Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Official languages census concession

The damage to official languages counting that the Conservatives' census change would have brought on looks to have been a breach too far for even these Harper Conservatives. Note from yesterday an apparent concession made by Tony Clement at the Industry Committee hearing:
Clement did tell the committee he was willing to compromise before the change comes into effect for the 2011 census, saying he's willing to include questions on official languages on the mandatory short census that were about to be part of the new volunteer long-from survey.
We'll see what they do to follow through (phrasing elsewhere:"government was determined to take into account the priorities of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages regarding the development and implementation of its policies, programs and services").

This apparent concession comes only after the Official Languages Commissioner has opened an investigation into the census change and after the initiation of a lawsuit by francophone groups concerned with the future of French government service delivery should francophone speakers no longer be counted properly. Here's a view that the lawsuit would have merit, quite possibly a view shared by Clement et al. given their bending on the issue:
The long-form census questionnaire provides data on knowledge of the two official languages that are essential to determine where the federal government must provide services in English and French, as required by the Official Languages Act and its regulations on services to the public. Those enactments have a quasi-constitutional character because they give effect to the official languages provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Without reliable data from the census, it would be impossible to determine which federal offices must provide bilingual services.

For this reason, a strong case can be made that the government decision to scrap the compulsory form is invalid and unconstitutional. Short of repealing the Official Languages Regulations, the Harper government could not have found a better way to preclude their proper application.

Louis Reynolds, Ottawa
It's just remarkable that they missed this, that they could have risked damaging this fundamental and foundational Canadian attribute. The chess master who takes pride in speaking French first at government appearances might have bungled it all with this tragically stupid census escapade. Who knows, he still might. We'll see what they do with the short form changes and whether they satisfy. Meanwhile, of course, all the other harm this census move will bring goes unaddressed.