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The Progressive Economics Forum

Taxpayers and the Census

My union was among many organizations listed in opposition to the senseless census decision in Wednesday’s Globe and Mail editorial. Three organizations were listed as supporting it.

The Fraser Institute and National Citizens’ Coalition have understandable motives for wanting to eliminate the mandatory long form. First, there are libertarian “privacy” concerns.

Second, depriving the government of reliable census data would undermine public programs that these groups dislike. Third, lower response rates at lower income levels (and perhaps among the super rich) would assist them in downplaying poverty and inequality.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) might take the same position for the same reasons. But by all accounts, replacing the mandatory long form with a more widely distributed and advertised voluntary questionnaire would significantly increase census costs.

The Fraser Institute and National Citizens’ Coalition can somewhat coherently argue for spending more public money on right-wing initiatives. However, the CTF is supposedly focussed on saving tax dollars (in order to facilitate tax cuts). As I point out in today’s Globe and Mail, that mandate is hard to square with advocating a more expensive census:

The price of ideology

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is listed as supporting the federal government’s census decision (Government That Listens? – editorial, Aug. 4). By all accounts, replacing the mandatory long-form census with a more widely distributed and advertised voluntary questionnaire would significantly increase census costs. Is the Federation actually committed to saving tax dollars or does it expect taxpayers to finance conservative ideological causes?

Erin Weir, economist, United Steelworkers, Toronto

This inconsistency may explain the CTF’s changing tune. A month ago, its BC director applauded the government’s decision.

More recently, its federal/Ontario director seemed to question the government’s priorities: “the Prime Minister would rather burn up political capital reforming the census than the Senate.” (Of course, an elected Senate would also entail additional public expenditure.)

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Comment from Kevin Gaudet
Time: August 6, 2010, 2:06 pm

Erin, why am I not shocked you didn’t bother to check your facts before you wrote your piece?

The census long form has not been an issue for the CTF. It is peculiar for the government to burn up precious political capital on an issue even its usual supporters care little about. Having said that, in principle it is fine that they want to end making it mandatory. Further, it is a waste of money to send it out so widely. Instead of the $30 million, it should just be scrapped.

Kevin Gaudet
Federal Director
Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Comment from Erin Weir
Time: August 7, 2010, 4:45 am

Which facts did I fail to check? Your BC director expressed approval that “The federal government has replaced the mandatory long form with a voluntary survey.” I also linked to your critique of the government’s use of political capital.

As you know, my letter was in response to The Globe and Mail’s editorial. If you feel that this editorial somehow misrepresented the CTF’s position, you should submit a letter or ask The Globe to print a correction.

Comment from Darwin O’Connor
Time: August 7, 2010, 2:58 pm

You shouldn’t assume that the everyone in the Canadian Taxpayers Federation agree on everything. Just because one director says something, doesn’t mean it is the policy of the whole organization.

The bloggers on the Progressive Economics Forum don’t always agree either.

Comment from Erin Weir
Time: August 7, 2010, 4:11 pm

The PEF, as an organization, does not have official policy positions. But my understanding is that the CTF routinely takes policy positions as an organization. The Globe and Mail listed the CTF as supporting the government’s census changes and a CTF spokesperson had indeed expressed support.

Comment from Kelsey Kirkland
Time: August 7, 2010, 10:10 pm

@Kevin Gaudet You are advocating that the long form census be scrapped altogether because it costs taxpayers $30 million. That is the kind of thinking process’ that PM Harper and NDP Layton used last time when they advocated Canadians not to call elections to save $300 million.

This calls for some kind of a SmartAlecs award.

Comment from Morgan
Time: August 9, 2010, 4:06 am

In response to my email query a couple weeks ago, “I am wondering if this posting by Maureen Bader ( is your organization’s position on the government’s decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census questionnaire?”, Mr. Kevin Gaudet responded: “I agree with Maureen’s position. I am the federal spokesperson.”

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