your  recent tax returns. I did not give the authorization. I did not fill out the questions on income.

Paying taxes is a citizen’s duty. It might even be called a citizen’s right, or privilege. Countries where the government lives on taxes, customs, and levies duly forwarded by the citizens under the law of the land are, without exception I think, free countries. Corruption is at a minimum. The populace retains the right to query the amounts levied, and the purposes for which the levy was made.

Countries where the government depends, if only in part, on monies dealt out by international organizations, charities, etc, are less free and more prone to corruption.

Revealing your financial soul to Revenue Canada is one thing. Stripping down for Stats Can: that’s another matter.


4 Responses to “Census Reprise”

  1. 1 Marcos Paulo Reis August 14, 2010 at 7:55 am

    Good Morning Professor Ajzenstat,

    Your argument seems to me more gear to a change on the type of the questions than to the legitimacy of having a mandatory long form. I have difficulty seeing how answering the questions invades your privacy to the point of civil disobedience.

    Stats Canada keeps all the data secure and private. The information is put in such a format that no one will ever be able to single out your particular household, or replay your “striptease”.

    Putting individual liberties over good government goes against the enlightenment. Responding to census is a civic duty to ensure our government has the information it needs to conduct the business of the nation.

    As has already being point out by many, removing the census will have severe impact on the most vulnerable of society. In that what enlightenment was suppose to support? Was not the enlightenment a move away from privilege so societies can reduce inequality among its members? The government will be on a position where the ones that need to count most will not be counted at all.

    Have you check Mr. Moore’s web site?


    There is a link for the petition that he is supporting, asking for the mandatory long-form the be left alone. One of the reasons listed is the lack of public consultation. Surely, a change that would impact so many should have been discussed by all stake holders. Instead, ideology is being pushing down without any debate. Is that what enlightenment stood for? Is that John Locke’s idea of Good Government?

    Below an extract from the petition:

    “Our concerns are threefold. First, the census decision was apparently made without consultation with the population data research community, both university-based and genealogical researchers. Expert users from these groups have asserted that the elimination of the long census form will harm current efforts to understand trends in Canadian society. We believe that their expert knowledge must now be enlisted and we urge you to consult these research groups before implementing this decision.

    Second, abandonment of the comprehensiveness of the census will greatly reduce its usefulness as a historical source in the future. The optional character of the National Household Survey will result in uneven and unreliable measures of the questions contained in that form, preventing historians of the 22nd century from developing a comprehensive picture of Canada in our own age.

    Third, in scrapping the collection of comprehensive data, the government appears to be abandoning major social constituencies such as women who have used the aggregate data captured in the long census to identify anomalies and inequalities in Canadian society. This information is essential for all governments seeking to develop sound public policies for Canada in the future.”

    I am sure you would agree with me that being a card carrying conservative does not automatically mean one has to stop thinking critically, or does it?

  2. 2 Anne August 15, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    In reading your latest post, Janet, I cannot help but hearken back to your previous one which raised for me the question of “cultural traits”. Why? Well, in this post you describe yourself making a choice (the same one I did) about how and whether to answer a question on the census.

    What assumptions, I wonder, are at work here in our shared understanding of “choice”? For instance, I wonder what assumptions we hold about when and why a choice is a good thing to make, how much “free choice” is good for people, etc. Given how critical to liberal democracies the notion of “choice” is, and given that you’ve framed your response to the census in terms of the “chooseworthiness” of some of its questions . . . and also decided you should choose not to answer some . . . would you say that our understanding of “choice” itself is connected to any cultural traits or would it originate from that which makes us citizens in this particular liberal democracy (or both? or something else?). The following video (not its conclusion so much as its three very interesting questions on the subject of “choice”) leads me to ask. It’s also amusing.

  3. 3 Marcos Paulo Reis August 15, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    Hello Anne,

    Very interesting link.

  4. 4 Marcos Paulo Reis August 16, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Good Morning Professor Ajzenstat,

    I reviewed my latest post on your blog this morning and it seems to me that I may have been rude with my comments regarding the census. It was not my intention to be rude, so please accept my apologies.

    The census debate has raised emotions and I may have let mine getting in the way when writing on your blog. I have acquire many of your books due to my interest in political science in general and canadian politics in particular, and was taken aback by your position with relation to the mandatory form legitimacy.

    I am not affiliated to any political party at this moment, and do believe that the census changes are bad for the canadian society. Many government supporters, which I am assuming now that you are one of them, have advanced the idea of individual liberty to remove the mandatory aspect of the census.

    I find the argument flawed in a variety of ways, and got a bit surprise when I saw that you espouse it as well. Until last weekend I never thought of you as a libertarian.

    If the government is design to advance the interest of the society it represents how can it do that if that very society refuses to give its democratic government the necessary information in order to build policy? Canadians fill forms on all sorts of activities and provide personal information to a myriad of entities in the course of their daily lives. To suggest that the government, the democratic elected government, does not have the right to get the information it needs to function, seems to me to be a contradiction.

    I also understand that there is a big push inside the conservatives to trim down, or eliminate, the welfare state. In your post you make reference to feminist groups and women working at home.

    Regardless of my view on this particular topic I do believe that the legitimate way to achieve that is by debate, discussion and persuasion. Not by watering down the census in order to deprive its opponents of meaningful data in which to base their.

    The changes on the census will hid Canada from itself, will prevent the country from understanding itself and will likely spur greater inequality between social groups. It is as if the conservatives cannot advance their agenda in the light of the day so they decided to turn off that very light.

    Bringing darkness to the census will prevent meaningful discussion about the effect that government policies have on the canadian society. How can that be inline with the enlightenment? How can a move that will suppress dissent and undermine debate be inline with good political theory?

    Finally, as I have noted in other forums, the conservative government will spend more money ($30 million more) to get worse results. How can that be sound policy? As a citizen I think we all have the responsibility to demand good government.

    As a leading canadian intellectual I cannot see how you can grant intellectual legitimacy to such an ill conceived policy. Would this government policy be classified as a Machiavellian move?

    In any case, thanks for making your thoughts known.


    Marcos Paulo Reis

    Marcos Paulo Reis

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