Time for a vote in the dominion of King Stephen [census]

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial Opinion
Published On Sun Sep 19 2010.   By Haroon Siddiqui, Editorial Page

Growing up in a kingdom, among family and friends close to the court, you learn early that the king’s word is law.

The Nizam of Hyderabad — ruler of British India’s most prosperous princely state, a territory the size of France — was no tyrant. Still, courtiers dared not contradict him. Those who couldn’t compromise their conscience resigned or were fired or transferred to the boonies. Those who stayed had to resort to rhetorical ruses to steer him in the right direction.

He fancied himself a great Urdu poet and decreed that his rhymes be compulsory reading in university. Courtiers had to convince His Exalted Highness that stupid students were not worthy of his literary brilliance.

Usually, they were not that successful. He could be stubborn as a mule, even if his chosen policy was shown to be wrong and expensive.

I recalled all this during recent goings-on in the kingdom of Harper.

King Stephen wants his orders obeyed. Those who don’t are fired, transferred or demonized. Or they quit. The list is long:

Linda Keene, nuclear regulator. Bernard Shapiro, ethics commissioner. Peter Tinsley, military police complaints commissioner. Kevin Page, parliamentary budget officer. Richard Colvin, the diplomat who exposed the Afghan detainee abuse. Paul Kennedy, RCMP watchdog. Pat Stogran, veterans’ ombudsman. Marty Cheliak of the RCMP and the police chiefs from across Canada, who both backed the gun registry. Remy Beauregard, head of Rights and Democracy, who died of a heart attack after being hounded into line.

Nor does Harper change his mind easily, leaving his ministers to justify the unjustifiable: Stockwell Day to rationalize $9 billion for jails for nonexistent inmates from unreported crimes; Peter Mackay $16 billion for fighter jets for phantom enemies (“the F-35 will allow us to see threats before they see us”); and Tony Clement $30 million extra on a new census that would be worse than what we have.

When Harper decreed that the compulsory long-form census would be voluntary, Clement reportedly objected privately but was ignored. A loyal retainer, he defended the decision publicly, hoping to ride out the summer. But there was a national outcry.

The census elicits rich data, down to your neighbourhood level. It enables the public and private sectors to plan daycare centres, schools, hospitals, senior citizens’ homes, recreational facilities, businesses, highways and services for immigrants and aboriginals.

But if you make that form voluntary, public response would drop and the results would no longer be as comprehensive. Worse, they could not be compared with the previous data to figure out changing trends.

Thus the unprecedented protest from 350 groups, plus Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of Canada; David Dodge, his predecessor; and Mel Cappe and Alex Himelfarb, former clerks of the Privy Council.

Yet Harper wouldn’t budge.

Clement claimed that the voluntary form was an option given him by Statistics Canada.

Not so. It wanted the compulsory form. But he said no, and demanded alternatives. Even in providing those, the agency said the government was making a mistake.

Yet here’s Clement claiming in a Sept. 11 letter that “the chief statistician has indicated that this new approach will provide useful and usable data that can meet the needs of manyusers.” (emphasis mine).

This is dishonest.

First, he does not mention that Munir Sheikh, head of StatsCan, resigned precisely because Clement had implied that the agency was okay with scrapping the compulsory form.

Second, any data can be “useful and usable.” The argument is that the data from a voluntary form is not as useful as that from a mandatory form. And, how many is “many users”? If a million people used the old data and 100,000 would find the new data useful, 900,000 wouldn’t.

Clement also claimed that he supported the (Harper) decision “from the get-go.”

To clear the air, he must release the internal documents showing the advice he got from the agency and the advice he gave Harper. That’s what the opposition should be demanding when Parliament resumes tomorrow.

If he refuses, they should call for his resignation. If he does table the documents and they show that he misled Canadians, he will have no option but to go.

As for King Stephen, his fate rests on Michael Ignatieff and another party leader screwing up the courage to defeat this government on a motion of non-confidence.

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