Remembering Lives Lost and Uncounted

Remembrance Day is a time to reflect on the sacrifices made by serving members of the armed forces in duty to their Commonwealth countries. This includes dedicated careers, the deterioration of mental and emotional health, and loss of lives. While the stated reasons for these sacrifices have varied according to governing parties, November 11 is a time to recognize that individuals chose (and continue to choose) to make sacrifices for the sake of improving society as a whole. To this end, the League of Nations (LON) and United Nations (UN) were established to prevent the horrors and losses of the First and Second World Wars from happening again.

However, the LON and UN created more than an era of relative peace: they initiated a system of comparative international statistics. The 20th century marks our first opportunity to reliably compare indicators of health, finance, labour, education, and gender across nations. Over time, these statistics have shown us which programs alleviate poverty and which do not.

Naturally, this system is only as good as the statistical capacity of its member governments. For many years, Canada was considered a leader in this area, with our statisticians playing key roles in the development of programs that came to define organizations like the United Nations Development Programme. This standing and capacity has been all but destroyed over the past ten years under Harper’s Conservatives. For many, the death knell of Canada’s reputation for statistical capacity was marked by the cancellation of the long-form census in 2011.

Happily, the Liberals have announced the return of the long-form census. This is a common sense response to the deeply flawed and much more expensive National Household Survey that was introduced by the Conservatives.

We should be grateful for this reinstatement of sanity, but we should also remember what was lost. Thousands were uncounted in 2011, making it difficult and often impossible for organizations from all sectors to make informed decisions about their programs and services (this damage is well documented elsewhere: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/cities-footing-the-bill-for-data-gap-after-long-form-census-scrapped/article22695286/). Moving forward, these five years will remain a black hole for comparable statistics from and for Canada.

Perhaps more importantly, we should remember why the 2011 census was lost. The census was lost because Canadians elected a government that placed the needs of the individual, as well as an uninformed obsession with frugality, above the needs of society as a whole. It demonstrates a lack of respect for the social contract underlying governance in a liberal democracy. Serving members of the armed forces understand the need for individuals to make sacrifices for a greater good. Let’s make sure they have leaders that understand this too.

Never again.

For more commentary on the return of the long-form census in Canada, see:

Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy
http://news.sciencemag.org/policy/2015/11/canada-expected-reinstate-mandatory-census

The Liberals Just Restored Canada’s Long-Form Census. Here’s Why That Matters
http://www.desmog.ca/2015/11/05/liberals-just-restored-canada-s-long-form-census-here-s-why-matters