I used to think of sophistry* as the purview of the Jesuits and the Trudeau Liberals. Of course, I now realize that it is the stock in trade for all religionists and political parties among other con artists.
Recently, months after making the decision and now just before it’s too late to do anything about it, the Harper Government has decided to announce that it will junk the mandatory aspect of the long census form. Harper and his Ministry of Industry Clement have decided, against all professional advice and the needs of business, industry and academia to make the long form voluntary. This is a prescription for useless info that will inhibit all kinds of planning and research.
Without reliable data, governments cannot make valid policy decisions. As Stuart Soroka, Director of the Canadian Opinion Research Archive at Queen’s University wrote in the Globe and Mail, "Recent decisions about the mandatory long-form census are not as much of an unforeseen development as many seem to suggest. They are part of a general trend in government away from the kind of of data gathering that can be critical to good policy-making… Dropping the long-form census is a mistake… Data gathering is a central component of policy-making, policy implementation and policy evaluation. Governments, and Canadians, should think seriously before making changes that will have a pronounced effect on governments’ capacity to deliver good public policy."
The Conservatives’ argument is that we should not have to put up with this kind of personal intrusion into our lives. Yet this data is totally confidential and does not expose individuals to anyone. I’ve heard that Clement and his cabinet colleague Stockwell Day claim that it’s none of our business what is going on in the household next door and it is intimidating to new Canadians to be threatened with fines or jail terms for non-compliance. The point is the information does not reveal the individual source and there has never been a jail term imposed for non-compliance. If the government feels that the penalties are too onerous, then they ought to change the nature of the penalties.
Just because the penalty seems too harsh — although this has not been a problem so far — should we throw out the mandatory aspect of the long survey, the primary reason that the survey is authoritative? Why not claim that penalties for speeding in your car are too much to bear and we should then abolish mandatory speeding limits. After all, Canadians are good people who would comply with speeding limits on a voluntary basis, wouldn’t they?
*Sophistry: unsound reasoning; a clever but misleading argument.