Monday, July 19, 2010

The "voluntary census". Lies, damn lies. Now over to the statisticians...

Amidst the howls of outrage at the Harper government's arbitrary decision to axe the mandatory long form census, condemnded by virtually every major association in Canada except the Fraser Institute (but including the National Post and the C.D. Howe Institute) there has been virtual silence from Statistics Canada. The most recently retired head statistician, Ivan Fellegi, decried the decision, but the current one has been silent. This is not a surprise. Good bureaucrats aren't permitted to speak to the public without government authorization, and they're certainly not allowed to voice opinions contrary to government policy in an official capacity.

So this announcement is interesting. There will be an internal departmental town hall held on Wednesday by chief statistician Munir Sheikh to respond to questions from Statistics Canada employees. The town hall will also be broadcast internally over the departmental intranet to accomodate the large number of employees that are anticipated to have concerns.

I am hoping against hope that this portends well. The chief statistician is completely within his rights and his job description to communicate with his employees. I can't imagine that many of them are happy at the Harper government's attempt to sabotage the quality of the data that they work with, and that most policy-makers rely upon to make decisions and plan for the future. So... he's going to communicate with them.

And who wants to place bets on how many reporters will find themselves with access to a StatsCan employee's intranet feed on Wednesday? I certainly hope that the answer is "a heck of a lot", and I hope that Sheikh is up front with his staff about having major concerns about the wisdom of this decision. If he spouts platitudes or blindly defends the decision, he will lose all credibility within the department.

And if Harper forces Sheikh to axe the meeting, then the press should rightly jump all over him for being an authoritarian dictator who won't even allow a department head to meet with his staff.

UPDATE 21 July 1:15 PM: The town hall has been cancelled by Statistics Canada. No explanation has been given as to why. Presumably this Globe story or this Canadian Press story will have updates today.

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