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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 01 November 2010
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Gordon A. Watts

Topics in this column include:
  • Lest We Forget
  • INDU Committee meets again - Canadian Census
  • Other Census collection methods?
  • Opposition Motion on long-form questionnaire rejected by PM
  • Two Private Member Bills introduced on long-form Census and appointment of Chief Statistician
  • Archived video about 1961 Census

Scroll down this page to read the complete articles...

Lest We Forget

It being the beginning of November, I include here my usual article regarding Remembrance Day. This year however, there is a difference. For the first time, we no longer have a Canadian veteran who is a survivor of the First World War. John Henry Foster Babcock (born July 23, 1900) who lived in Spokane, Washington, was the last known surviving veteran of the Canadian military to have served in the First World War. John Babcock died on 18 February 2010. At the age of 109 years he had been the oldest known survivor of WW I.

The headline of this article is brief, having only three words, but the meaning behind it is far from brief. It is a reminder that more than 117,000 Canadians have fought and died in various wars so that we, and others, might enjoy the freedom we have today. It is a reminder that Canadians continue to fight in Afghanistan. It is a reminder that some of our countrymen have died, and that others may yet die, so that citizens of that country might gain the freedom of a democratic government that Taliban terrorists would deny them. It is a reminder also that those who choose to criticize the involvement of our soldiers in such endeavours have that right because of the Canadians who have fought and died in order to give it to them.

Originally called Armistice Day (and still called that in some countries), Remembrance Day throughout the British Commonwealth was created by King George V of the United Kingdom on 7 November 1919 to commemorate the end of the First World War (Monday, 11 November 1918, at 11 a.m.). It was dedicated to members of the armed forces who were killed during World War I. It was not until 1931 however, that a bill was passed - changing the name from "Armistice Day" to "Remembrance Day" and specifying that it be held on the same day each year - the eleventh of November. At the same time, Thanksgiving Day was moved to October.

It has become tradition that on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, two minutes of silence is observed in remembrance for the men and women who had served, and continue to serve our respective countries during times of war, conflict and peace. The two minutes recall World War I and World War II. Before 1945 the silence was for one minute, for World War I, and today some ceremonies still only have one minute of silence.

Possibly one of the most remembered poems ever written is "In Flanders Fields". It was taught to me as a child in school, and so far as I am aware it is still taught to school children today. What many may not know, or may not remember, is that it was written by a Canadian, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corp officer, Dr. John MacRae [1872-1918]. "In Flanders Fields" was written on a battlefield following the death of a friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, on 2 May 1915.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Whether we call it 'Remembrance Day' as in Canada, or 'Veteran's Day' as in the United States, or by another name in whatever country you happen to live in, I urge you not to forget. At 11:00 a.m. on 11 November, stop what you are doing, bow your head and observe two minutes of silence to remember and honour those who gave their lives so that we might live the lives we do today.

As I have done in the past, I recommend viewing and listening to two online tributes to veterans. The first - a visual and musical tribute by Terry Kelly, called 'A Pittance of Time', and an explanation of how it came to be written, can be accessed online in either English or French versions

The second - a 'Thank you' to the men and women who fought in World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars, titled 'Before you go', can also be accessed online.

Once again, I viewed these videos with tears in my eyes. I challenge anyone to view them with dry eyes.

Let us never forget.

INDU Committee meets again - Canadian Census

In my last column I reported on the 27 July 2010 meeting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. The purpose of that meeting was to discuss concerns relating to the removal of the mandatory long-form questionnaire from the 2011 and subsequent Censuses.

On 27 August 2010 the Committee held another meeting to deal further with the issue. Apparently it was felt necessary to hear from further witnesses, a number of which were invited to attend because of their opposition to retention of the mandatory long-form questionnaire in Census. In regards to this, two of these witnesses caught my attention, not so much because of what they had to say in opposition to retaining the mandatory aspect of the long-form questionnaire, but to their apparent lack of understanding of just what the issue was that they were testifying about.

