"These Questions Continue to be Essential"
But before we get there, it's fun to follow the bouncing ball and see how that old quote found the light of day.
We start with this morning's Toronto Star article with the headline "Even one dissenting Canadian enough to kill long-form census, says Clement". Yes, that headline makes Tony sound a tad silly, but it's not really less sensical than any of his other Census Greatest Hits, which include:
"Insisting you follow the law is state coercion"
"Large sample sizes make up for biased samples"
And who can forget this golden oldie - "StatsCan totally supports this move" (followed by the resignation of the Chief Statistician the next day)
Anyways, Tony took offense to this headline, calling it a "Star Torque" on Twitter.
Luckily, Rosemary Barton recorded Clement's comments:
Barton: "Mr Clement, there were never a 1,000 emails about the census..."
Clement: "Well, I can't speak for Maxime Bernier, but I can tell you that if you have a complaint about the census the last place you're going to complain about is to the census people. You're going to complain to your MP."
Barton: "I know, but if you're the industry minister and you were getting 1,000 complaints a day of whatever nature about the census, you would have told Statistics Canada, 'Hey, there's something going on here, people aren't happy'?"
Clement: "I can't speak for past industry ministers. They have to speak for themselves. But all I can tell you is, that it stands to reason that if you have a complaint about the coercive tactics of a government agency the last place you're going to complain about that is to the government agency. You're going to complain to your duly elected local MP."
Barton: "But then why aren't people tabling all those complaints? because we don't have them."
Clement: "I got a letter in my question period book from a Liberal MP from Richmond Hill who complained to the minister about that very topic. So to say they don't exist is not true."
Barton: "But they're not in the hundreds, they're not in the thousands..."
Clement: "I can't quantify. Even if there's one complaint, if it's a legitimate complaint, even if there's one complaint from a Canadian about the coercive tactics used by a government agency we have to consider that complaint a valid question about public policy."
Barton: "Sure, but we don't change public policy for one person do we?"
Clement: "Why not? If they're right."
Barton: "We change public policy for one person?"
Clement: "If they're right."
Like I said, this isn't really sillier than anything else Clement has said before, so I was ready to let this one pass without a blog comment. But notice this toss-away line from Clement: "I got a letter in my question period book from a Liberal MP from Richmond Hill who complained to the minister about that very topic".
Now, presumably this letter was given to Tony by a staffer in either his or Bernier's office. I guess it didn't occur to them to see what Bernier wrote in response.
Well, it looks like that thought occurred to a few Liberal researchers and, lo and behold, the next day, we get this:
To summarize, Bryon Wilfert wrote Bernier back in 2006 to pass along a constituent's complaint about the Census. Bernier wrote back, giving the best defense of the census we've heard during this 4 month crisis:
"I can assure you that all of the information collected by the census is needed and is used only for statistical purposes. Statistics Canada takes very seriously its legal obligation to protect the privacy and confidentiality of every census respondent. In fact, all census databases, facilities, and networks containing confidential data are physically isolated from any networks outside Statistics Canada. In addition, names, addresses, and telephone numbers are not included in the census dissemination database to protect the privacy of census respondents.
All of the questions are designed to meet important information requirements that would be extremely difficult to satisfy efficiently from other sources."
These questions continue to be essential for providing the information needed by governments, businesses, researchers and individual Canadians to shed light on issues of concern to all of us - employment, education, training, transportation, housing, immigration, income support, pensions for seniors, transfer payments, aboriginal issues and many more."
Yes, that's the very same Maxime Bernier who claims he got "thousands of complaints each day" about the Census back in 2006. Then backtracked. Well, at least now we finally have proof of at least one complaint.
This is just another example of how badly managed this issue has been from the start. Just when the story should be dying down, Clement and Bernier do their best to breathe new life into it.
Now, I'm sure some of the friendly anonymous commentators who frequent this blog will point out that Wilfert is just as hypocritical on this as Bernier. But at least Wilfert has a defence - the Liberal position has never been that there are no complaints.
After all, only Tony Clement seems to believe that one complaint justifies a reckless change in public policy.