Talking back, talking sense

While we at Ww try to stick to local issues, since Scott Brison thinks forcing people to fill out a long form census is the greatest thing since sliced bread, we now have reason to comment here on the census brouhaha.  There are those in the area who agree with the government’s plan or offer solutions to the apparent stalemate. Several have written to the paper and their letters appeared today in the CH.

We copy these letters here so our readers can see that there are some other options to the mandatory long form. They won’t hear them from the opposition or even the government, which frankly does a terrible job of defending its position.

Fri, Jul 30 – 4:53 AMNothing to hide

Let’s settle this argument once and for all.

To the new voluntary census form, add the question “Would you, personally, bother to fill out and mail a voluntary census form?”

Most people have nothing to hide, so I’m confident that most, if not all, of the responses received by the census bureau would be affirmative.

Bob Gould, Tatamagouche

Should be free to chooseIndustry Minister Tony Clement has spent the past three weeks defending the federal government’s decision to take away penalties for not filling out the long-form census. Anyone who didn’t fill out the census risked fines or jail time. The head of Statistics Canada, Munir Sheikh, quit, saying a voluntary census can’t replace a mandatory one.

Coming from a quantitative and statistical background, I understand the problems of voluntary sampling that may preclude statistical inference. People who decline to answer the census probably display a number of systematic biases, for example busy dual income families with children may decline more often than retirees, thus skewing the results.

Government by its nature rests on clear statistical patterns in order to formulate and implement policy. It is

a real problem. Mr. Sheikh as a statistician knows this.

However, the idea that government may take punitive action against individuals who decline to participate in its studies is the greater evil. Individuals should be free to decide for themselves on their involvement.

Since we are, presumably, a civilized society and refusing to participate with government does no direct harm to others, dropping the mandatory nature of the long form is the only correct route.

Jonathan Dean, Leader, Atlantica Party

Census tax credit?Re: Scrapping long form census.

The Conservatives are using a well-worn and scripted talking point in their efforts to convince Canadians that the long form census should be scrapped. In the July 26 Herald, Mr. Flaherty is reported to have said, “I agree that this kind of data is relevant, but we can collect it

voluntarily. We don’t have to threaten people with jail or fines in order to collect this data.”

Mr. Flaherty can simply have the threats of jail or fines removed from the current census. As an incentive, he could institute a census tax credit, similar to last year’s popular tax credit for home renovations.

The census would have a number on the body of the form. A tear-off receipt, with the same number as on the census, would be submitted with the personal income tax form for that year.

Then Canadians who support the census process could continue to benefit from the programs and services developed from census data. Those who choose not to fill out the form every five years can opt out and receive no tax credit.

It is simply positive reinforcement.

Paula Lessard, Kingsport

Don’t rely on long formStatistical information is presently available from a variety of centralized databases, such as births and deaths, electoral lists, school enrolments, tax and benefits records, car registrations, business and commercial licences, public transportation and utility figures, crime numbers, etc., just to name a few sources.

Scandinavian countries, including Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden, have managed without a Canadian type census for many years. With the breadth of information already available, I understand that Germany and Britain are also considering its termination.

With increased immigration and job mobility, snapshot data is becoming outdated more quickly than ever before. Periodic polling can be used to verify existing data, rather than a reliance on the partial long form intrusive questionnaire.

Alan Buck, Port LaTour

Democracy or dictatorship?I wonder if most Canadians like the compulsory census with the threatening possibility of jail time if they refuse to submit to answering some invasive personal questions, or would they prefer volunteering to answer census questions under no threats from government?

I wonder which of the following two words sounds more democratic or more dictatorial to Canadians: compulsion or volunteering?

Bob Ritchie, Wolfville

Make census voluntaryApparently, the supporters of mandatory surveys by the government believe all those other marketing surveys done by big business are flawed as well.

On that basis, should we make them mandatory so that the auto makers, for instance, can be sure about our car preferences?

I’m sure venture capitalists and bankers alike would prefer that the law ensured the integrity of their market research before investments in new plants or models were made. Surely ACOA and NSBI would benefit from such certainty in deciding whether to invest public funds in new business.

Why can’t we try the voluntary census system for a few years? Give it a chance. If you really miss it, it can always be brought back.

Phil Clay, Porters Lake

While the government seems to be sticking to a philosophical argument – ie. that it is tyrannical to threaten citizens with heavy penalties for not answering a bunch of intrusive questions, the opposition is sticking to the argument of necessity and need for accuracy in data. Those opposed never really confront the ethical point – Do they think some of the questions are intrusive or not? Do they agree with the threat of jail? Meanwhile the government doesn’t answer well the criticism that the data is needed by many organizations and the argument that mandatory answers are more accurate.

As usual, our MPs aren’t really talking to each other, they are only talking at each other, making political hay. As usual there could be a win-win solution to their differences. Some points to ponder:

  • The census is only done every 5 years. When organizations want up to date data does the census data (mandatory or not) really serve, especially with a mobile and rapidly changing population? If you were making a serious investment decision would you rely on information that was 5 years old? Aren’t there other ways to collect accurate data on each of the 59 questions on the long form? Other countries have given up the census collection. What are they doing to collect data?
  • As the opposition has pointed out very few have been jailed or even charged and fined for non-compliance? Why? Because there would be a huge outcry and probably a Charter challenge? What is the use of law that isn’t enforced? What is the rate of non-compliance now? Would a voluntary long form lead to better compliance rates? Why not try it and see?
  • How accurate is the data from the mandatory form? Is it proven that forced answers are more accurate? Are there really that many Jedi knights in Canada? Do some of the answers collected indicate dishonesty born of resentment at being forced to answer or frustration at the length and silliness of the questions? Can accuracy be coerced? Are answers from torture reliable for example?
  • Could the government use a carrot instead of a stick? How about offering a payment to people asked to fill  it out?  A tax break suggested by the letter writer above is not a bad idea except that many people pay no taxes, aboriginals and many seniors for example. Don’t want to exclude them! Perhaps a tax break OR a lump sum payment – their choice – an offer they could waive if they wished to be good citizens and save the govt. money.