The first of these witnesses was Mr. Joseph Lam (Vice-President, Canada First Community Organization). In his testimony he wandered off topic and spoke to the completion of a subway system extension in Toronto that took ten years to complete. He compared this to a complete system built in Hong Kong, consisting of their airport, a new town for its workers, a railway, two expressways, an underwater rail and road tunnel, and one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, longer than the Golden Gate Bridge, built in only eight years. What this had to do with the elimination of mandatory long-form Census questionnaires is anyone's guess.

He quoted from an article in The Economist that stated that "Denmark has been keeping track of its citizens without a traditional census for decades." While this may be true, I am not certain that Canadians would want, nor would they stand for, a system similar to that which Denmark and some other countries use to keep track of their citizens. (More about this later.
In subsequent questioning by MP Brian Masse, Mr. Lam admitted that he had never received the long-form questionnaire (possibly had never seen it) but that "I've heard people say that there are 40 pages and they just look through it and feel that.... " they do not like it.
The second of the witnesses that caught my attention was Mr. James P. Henderson, a farmer who was attending as an individual, rather than someone representing any organization. His initial presentation was very brief, and consisted of the following:
    "I have filled out the long-form census. I've filled out many census forms in my lifetime. This long-form census, I felt, was burdensome and really put a cost in terms of expense and time on my farming operation. I can only speak for myself, but I feel that something shorter could be just as efficient.
    Also, the consequences we might endure if we don't comply with this are a little harsh. But we'll share our information with the government whenever they need it, provided it's a little bit more on our convenience.

    Thank you."
In subsequent questioning Mr. Henderson claimed that completion of the long-form questionnaire entailed considerable time on his part, and involved the use of an accountant to provide accurate information. Under further questioning it became obvious that Mr. Henderson was not speaking about the long-form questionnaire that was the subject of the meeting, but was speaking about the questionnaire of the regular Census of Agriculture, which contains more than 200 questions, and which remains mandatory for farmers to complete.

A number of other witnesses testified before the committee - some speaking in favour of retaining/restoring the mandatory long-form Census questionnaire, and a lesser number speaking against it. Those interested in the testimony presented during the meeting can view it online here.

The Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, presented to the House of Commons on 22 September 2010, included the following motion passed by the Committee:
    "That the Government of Canada re-instate the mandatory long-form census; and that the government introduce legislative amendments to the Statistics Act to remover completely the provision of imprisonment from Section 31 of the Act and this would therefore apply to the Census of Population, the Long-Form Census and the Census of Agriculture."
On Friday, 24 September 2010, a motion of concurrence with the Report of the Committee was presented to the House of Commons. Debate on the motion of concurrence took place but was not completed at this time, and was to be continued at a later time.

Other Census collection methods?

In the article above I mentioned a quotation from The Economist given by Mr. Joseph Lam. There are a number of countries that apparently do not make use of a separate Census to enumerate their population, the most notable of those quoted being Denmark. I have done a small amount of research regarding this, and stand to be corrected in my comments here, but the following is my understanding of how these countries conduct their Censuses.

Denmark and Finland, for instance, use a system of registers and administrative records for census and ongoing statistics. People are given a registration number at birth, or when they take up residence in the country, and from that point on they are required to notify the government regarding many aspects of their lives. If they attend or change school or university; if they are employed or change employers; or move from one residence to another; they are required by law to notify the government. The government has access to any number of registers and administration records, presumably even those for banks and financial institutions, and is able to obtain extensive information regarding individuals through these records. Information collected by one department of government for one purpose may be shared with other government departments to be used for other purposes. Basically, from birth to death, the government has access to virtually every aspect of your life, and requires you to advise them regarding other aspects they do not have automatic access to.

In Canada, current legislation, specifically our Access to Information and Privacy Acts, prevents the government from automatically accessing information our various institutions hold about us. If we provide information to one department of government, that department is unable to provide that information to any other department without seeking our permission. For example, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) asks on your income tax form for permission to provide your name and address to Elections Canada to simplify keeping voter records up to date. When completing our Census forms, regarding the questions about income, Statistics Canada asks if the information required may be obtained directly from CRA, rather than having you answer the questions on the form.

