Dilemmas, dilemmas… life is full of them. However, there are two in particular that are causing me much internal debate at the moment:
It’s census time in Canada!
Every household in the country is obliged to fill in a very basic short-form census, which we’ve already done online. In every census up to and including 2006, an additional mandatory long-form census was sent out at random to 20% of all households, to enable Statistics Canada to extrapolate detailed information (education, income, commuting habits, housing, and other information essential to infrastructure and service planning) to the entire population. However, last year the federal government announced that the 2011 long-form census will now be sent to 30% of all households, but will be optional – a decision that essentially obliterates the statistical robustness of the information collected.
Well, people were outraged. Never have I seen or heard so much public discussion of statistics. StatsCan’s chief statistician, Munir Sheikh, promptly resigned, while his predecessor called BS on the government’s claim that they were merely following StatsCan’s advice. There was an editorial in Nature, no less, among other online and mainstream media rants. The change was made under the auspices of privacy concerns and small government, but c’mon, we all know how much Harper dislikes evidence-based legislation… and the government themselves admitted that they made the change without consulting with any of the end users.
So, predictably, given how much I’ve been thinking about the census, Mr E Man and I recently received the voluntary “National Household Survey”. And it’s been sitting on a shelf ever since as I undergo an internal debate. A debate between “a large part of the reason I was so outraged by the change is that I understand the value of the information they’re asking for, so I should complete the form and send it in”, versus “people opting out en masse sends a very strong signal to the government that a voluntary census will never work and that the compulsory long-from census should be reinstated before 2016″.
My second dilemma relates to the upcoming referendum on the Harmonised Sales Tax, or HST, in British Columbia. The HST is a 12% sales tax that recently replaced the 5% federal Goods and Sales Tax (GST) and 7% Provincial Sales Tax (PST). 5 + 7 = 12 = no problem, right? Well, not quite – some items, including restaurant bills, services such as hair cuts and so on – that were previously subject to only one tax are now subject to both, meaning that the consumer pays more, and some restaurants and other service industry businesses claim to be suffering as a result. However, other small businesses (including my friends’ two-person operation) welcome the HST, as it results in much less bureaucracy than dealing with two separate taxes. When applied to the province as a whole, the HST is predicted to generate a net economic savings due to this reduced bureaucracy, although most consumers are predicted to end up losing some money.
Now, as an unapologetic
champagne beer socialist, I have no intrinsic objection to higher taxes, IF they are applied fairly and the revenue is used sensibly. However, I do object to being lied to; the Provincial government claimed during the last election campaign that the HST (already in effect in other provinces) was “not on their radar”, when in fact their negotiations with the federal government about the introduction of the tax were already well underway at the time. I’m not alone in my objection; while the official opposition stood back and did nothing, a grass roots petition campaign was started. When 10% of all registered voters in each electoral riding had signed the petition, the government was forced under BC law to hold a binding referendum on the new tax.
Yay, democracy! Take THAT, lying politicians! How often do you get an opportunity to directly punish these guys?!
Except, of course, it’s not that simple. The government has done a surprisingly decent job at reversing the tide of public opinion, partially via a promise to reduce the HST rate from 12% to 10% in a few years. (Whether or not we can trust them when they’ve already been caught in one HST-related lie is, of course, another story). My friends who run their own business are voting to keep the HST. The forecasts of restaurants closing left right and centre seem not to be coming true – at least, not yet.
And so now I have another dilemma: do I vote according to the rational, the-economic-arguments-look-sound side of my brain, or the more primal that’ll-teach-you-to-lie-to-me-you-bastards side?
I know I’ve joked before about being a chronic over-thinker, but this stuff is important: the HST referendum will have an immediate and direct effect on me and millions of others, probably for decades; while the government’s decision about the future of the census will have less tangible, but no less important or long-lasting, impacts on all Canadians. And I need to decide soon…
HELP ME, oh wise internets! What’s a politically engaged, socially conscious, lefty scientist to do?!