UPDATE 1-Canada under fire for statistics agency changes

* Ottawa cuts work of agency, scraps long-form census

* Issue likely to feature in next election campaign
(Adds fresh government reaction para 9-10)

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA, July 13 (BestGrowthStock) – Canada’s minority Conservative
government is under fire from business groups, economists,
opposition parties, the media and others for cutting the work
being done by the country’s central statistics agency.

The criticism — much of it from groups that usually enjoy
good ties with government — is almost universal and is likely
to be used as a weapon against the Conservatives in the next
election campaign, expected within the next year.

Ottawa set off a firestorm late last month by quietly
announcing that Statistics Canada would scrap its mandatory
detailed long-form census, which is sent out to 20 percent of
all households. The next census will be carried out in 2011.

Industry Minister Tony Clement, citing privacy concerns,
said the long form would be sent to 30 percent of households
but completing it would not be mandatory. All Canadians will
still be required to fill out a short census form.

Experts said the move would make long-term planning much
harder, since underrepresented and disadvantaged groups were
unlikely to complete a form if not obliged to do so.

“Policy analysis and implementation at the regional and
local level will be seriously impinged by the lack of accurate
socioeconomic data,” the Canadian Association for Business
Economics said in an open letter to Clement.

The main opposition Liberal Party denounced the move as
dangerous. The Canadian Association of University Teachers said
it was “deeply concerned about the disastrous consequences”.

Clement’s office — which has overall responsibility for
Statistics Canada — stood firm on Tuesday, saying a new
national household survey would provide the necessary data.

“Beyond the provision of basic information, the government
does not believe it is appropriate to demand detailed
information from its citizens,” said spokeswoman Lynn Meahan.
She did not respond when asked whether Clement had any other
changes in mind for Statistics Canada.

Transport Minister John Baird said “a lot of Canadians find
it really offensive” that they had to fill in the long form.

“I think the government threatening to put people in jail
if they don’t (say) how many bathrooms they have is a bit
heavy-handed and a bit ridiculous,” he told reporters.

Since the Conservatives took power in 2006, Statistics
Canada has cut or curtailed several major surveys, including
those looking into work conditions and financial security.

Some Statistics Canada employees complained to the media
that the government wanted them to do less analysis.

“These have all been political decisions,” said Armine
Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The census move puzzled many observers, with some
suggesting it was linked to unhappiness among Conservative
backers about what they saw as government intrusion.

The Conservatives need the support of opposition
legislators to govern. Polls show that if an election were held
now they would retain power, but with fewer seats than they won
in the last election, in October 2008.

“If you are one of the many Canadians who would like
government to do less but do it better, this spectacle risks
making you tear your hair,” said William Robson, chairman of
the C.D. Howe Institute think tank.

Robson, a member of the National Statistics Council, wrote
in the Globe and Mail that the census ensured Ottawa made the
right decisions in health care, education and immigration.
(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson)

UPDATE 1-Canada under fire for statistics agency changes