If Canada was to collect Census information using systems similar to that used by Denmark and Finland, considerable changes would have to be made to our legislation. If you feel that the few questions on our Census are intrusive and violate our privacy, you would be outraged to learn just how little privacy you have under these other systems.

Prime Minister Harper
...not about to back down
Opposition Motion on long-form questionnaire rejected by PM

On 28 September 2010, Liberal MP Marc Garneau moved the following Motion in the House of Commons:
    "That the House calls on the Government of Canada to reinstate immediately the long-form census; and given that no person has ever been imprisoned for not completing the census, the House further calls on the government to introduce legislative amendments to the Statistics Act to remove completely the provision of imprisonment from Section 31 of the Act in relation to the Long-form Census, the Census of Population and the Census of Agriculture."
The motion was debated that day and was passed on 29 September 2010 with a recorded vote of 152 in favour to 141 opposed. Two members were paired. Unfortunately, media reports almost immediately indicated that Prime Minister Harper would not accept the recommendations included in the motion, and was not about to back down on the decision to remove the mandatory long-form questionnaire from the Census.

Two Private Member Bills introduced on long-form Census and appointment of Chief Statistician

Two private members Bills stemming from the long-form Census questionnaire debate have been introduced in the House of Commons. Bill C-568, proposed by MP Carolyn Bennett would amend the Statistics Act to provide that the census of population taken under section 19 of the Act must be taken using a long-form census questionnaire that conforms substantially, in length and substantive scope, to the census starting in 1971 and at intervals thereafter to meet the requirements of that section. This enactment would also remove the punishment of imprisonment for a person convicted of the offence of providing false or misleading information.

Bill C583, proposed by MP Brian Masse, would amend the Statistics Act to require the Governor in Council to consult with the leader of every recognized party in the House of Commons before appointing the Chief Statistician of Canada. The appointment would be made from a list of candidates submitted by a search committee appointed by the Minister designated by the Governor in Council for the purposes of that Act. It would require the Chief Statistician of Canada to establish and publish guidelines respecting sources of statistical information and its collection, analysis, processing, storage and publication.

Bill C-568 received first reading in the House of Commons on 30 September, and was placed in the Order of Precedence 4 October 2010. Bill C-583 received first reading 21 October 2010. So far as I have been able to find as of this writing, neither has yet been debated in the House of Commons.

Archived video about 1961 Census

Probably from the very first Census ever taken, there have always been those who would question why the Census was necessary, and why specific questions were being asked. My thanks to Vince Hunter who forwarded to me the following link to the CBC Digital Archives. The video clip shown there is an in-depth profile of the 1961 census from CBC Newsmagazine. It takes a little more than 14 minutes to view, and was broadcast 11 June 1961. I found it interesting, and suspect many of my readers will as well.

In addition to the video clip, a tab labled "Did you know" added the following tidbits:
  • The first Canadian census [post-confederation], undertaken in 1871, asked 211 questions, though not everyone had to answer all of them.
  • The 1921 census was the first to be conducted by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, which had been created in 1918. Before that, the federal Ministry of Agriculture and then the Ministry of Trade and Commerce were responsible for it.
  • Until 1966 Canadians had to answer the census questions during an interview by a local enumerator hired for the purpose. But in 1971 the system was overhauled so that census forms could be filled out in privacy at home. The forms could then be mailed in (in large urban areas) or sealed for pickup by the enumerator (in rural areas).
  • In 1971 the Dominion Bureau of Statistics changed its name to Statistics Canada.

Until next time.

Gordon A. Watts

Your comments regarding this newsletter, and suggestions for future articles are welcome. Click here to send me a message with a subject line of "Gordon Watts Reports".

To view back issues of Gordon Watt's columns, visit Gordon's biography page where all of his archives articles are available.

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