Political firestorm rages over Canadian census

Thu Jul 22, 2010 6:35pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The political firestorm surrounding the Canadian government's plan to change next year's census grew more intense on Thursday, fanned by the abrupt resignation of the country's chief statistician in protest.

The seemingly unlikely national debate over how statistics are collected, has pitted the minority Conservative government against groups ranging from the businesses community, to social services organizations and local governments.

Even the Bank of Canada was drawn into the debate on Thursday, with Governor Mark Carney saying the central bank will monitor what impact the census changes might have on data that it uses from Statistics Canada.

Opposition lawmakers asked Statistics Canada's former chief statistician, Munir Sheikh, to testify next week before a committee that will examine the government's plan to make answering the so-called long form census voluntary.

Sheikh abruptly quit on Wednesday over the government's decision to stop making the long form questionnaire mandatory. In the past it has been sent to about 20 percent of the population, seeking detailed demographic information about families and households.

Most citizens are required to fill out a mandatory, shorter census form that seeks basic, less detailed information.

Industry Minister Tony Clement, whose department oversees Statistics Canada and the census, has said the long form was made voluntary because people had expressed privacy concerns.

Sheikh's resignation came as a surprise -- with Statscan posting his letter on its website -- after the government said agency staff were satisfied with the changes.   Continued...