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Liberal gov't restores mandatory long-form census

from CTV News

The new Liberal government will restore the mandatory long-form census, but it’s unclear whether penalties will be enforced for those who refuse to complete it.

Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains made the announcement in Ottawa Thursday morning.

"As we said throughout the election campaign, we are committed to evidence-based decisions on programs and policies and providing better and more timely services for Canadians," he said.

Bains said the long-form census will once again provide Statistics Canada with "high-quality data" that's needed to determine the needs of Canadian society.

Stephen Harper's Conservative government eliminated the mandatory long-form census in 2010, saying it was intrusive to threaten people with penalties for not answering the long questionnaire. When it was replaced with the shorter, voluntary National Household Survey, the response rate dropped from 94 per cent in 2006, to 68.6 per cent in 2011.

Bains said the government plans to roll out a "robust communications plan" to inform people of their renewed obligations.

"The law is the law," he said.

Thursday's announcement to resurrect the long-form census was applauded by NDP MP Charlie Angus, who said the Liberals' decision will help governments and businesses make more informed decision on behalf of Canadians.

"From the muzzling of scientists to the stifling of Statistics Canada, evidence-based decision-making has been under siege in Ottawa," Angus said in a statement.

"Reinstating the long-form census will help reverse a broken decision-making practice where ideology and willful ignorance trumped reason and fact."

The move to do away with the mandatory long-form census led to the resignation of Statistics Canada's chief Munir Sheikh, and was strongly criticized by many data experts and civil society groups.

On Thursday, some of those groups applauded the Liberals' decision, saying the decision will help ensure the voices of all Canadians can now be heard.

"This is one small step our government can take to ensure that minority voices, such as Canadians with low-incomes, Indigenous peoples, and those living in rural areas and small towns are heard in our national political discussion," Citizens for Public Justice spokesperson Brad Wassink said in a statement.

The president of the Canadian Council on Social Development called the long-form census Canada’s “central navigation system” and said its return will be a boon for small rural communities that may have been overlooked in the voluntary survey.

“2011 will always be our little blip,” Peggy Taillon told CTV’s Power Play. “I call it the ‘age of ignorance’ where we just don’t know as much about ourselves as we needed to know.”

Other groups also applauded the decision, including the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) and the Canadian Psychological Association, both of which have been calling for the census' reinstatement.

"Immediate restoration of the mandatory long-form census has been a key recommendation of our union for many years and especially over the past year," PIPSC president Debi Daviau said in statement on Thursday.

"It is a fundamental requirement for a return to evidence-based national policy in Canada. We are delighted the government is fulfilling its pledge to restore the census."

Throughout the election campaign, the Liberals promised to immediately restore the census to its previous form.

But Bains and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos dodged questions Thursday about penalties that could be imposed on Canadians who refuse to fill out the census.

Bains would only say that the law surrounding the mandatory census has not changed and that the Liberal government wants to focus on "engaging" Canadians in order to get “good, reliable data.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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