Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Census move ticks off Manitoba Francophones

A follow-up to yesterday's post on the census changes and the possible impact on the federal government's commitment to bilingual services:
The federal government's decision to scrap the mandatory long census form for the 2011 census and replace it with a voluntary national household survey isn't sitting well with Manitoba's Francophone community.

Francophone leaders said Tuesday that they fear the new, voluntary system won't accurately track how many non-English speaking people there are in the country.

As a result, government programming and policy may be impacted, Daniel Boucher, President and Executive Director of the Société franco-manitobaine, said.

"You don't just fiddle with that kind of stuff – you can cut a bunch of other things that don't reflect our values or who we are," he said.

West of Quebec, Manitoba has Canada's largest number of French-speaking people. Boucher said adding bilingual services provided by the federal government could be cut if all people who speak French aren't properly tallied.

"In terms of the last census, there were 47,000 Francophones in Manitoba who were identified … but the statistic that would be left out [is] there are over 100,000 people in Manitoba that speak both French and English," Boucher said.
That emphasized quote is the key on this aspect of the census change to me. Can't you just hear the issue going right to the heart of a key part of Canadian identity in those words. There's a fear of abandonment coming through toward the federal government. Clement's statement released late yesterday briefly touched on the language issue:
"The census and the NHS will continue to supply data reflective of the attitudes and opinions of Canadians for the use of governments and public policy-makers. The census and NHS will also continue to respect the government's commitment to official languages. For these reasons, the government believes the NHS is a more appropriate survey and will not be revisiting the issue of the old long form.
How that commitment to official languages will be kept if the "...short census form, which will remain mandatory, does not feature questions about knowledge or use of official languages in households," is unanswered by Clement's statement.

This seems like a sleeper issue with great potential to grow.

Beyond the language issue, you have to wonder how many groups, such as those represented at that press conference yesterday, this government has contemplated it can safely offend without starting to lose seats. I mean, don't these groups all have mailing lists and stuff?

One other point on this today, the Harper government's father-knows-best governance ignored a panel that should have been consulted and that might have stopped this train wreck of a decision (from preceding link):
Don Drummond, former chief economist for TD Bank and a member of the National Statistics Council, Statistics Canada's national advisory body, said these changes to the 2011 census will leave Canada "in a fog" for years to come.

"You would think as an advisory panel, this would be the kind of thing you'd give advice on," he said of the fact that the council was not consulted on the change. "We were not aware of it; we were only informed of it two days before the decision was announced."
You would think being the operative words there.