Why we’re census-obsessed

TheGlobeandMail.com – News/Politics
July 23, 2010.   Gloria Galloway

1. ‘Crazy like a fox.’ The fact we now seem to be in the midst of a “census crisis” must be quite baffling to many Canadians. In truth, it’s quite baffling to many of us in Ottawa who spend a large number of our waking hours watching politics.

But Paul Saurette, an associate professor of political studies at the University of Ottawa, presents a fascinating and very readable theory about why this is happening in an essay at The Mark.

Prof. Saurette says it’is obvious that government’s decision to replace the mandatory long census with one that is voluntary is “terrible policy.” But, he argues, it fits very well with the overarching Conservative objective to reduce the size of government.

As we all know, Prof. Saurette writes, “our own eyes never lie but numbers can say whatever they want them to say.”

And while many voters won’t notice or care about what happens to the census, “it will resonate deeply with certain swathes of voters by communicating to them that this government shares their suspicion of stats and the pointy-headed, out-of-touch academics who analyze them,” he writes.

Because, for conservative activists and intellectuals, what is “truly infuriating to them is the suspicion that these types of knowledge play a role in actively cultivating non-conservative values and a public philosophy that acknowledges a role for government in addressing and reducing certain structural inequalities of society,” Prof. Saurette writes.

“The less visible these structural issues are, the less likely it is that advocacy groups will be able to persuade Canadians that government programs are necessary. The less government programs seem necessary, the less government itself seems valuable. And the less government itself seems valuable, the more likely it is that conservative market-oriented values and principles can flourish.”

In other words, he says, while many Canadians are scratching heads and thinking that the government’s decision to fight so hard to push this through is crazy, “in reality, they’re actually being crazy like a fox.”

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