The Great Census Debate

By: Jonah Goldberg

As I pondered how to start off this article, I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone who is not as interested in politics as I am. I found myself asking, “What’s the buzz in the news about the census anyways? What’s the big deal?”

First, here is some basic background on the census. Canada has one every 5 years. Through the census, we learn important information about our citizens and the make-up of our country, and plan the next five years accordingly. It is used by governments and businesses across the country to plan everything from social programs to where to put a new school.

Until 2010, Canada had a mandatory short and long form census. If a Canadian who was supposed to fill out the census didn’t, the government could threaten to fine them, or to put them in jail. However, earlier this year, Industry Minister Tony Clement announced some changes to this system. The short form census would still be mandatory, and sent to everyone in Canada. The short from census provides the government with the basic information – your age, first language, and religion, for example. However, the long form census, which includes more probing questions and provides more details for the government, would be optional.

Clement declared that in 2011 the long form census would be sent to more people for a greater sampling size, but people who didn’t fill it out would not be fined, or threatened with jail time. He said that this new method respected the privacy of Canadians, because if they felt a question was too personal, they wouldn’t have to fill it out. Many critics of the government’s plan claim that we will not gain the valuable information that we need if the long form census isn’t mandatory. They point out that no one has ever been sent to jail over not filling out the census. They also argue that the information obtained through the long form census will no longer be as accurate, because those who fill out the census will be the most civic-minded citizens, and may immigrants whose first language is not English will not have to fill out the census.

The simple fact is this: as Canadian citizens, it is our civic right and duty to fill out the short and long form census. There shouldn’t even be a controversy over whether the census is mandatory or not, because we should all be filling it out either way, as it benefits our government, our economy, and our country.