Cabinet ministers from the governments of Ontario and Quebec have sent a letter to Minister Tony Clement, calling the census decision a “mistake” and asking that the federal government “reverse this course of action as soon as possible”.
The provinces, together, represent 62% of the labour market and spend billions of dollars every year on training and education. The Ministers responsible for those public expenditures point out that the Harper government’s decision on the census will make it impossible to reliably know how the labour market is changing, and if the taxpayers dollars being spent on training and education is being targeted appropriately.
They stress the role of data in making governments capable of delivery responsive programs that benefit individuals and all of society. “Reliable data is essential in evaluating programs and shaping policy to ensure we have the best possible post-secondary and training systems and, ultimately, that all individuals have the chance to succeed in the knowledge-based economy.”
They could have pointed out that the objective of effective public spending is all the more pressing now, with governments struggling to balance budgets, and in the coming years, as governments plan for the biggest wave of retirements that the nation has seen.
They also could have pointed out that the census decision will make it more difficult to reliably track the progress of recovery or recession in future, as the monthly Labour Force Survey – which provides a monthly indicator of the health of the labour market, where jobs are disappearing and being created, as well as what kinds of jobs — relies on information from the long-form mandatory questionnaire to make sure it accurately reflects long term trends int he labour market, community by community across Canada.
The letter provides a study in contrasts: on the one hand, the provincial Ministers are trying to do the job they were given which, as elected politicians, they applied for and won; on the other hand, the federal Minister and the Harper team are doing everything they can to duck the responsibilities of governing that they don’t feel like doing, like providing mandated services under statute. That is what the court challenge by the Federation des Communautes Francophones et acadienne, just heard this week, is all about.
Perhaps the voluntary vs. mandatory issue is more about the rules the Harper government wants for itself than the freedoms it says it is “protecting” for citizens.
The English version of the letter appears below.