Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lies, Harper lies, and statistics

Tories twisted census findings: memos

Aug 10 2010

Les Whittington Ottawa Bureau
Toronto Star

OTTAWA—Industry Minister Tony Clement was well aware that Statistics Canada had little use for a voluntary census when he was telling Canadians that StatsCan was onside with his decision to scrap the mandatory, long-form survey, internal government documents show.

In an email to the minister’s advisers in March, a StatsCan official says a self-administered voluntary survey “provides a response rate of 50 per cent.” The email goes on to say that, with follow-up and interviewer support, the response rate can be increased to 65-70 per cent, “which is still not an acceptable outcome for a census.”

Yet Clement publicly gave the impression that the respected federal data collecting agency supported the Conservatives’ move to scrap the mandatory nature of the 40-page, long-form survey that has traditionally gone out to one-in-five households at census time.

“We’ve come up with a way that is statistically valid, that StatsCan feels can work,” Clement said during an appearance at McGill University last month.

The new information comes from confidential government documents that detail the Harper government’s fierce effort to manage the messaging and political fallout arising from the census decision, which prompted former StatsCan head Munir Sheikh to resign and spawned a national controversy.

Previously secret emails, memos and communications plans were compiled by the government at the request of the House of Commons industry committee, which has been holding hearings on Clement’s decision to rearrange StatsCan’s census-taking.

Much of the government documents were redacted, but they shed new light on Sheikh’s stunning decision to quit his prestigious job. As the controversy over the census was reaching a fever pitch last month, Clement’s office and the Privy Council Office, the federal department that serves Prime Minister Stephen Harper, were trying to tell Sheikh what to say to his own employees about the Conservatives’ census strategy.

Sheikh intended to tell StatsCan’s worried employees that the data produced by the voluntary National Household Survey proposed by the Conservatives would not be as valuable to traditional users of census information as past surveys, the emails indicate.

In a flurry of memos in mid-July, Clement’s office and the PCO tried to convince Munir to cast his remarks in a more positive light. Instead of saying users will not find the data from the new voluntary survey useful, the government wanted him to say StatsCan “is confident” it will meet “the needs of a broad range of users.”

But Sheikh, a 38-year public servant, never delivered the address to his employees. He resigned a few days later. At a subsequent appearance at a Commons committee, he said he stepped down because Clement’s suggestion that StatsCan was onside with the voluntary census was compromising the integrity of the globally-respected agency.

Sheikh said Tuesday that, without the compulsory census, much of Statistics Canada work will be undermined. Without “the benchmark” of the census, it’s not clear that information such as StatsCan’s employment surveys will be “something that we can trust,” he told the CBC.

The newly released documents also show the media messaging prepared by the government to handle questions on the new voluntary survey entirely skirted the issue of the quality of the data. The “media lines” for government officials include statements such as “this is the first time Statistics Canada will conduct this survey” and “We are counting on Canadians who receive this survey to recognize the importance of this information and to respond to the survey.”

Details on the projected cost of the new voluntary 40-page survey were blacked out, but the documents suggest it will cost Ottawa more than $75 million. The cost in 2006 was $45 million, the documents say. And Clement has said Ottawa will spend $30 million extra for advertising and other promotions to convince Canadians to complete voluntary questionnaire. On top of that, the government will print more of the voluntary 40-page questionnaires to compensate for the expected decline in responses from the public.

Large sections of the documents were blacked out. Liberal MP Dan McTeague, who requested the documents, said he has never seen such censorship of material for a Commons committee except on security issues. “This is a serious affront to democracy,” he remarked Tuesday.


Anonymous said...

This would make one sick and wonder if we are in Europe in the 1930's, all over again.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Fullard - you made a spelling error in the your caption. You said Harper lies....

I think it should read Harperliar


Dr Mike said...

"Large sections of the documents were blacked out. Liberal MP Dan McTeague, who requested the documents, said he has never seen such censorship of material for a Commons committee except on security issues. “This is a serious affront to democracy,” he remarked Tuesday."

Hey Dan , maybe you guys should have taken a closer look at the 18 almost fully blacked-out pages that were issued to us concerning the income trust mess over 3 years ago.

This set of 18 was the first blockbuster hint of what was to come with any sensitive issue with this gov`t.

We told everyone this would happen.

But no one listened since we were just a bunch of crabby old farts who were ripping off the gov`t tax coffers , stealing food from the homeless & ripping the wings of flies in our spare time.

None of this crap would be happening if we had an effective opposition.

Dr Mike Popovich

Brent Fullard said...

Dr Mike:

Glad you picked up on that Dan McTeague nonsense. It certainly wasn’t lost on me either! The Liberals have a very selective memory.

Louis said...

One of the demonstrable trends in humanity's upward ascent to a more livable, freer and happier existence is the copy-down-dumb effect.

There have been dictators who abuse the people. And then along comes some liberators who free the people of the abusers... right? Actually no; the liberators generally pick up where the abusers left off, and the people get more of the same abuse in a new different ways.

My point? Once democracy is notched-down, not often does it get notched back up. Harper's damage to Canada may be permanent.

Anonymous said...

The Census Fiasco

There are some secret memos circulating that the leaders of the Liberals and NDP are joining the Federal Conservatives.

They both filled out the short census
and were rewarded with 100 pages of blacked out Long census reports and no prison term.

Way to go, Libs , NDpee & CONservatives