Canada under fire for changes at statistics agency

Tue Jul 13, 2010 12:30pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's minority Conservative government is under fire from business groups, economists, opposition parties, the media and others for cutting the work being done by the country's central statistics agency.

The criticism -- much of it from groups that usually enjoy good ties with government -- is almost universal and is likely to be used as a weapon against the Conservatives in the next election campaign, expected within the next year.

Ottawa set off a firestorm late last month by quietly announcing that Statistics Canada would scrap its mandatory detailed long-form census, which is sent out to 20 percent of all households. The next census will be carried out in 2011.

Industry Minister Tony Clement, citing privacy concerns, said the form would be sent out instead on a voluntary basis to 30 percent of households. All Canadians will still be required to fill out a short census form.

Experts said the move would make long-term planning much harder, since underrepresented and disadvantaged groups were unlikely to complete a form if not obliged to do so.

"Data quality is a prime requirement of all analysis ... Policy analysis and implementation at the regional and local level will be seriously impinged by the lack of accurate socioeconomic data," the Canadian Association for Business Economics said in an open letter to Clement.

The main opposition Liberal Party denounced the move as dangerous. The Canadian Association of University Teachers said it was "deeply concerned about the disastrous consequences" it would have for the scientific understanding of Canada.

Clement's office stood firm on Tuesday, saying a new national household survey would provide the necessary data.   Continued...