4 min

Government fails basic stats

As this heat wave continues to encase the Nation’s Capital (they had to cancel the RCMP musical ride because of the heat), the temperature started to climb in the Senate chamber as questions about the government’s decision to abandon the mandatory census long-form dominated Question Period.

Senator Chaput started off Question Period by asking about the fact that of the eight questions on the mandatory census short-form, the only question about language is about “mother tongue,” not which languages are spoken, or knowledge of official languages. Just mother tongue – and how exactly did the government plan to use this information, which would be rather useless without the context that other questions would provide. Over the course of three questions on this topic, Government Leader in the Senate Marjory LeBreton took it as notice to ask the relevant minister, but went on about how they scrapped the compulsory long-form because of complaints of invasion of privacy, and then said the government was given advice that making the long-form voluntary and sending it out to more people would produce more accurate data. Because apparently whoever gave this advice knows absolutely nothing about elementary statistics, or the problems of selection bias.

Nevertheless, the mere mention of “advice” caught the attention of Senator Cowan – the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate – and he rose to ask another supplemental (because they can do that in the Senate, unlike the strict order and time limits of the House). Just who provided this advice, Cowan asked – and could you please table it? Well, no, LeBreton responded. This was discussion around the cabinet table. She can’t provide that.

Cowan was undeterred. Was this professional advice? That seems to be the impression she was giving. What about groups like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, or the Canadian Association of Business Economists who said this was a Very Bad Idea? What about the former chief statistician who denounced the move and said he would have quit if this came down on his watch? LeBreton responded that she could provide a list of people who resented the long form, and that she herself once had to fill it out and it was rather onerous and invasive. (Not that making it voluntary is satisfying one particular anti-census crusader, who sounds to be on the verge of conspiracy theory territory).

Cowan kept up for one final round – does the government have a contingency plan to get necessary data if this “voluntary” thing doesn’t work out? Oh, there are many different tools for gathering information, LeBreton assured him – but she wants to be optimistic. After all, Canadians apparently love to fill out surveys, so why not this one? Err, except for that whole question about selection bias and the way that making it voluntary invalidates any scientific basis for selection. But aside from that…

From there, things moved on. Senator Segal asked about veterans of bomber command’s land crew getting medals, which LeBreton said she’d be happy to make inquiries about, though she was decidedly less enthusiastic when Senator Dallaire asked a supplemental that hinted that overdue medals for more recent campaigns were being held up by a political process from the PMO down. Senator Zimmer asked why the pledge for maternal and child health funding was less than the cost for summit security, to which LeBreton replied that she was disappointed he felt that way, considering all the praise Harper got over it. And topping it all off, Senator Mahovlich was concerned about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico because one of the affected areas was where Canadian loons migrate to in the winter, and was our government doing enough to help the clean-up, lest it damage our own ecosystem further with these migrating bird species? Senator LeBreton said that she too was troubled by all those images coming from the affected area, and that she was sure the government was doing all it could.

Sartorially speaking, it was a pretty good day – and snaps go to Senator LeBreton for the white jacket with a banded collar and three-quarter sleeves, worn over a black top and patterned black-and-white skirt. It was topped off by a fantastic new haircut. Well done! Senators Ringuette and Andreychuk wore competing black tops and skirts, each with red shoes – and it was a genuine toss-up as to who wore it better.  If I had to give out a citation, I would say that Senator Hubley’s peach-pink outfit was perhaps the wrong shade for her. The cut was just fine – I just didn’t think the colour suited her skin tone well enough to pull it off.

Our so very “statesmanlike” prime minister has decided that on the global stage – much as with the domestic – it’s do as I say, and not what I do. In this case, it’s phasing out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. While the G20 pledge contained all kinds of pledges from other countries, Canada’s was simply to enumerate old policies dating back to 1987. But this is showing leadership on the world stage, everyone! (Andrew Potter looks a little more into the issue here).

The Ethics Commissioner has said that she’ll take a look at the conduct of Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis over the Rahim Jaffer affair.

Paul Wells takes a look at the government’s decision to start taxing post-doctoral researchers.

On her trip to China, Her Excellency was keen to share the limelight with the 12-person “expert” delegation she brought with her – something that almost certainly wouldn’t happen from any other politician. She has been a facilitator as well as a figurehead – and she’s leaving some pretty big (and fabulous) shoes to fill.

And Her Majesty has concluded her trip to Canada, and apparently found a fan in Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty.
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