The level of “debate” tells us that our representatives presently cannot govern together and make sensible decisions on our behalf. Instead time is wasted on silly political back and forth. A panel of reasonable, non-partisan citizens could sit down and come up with something all sides could be happy with – except there seem to be a decreasing number of  sensible, non partisan citizens in the country and few if any in parliament.

Later :  Related – proving our point.

Later again: How many people have not filled out the long form?

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3 responses to “Talking back, talking sense

  1. Parker Gibbs

    Quick Quiz:
    “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” suggests that
    a. horses don’t like water
    b. people have free will
    c. people prefer authority

    You can show people the way to find something or to do something, but you cannot force them to act after that. What does this time-tried proverb really mean? From a horse management standpoint, the truth of this saying is clear. With a sturdy halter and a lead rope, a reasonably well trained horse may be led most obediently. Most horses will follow a handler all the way up to a creek, pond, river, trough or other water source. Of course, many horses shy from water, with its startlingly sparkling ripples and reflections. Horses must be trained to step into water (particularly deeper water).

    Still, the proverb holds water, so to speak. A horse may be guided right up to the edge of a water source. But no equine trainer may force a horse to drink. Savvy horsemen know the secret, however. Smart equine managers offer salt blocks to horses, and salt makes horses thirsty. A thirsty horse will drink most willingly.

    What is the origin of the proverb, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink?” This age-old saying probably originated in the 12th Century. Linguistic scholars claim to have first found the horse and water metaphor in Old English Homilies, a volume dated 1175 A.D. In this context, the proverb read as follows: “Who can give water to the horse that will not drink of its own accord?”

    What is the symbolic meaning of the proverb, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink?” Essentially, the proverb of the horse and water points metaphorically to the need for each person to take ownership of his or her own life. An individual has to desire to drink, to learn, to live and to thrive. Although others may provide opportunities for nourishment, learning, advice and assistance, no one can force another to participate in real living or right choices.

    The popular and traditional saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” is somehow reminiscent of the old adage from Benjamin Franklin: “God helps those who help themselves.” Certainly, people of faith may debate the truth of this Franklin quote, as it denies the abundant grace, or undeserved merit, of the Christian Gospel (and certain other faiths). However, the parallel is clear. Perhaps a more direct tie might be drawn to the popular mantra of recovery groups, which proclaims that the most skilled experts still cannot help someone who does not wish to be helped.

    “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” might be paraphrased in modern times to mean something like this: “Choice Matters.”

  2. This morning I was listened to an interview with our gallant Liberal leader, Iggy Iguana. It seems that Ignatieff is of the opinion that it is very important to collect this information and that Statistics Canada has a perfect record, having never divulged personal information about any individual.

    So why is it important? Apparently governments, business, and NGO’s all need to know all about us, at least in a statistical sense, so they can lavish us with administrations. Oh, more please!

    As for the bit about Stats Can being so trustworthy, I’m sure they used to say the same thing about Revenue Canada — until the snoops were revealed, not so long ago! Perhaps Iggy forgot? Perhaps Iggy was counting on us to forget?

    Last century there were 21 “incidents” when states murdered tens of thousands to tens of millions. It’s called genocide. Mostly the victims were chosen on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or political allegiance.

    We, of course, have nothing to fear. A Canadian government could never do wrong — or at least not for so far into the future as I can foresee. Nevertheless, unlike Iggy, I would feel most uncomfortable compelling someone to reveal private information because I can accept that some people have legitimate reasons for being fearful. Indeed, I have heard/read many a lefty warn us of dire consequences should Stephen Harper ever achieve a majority… Circumstance do change, and not always for the better.

    I would argue that it is an abuse of power for a government to imprison a citizen for refusing to reveal private information. Presently, we have a law that would do just that. Defenders of the status quo argue that the law has never been applied. Well, what’s the point of having a law that was never meant to be applied? Those politicians who defend the status quo reveal their hand — such reptiles do intend to abuse.

    So what about some lesser fine for those who refuse to comply with the snoops at Stats Can? Well, I have some experience with such matters. Being also a citizen of both NZ and Oz, I have been compelled to vote when resident in those countries. I can’t remember the exact amount of the fine, $20 in Oz, I think. That’s enough of an incentive to get most people to vote. Very few refuse and far fewer make an issue of the matter by refusing to pay the fine. Still, I’m not convinced that getting a large voter turnout causes Australian politicians to be of a higher caliber than Canadian politicians… although I’d certainly keep an open mind on this point.

    So what about the rewards system that has been suggested by some. What not get the government to pay for each form completed and returned? Well, the flaw in that suggestion is that the government does not pay! The taxpayer pays!

    Perhaps we can get the businesses and NGO’s to pay? After all, it is they who are claimed to benefit. Well, no. Why? Well, because those that pay can also achieve the power to corrupt.

    In short, it probably should be voluntary. But Stats Can claims that voluntary is no good. So I suggest that the government do a more thorough review which would include an investigation of whether or not Stats Can is worth paying for.

    • It seems that Ignatieff is of the opinion that it is very important to collect this information and that Statistics Canada has a perfect record, having never divulged personal information about any individual.


      With the climategate spill of CRU docs and the wikileaks spill of US military docs (to call them leaks is an understatement) it is a wonder that anyone can regard any data in govt hands safe.