Newly appointed Senator Victor Oh defended PM Harper’s move on the census

Before Senator Victor Oh was a Senator, he said “I believe voluntary information is more accurate than mandatory” regarding the mandatory long-form census versus the voluntary survey.

From the written record of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

Hon. Mauril Bélanger:
 
Sir, we verified with the United Way, and according to them, the data obtained by the long-form census, which has been mandatory up until now, is the only source of reliable and comprehensive data regarding individuals and families in the local neighbourhood communities. They want this to be maintained, to be able to continue doing community mapping not only in Peel, but they do it in Ottawa and in other communities as well.
 
My next question to you is on the accuracy. You said because the government will increase from 20% to 30% the number of people getting the long form, although it’s no longer mandatory, this will provide greater accuracy.
 
Mr. Victor Oh:
 
Yes, because I believe voluntary information is more accurate than mandatory.
 
—-
 
Mr. Victor Oh:
 
In my contact with the communities, the feedback I had was that this survey was not a big deal, and why do you make it so political? What the country should do now is focus on the economy and jobs. We should stay ahead of the G-7. The average person is not interested in why we’re sitting here today. I don’t think it’s important. I think the most important thing is the economy and job creation.
 
———-
 
Mr. Victor Oh (Honorary President of the Mississauga Chinese Business Association, Confederation of Greater Toronto Chinese Business Association):
 
Thank you very much for having me here today to explain my point of view.
 
Many countries in the world have taken on the mandatory census. I strongly believe our government has replaced the mandatory census with the voluntary national survey because we do not believe it is appropriate to compel Canadians to divulge extensive private and personal information. I do not believe Canadians should be forced under the threat of fines, jail, or both, to divulge the answers to certain intimate questions. I’m from Singapore, and jail is a no-no over there.
 
Furthermore, I have confidence that a sufficient number of civic-minded Canadians will complete and return the national household survey to provide equally valid and valuable information to the data collected under the threat of penalty. I believe a voluntary census, with 30% more forms sent out, will give more accuracy on information coming back.
 
The approach to this issue is about finding a better balance between collecting necessary data and protecting the private rights of Canadians. I recognize that the information gathered from the long-form census is valuable. However, I believe a balance must be drawn between the government collecting data under the threat of fines, jail, or both.
 
For the last four years I’ve seen a lot of new immigration settlements being set up across the GTA and Canada. So it shows that, from time to time, government has paid attention to how many immigrants are coming into the country, what they need and where they need help, and I think that is critical. I’ve been in Canada for 30 years, and this is the first time I’ve seen so many settlements opening up, over the last four years.
 
In conclusion, as an entrepreneur, I feel strongly about efficient use of taxpayers’ money and about excessive intervention by government in the everyday life of people. Based on my network and discussions, I think many Chinese are not aware of the value of a census and that even completing the form, be it mandatory or optional, the information might not be accurate.
 
I have attended dozens and dozens of events with ministers and MPs from all parties, including accompanying Prime Minister Harper to China, and I see that despite its hard work the government’s message does not always register 100% with the Chinese. Language and cultural differences are key issues.
 
In conclusion also, my association, I and my supporters, would like to offer help to the federal government and act as a bridge to the Chinese Canadian community, including information sessions and advertising in the ethnic media, so that they can better understand the importance of census ideas.
 
In terms of the United Way of Peel Region, just recently, they think the census of 2006 is already outdated. There is a new census conducted by the United Way of Peel Region, called the “community mapping process”, which shows that the Peel region has 52% or more new immigrants. So you can see that our situation in terms of mapping is very important.
 
With today’s technology, different companies and different organizations are doing a lot of different surveys on their own. That is a very important thing to show that we have a good census here in Canada but our information may not be up to date.

 
A lot of companies in the private sector are doing their own censuses, and I believe those censuses can be shared by everybody.
 
Thank you.

Responding to Paul Wells…

Today Paul Wells wrote a piece in which he supported the thesis of a post I wrote back on July 22. However, he thought he noted a bit of an inconsistency between my post and later tweets,

I’ve been mystified by Stephen Harper’s willingness to squander so much political capital on an issue as trivial as the long-form census. Only slightly less so by the media’s piling on, treating this as a matter of great national importance, and by the level of emotional investment so many apparently attach to census-gathering.

The opposition? They’re just reveling in the unexpected bounty of low-hanging political fruit, and Tory self-inflicted injury.

I don’t get it. It’s just not that big a deal – either way.

— Charles W. Moore, New Brunswick Telegraph Journal, today

Stephen Harper seeks to diminish or destroy the Liberal Party to replace them with the Conservatives as Canada’s default choice for government. His greatest challenge is to dismantle the modern welfare state. If it can’t be measured, future governments can’t pander.

— Blogger Stephen Taylor, July 22.

That’s the choice, I suppose. Either what the Harper government is doing with the long-form census doesn’t matter, or it does. Obviously Moore has a lot more company than Taylor does. Indeed, lately Moore’s company includes Taylor: since July 22 this whole business has gotten too hot for Stephen’s liking and in his blog and on Twitter he’s joined the nobody-cares crowd, arguing that this whole business is an invention of the “push media,” by which he means news organizations that cover a story he doesn’t like for longer than he likes.

