This is what’s got Canadians all fired up today?
Like some kind of virulent high-tech rabies, a little Minnesota Madness may have seeped through our porous border, because otherwise the Census is about the last thing I would have guessed would end up on the table of hot-button political topics in Canada. But it is the Stupid Season, so why not?
Whether you think it’s an invasion of privacy or an excellent source of data that gives government a better idea of how to spend our tax dollars (for the record, I think it’s a little of both), as an information source the Census has always had one thing going for it: non-partisanship.
During the last door-to-door Census in 1997, I had a job supervising about 20 door-knockers, and the importance of leaving politics at home was emphatically impressed on us during the hiring process. The Census must be untainted by politics or ideology of any kind, because anything less would naturally compromise the process and the data. (I had to fire someone for proselytizing on the job, something I immensely enjoyed, and being informed of my eventual horrible fiery fate for doing so only added to that enjoyment.) Like Elections Canada, the Census is one of those government undertakings whose credibility depends on it being stubbornly apolitical.
But not anymore. The debate set off by the Harper government’s plan to ditch the long-form Census has lined up two distinct sides, for and against, that happen to coincide fairly precisely with political ideologies. Liberals are generally for the long-form Census and Conservatives are generally against it. No matter where you stand, that’s the worst thing about this brainless little Census skirmish — the Census has been politicized, and whatever ends up happening, the data might be viewed a little askance in the future.
Then again, there’s always the possibility that the proposal was just meant to milk a little temporary outrage so the government could reap the benefits of walking it back later. They do have a history.