Thursday, July 15, 2010

Harper's one-man census decision

Haroon Siddiqui has the read of the day, with fascinating information on Harper's controversial decision to dial back the census. Oh yes, you knew that was coming. Two points from the piece...

First, sources are saying this decision has been driven by Harper's disdain for StatsCan and the analytical work that it does. Why? Because it provides a factual basis to oppose the government:
“Harper does not like StatsCan, that’s what we kept hearing,” according to a longtime employee of the agency. “In particular, he does not like the analytical work we’ve done for years.” The Prime Minister thinks of it as fodder for critics.

Sure enough, it’s the analytical work that he has been decimating. Gone, truncated or privatized are surveys that kept track of pensions and benefits at our places of work; the proportion of our incomes going to housing, vacation, medical expenses to see how well or badly we all were doing; the level of inequality among Canadians; the economic integration of immigrants; and how people with physical and mental disabilities were coping.

“When these surveys were being cut back, the concerned federal departments were told not to comment on how that might muck up their work,” said the source. “They were told to shut up. The message had come from the top.”
That seems to fit the pattern with this secretive government.

Second, the more interesting part of Siddiqui's piece is the finger pointing at Harper that's emerging now in the face of the tremendous widespread opposition to the decision:
Another source said that Clement had, in fact, advised against the decision, as had Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Both were overruled. “It was a one-man decision,” Harper’s.

“The PMO thought nobody would care,” added the source. But now, it’s said to be stunned by the range and depth of the backlash, from right across the political spectrum.
Caution! Ministers jumping overboard! What's he going to do now? Siddiqui wonders if Harper will dig in and pay a political price or whether he'll reverse the decision. Now that the spotlight turns toward him courtesy of these internal sources and away from Clement, we'll see.

Also worth a look on the census issue from yesterday, here was MP Marc Garneau speaking forcefully on the issue in a short video that hits some of the key points.