There is obviously a bit of confusion because after I wrote that blog post, I took to twitter and wrote this:

When members of Parl ConCensus Gallery aren’t push reporting stories on Census/Prorogation, they’re auditioning for Iggy’s PressSec on #lpcx — @stephen_taylor

I noted a similarity to that earlier sleepy story of the year called prorogation when the Toronto Star breathlessly plastered its front page describing a “fury” of Canadians against prorogation because 20,000 people had joined a Facebook group! Sure enough, while 20,000 people seeded interest in the story, the media took the ball from there and covered it and covered it for the next three weeks and it wasn’t too surprising that the millions of dollars in free media coverage netted that Facebook group over 150,000 members!

To address Wells specifically, he sees a bit of a disconnect between my suggestion that the PM is really using the census issue to dismantle the welfare state and my assertion that “nobody cares” about this story.

However, in my original article I wrote this:

QMI’s David Akin exclaimed surprise that from his cell within the beehive of special interests that is Ottawa, he was shocked to find that a full half — that other half — of Canadians aren’t upset about the changes to the census when it seems that’s the only thing the other bees seem to be buzzing about. The story that “just won’t go away” is a flurry of activity “inside the beehive”, because until you go outside, you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Two things: I still standby my thesis that I believe that chucking mandatory nature of the long-form is a move to dismantle the welfare state (and that this is a move in the right direction). And two, nobody cares outside of the beehive. It’s the media that is pushing the story outside of the beehive walls propelled by the loud buzz of special interests.

If you were to poll typical Canadians and asked them, “what is the biggest issue facing you and your family”, I’d venture a guess that most would not respond that “the changing of the long-form census to a voluntary survey” ranks high on their list.

“Nobody cares” is a simplification; nobody cares outside of the beehive. The swarm of special interests sure does care. Other Canadians? They’re at the cottage, or BBQing on their decks. Does bugspray keep bees away too?

As for my trouble-making behaviour, I make no apologies. Sometimes it’s fun to throw rocks at beehives.

CensusLeaks.ca

Sunday at around 5pm, the story hit the blackberries of government staffers and journalists alike in Ottawa that over 200,000 pages of classified documents describing operations of the war in Afghanistan were posted on WikiLeaks.org, an online clearinghouse for classified government information. It has been argued by the Pentagon and by Foreign Affairs that the information released puts soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan at risk and it has certainly has handed the Taliban a propaganda victory over allied war efforts against the extremist forces in that country.

This news comes in a time period where Ottawa-watchers have been discussing the disclosure, security and privacy of data collected by governments. First, opposition parties argued that the government declassify thousands of pages detailing the detention and transfer of Afghan detainees, and then there’s been that war of numbers over the utlility and intrusiveness of the governments ability to collect data on the citizenry via the census.

Is all data created (and withheld) equally? Do defenders of an open and free society sincerely believe the new axiom that “all information wants to be free”? Is our society free because some information is held secure?

If journalism is — by one definition — to bring comfort to the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, do information dumps on the execution of the war in Afghanistan bring transparency to decisions made by our elected leaders, or do they provide comfort to the enemy? Even the decision to reveal classified documents on detainee transfers to Parliament was done reluctantly and the documents were revealed under strict guidelines.

Two arguments against the long-form census — in a debate that has turned into a “national crisis” according to one breathless account from a journalist at macleans.ca — are that the census could violate the privacy of individuals and that a mandatory burden comes with state penalty of jail or a fine or both.

We used to live in a world where releasing classified information to the enemy in wartime was akin to treason because it violated a clear national interest — our security. Yet, the founder of wikileaks and those that participated in the release of classified information will likely never see the inside of a jail cell. Our world has evolved such that it may not be reasonable for the government to expect that information can remain secure. Society has changed such that the average citizen can instantly react to information as it continuously breaks. Has our war cabinet been expanded to include the hoards of sarcastic tweeters deskchair-quarterbacking the conflict? Has elected leadership been replaced by liveblogging and instant polls? Does information want to be free because now we all can make the day-by-day decisions to effectively execute this war? No, of course not.

As the wikileaks release has shown, information can never be confidently be deemed “secure”. Even information vital to national security can be compromised and the security of this data is held paramount by our government compared to concerns over personal privacy. In this case, breach of secure information was done so according to a unilateral and unaccountable political agenda of “openness”. Troubling still, a significant subset of the voices against scrapping the long-form census are now heralding this new “transparency” of information that compromises the security of our troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

Transparency, openness, privacy and security are all important principles here. How you justify any of these at the expense of others is of course how your agenda is constituted. In this modern world, we must presume a full spectrum of agendas and since we can no longer stand together united behind one interest, we must be vigilant in protecting our own. If the state cannot ensure security in the private data it collects, we as citizens should not be open and transparent to it. If for the sake of transparency and openness, activists compromise the security and safety of their fellow citizens, they should be afforded neither from the state.

You should see Tony Clement’s Ron Maclean impression

Tonight, industry minister Tony Clement had a bit of an experience helping in a rescue of a woman drowning in a river. Clement tweets about the experience,

True story & happy ending: we were having dinner when a young woman knocked on our door, hysterical. Her friend was drowning in the river…

We rushed out & dove in. She was just too far away & I felt the undertow working on me. I had to get to the riverbank. Fortunately…

Fortunately Jennifer somehow figured out she could float on her back. Two others got her to shore. Another would-be rescuer then went into..

Went into shock, so we kept him conscious & warm. Our perimedics then arrived & took over. Folks: don’t swim in unfamiliar waters. Swim…

Close to shore. Rapids mean undertows. If a friend is in trouble get help & call 9-1-1. Be well & give your loved ones a hug. I know I am.

Post script: my wife Lynne and her father Doug got to Jennifer first. Another two locals jumped in too. It was a team effort.

It was an intense evening but it shows how community works together, even in the face of danger. All you need is love…

Now I’m totally knackered, as the Brits would say…

Clement’s first tweet on the event.

Let’s hope that we all have similar clarity of mind when we’re called to help. It’s good to hear that everyone’s safe. Now, back to the treacherous census undercurrents in Ottawa that Clement will brave next week. (amazing segue I know…)

Census change is about smaller government

I received a call today from a reporter around noon about what he conceded was “the story that just won’t go away”. He was, of course, talking about the census. He wanted to know if I could pass on a few names of possible interviews for right-wingers that support the government’s stand to scrap the long-form census. Of course, there are the folks over at the Western Standard who are taking up their obvious position against the mandatory “burden”, but in broader view, it got me thinking about who opposes the government’s plan and why the story would not just go away.

Every day it seems that there’s a new group of people lining up to bemoan the Industry Minister’s announcement that the census would forego the long-form. Certainly, this illustrates a serious problem that Stephen Harper faces as Prime Minister. Facing an opposition that can’t get its act together is one thing, but a nation where the voices of special interests are louder than ordinary citizens is another.

Indeed in this country, there are two groups of people. In fact, some would call these groups the haves and the have-nots. This is an not inaccurate way of describing it, but those that would might have the two switched. Canadians form two groups: those that receive from the government and those pay to the government. Those who form — or are constituent to — organizations dependent on government policy (and spending) are firmly against the changes to the census. Those on the other side are largely ambivalent because they are the large, unorganized and unsubsidized net taxpaying masses.

The conservative/libertarian Fraser Institute think tank’s motto is “if it matters, measure it”. The untruth of the inverse of this statement is at the centre of why this government should follow through. “If you measure it, it matters” is the motto of those net tax receiving organizations who only matter if they can make their case. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tried the ideological argument against these groups for years. But ideology is by its nature debatable; removing the framework of debate is his shortcut to victory.

If Stephen Harper succeeds in moving in this direction, he will be in the initial stages of dealing a huge blow to the welfare state. If one day we have no idea how many divorced Hindu public transit users there are in East Vancouver, government policy will not be concocted to address them specifically. Indeed if this group were organized (the DHPTUEV?) and looking for government intervention, they’d be against the census change. The trouble is that in Canada, the non-affiliated taxpayers not looking for a handout have not organized. Indeed, the only dog they have in this fight is the amount of tax they pay (aka “transfers”) to sustain the interests of others.

QMI’s David Akin exclaimed surprise that from his cell within the beehive of special interests that is Ottawa, he was shocked to find that a full half — that other half — of Canadians aren’t upset about the changes to the census when it seems that’s the only thing the other bees seem to be buzzing about. The story that “just won’t go away” is a flurry of activity “inside the beehive”, because until you go outside, you can’t see the forest for the trees.

The other recent Lockheed Martin-related news story of the past couple of weeks was the Conservative government’s huge sole-sourced $16 Billion contract with Lockheed Martin to buy F-35 fighter jets. Perhaps I was a bit naive to think that every part of that sentence should be offensive to the Ottawa media… sole-sourced… American arms dealer… flying war machines… Conservative government. No, this largest military purchase in Canadian history didn’t even make a significant blip on the Ottawa establishment radar, simply because it didn’t challenge the position of any special interest groups. There’s no bevy of community/cultural/government organizations ready to line up to criticize/laud such a move. If the government had taken $16 Billion out of HRSDC’s $80+ Billion annual budget to pay for it, however, there’d be a swarm.

I believe that this Prime Minister has a few objectives in mind as he integrates seemingly transactional initiatives into something transformative. First, he merged the Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance to challenge what seemed to be entrenched Liberal electoral domination. Through initiatives such as financial starvation via election finance reform and ideological force-feeding on the policy front, Stephen Harper seeks to diminish or destroy the Liberal Party to replace them with the Conservatives as Canada’s default choice for government. His greatest challenge is to dismantle the modern welfare state. If it can’t be measured, future governments can’t pander. I imagine that Stephen Harper’s view, Canada should be a country of individual initiative, not one of collective dependence “justified” through the collection of data.