No con/census consensus

Dilemmas, dilemmas… life is full of them. However, there are two in particular that are causing me much internal debate at the moment:

The census

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″.

The con

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?!

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
This entry was posted in activism, bad people, Canada, current affairs, personal, politics, rants. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to No con/census consensus

  1. Ian says:

    I didn’t receive it, but if so I would have filled out the long form census, mainly because the Harper government won’t care to distinguish the protesters like you from the crazy libertarians who refuse to fill out the census. It’s like those who refuse to vote being lumped in with the apathetics.

    As for the HST, I’m in the exact same boat as you, except I also think (as a beer socialist and environmentalist) that consumption taxes are both useful and good, so reducing the HST to 12% is less desirable than the combination, plus I like the provincial freedom to exempt things under the PST that the HST doesn’t afford. However, as a poor student, I get better rebates under the HST.

  2. KJ says:

    I have little to say about the census – I filled it out, I figure my protest would get lost in the midst.

    Well, the GST was set to be a one-time only tax that had a definitive end point sometime in the 90s. Say what you will, but we all agree, it didn’t go away.

    I truly don’t agree with how they brought in the HST, nor do I agree with the propaganda campaign the BC government has done on my behalf with my taxpayer money, nor do I like how tricky the HST referendum is worded. BUT I am at heart, a bleeding heart socialist, who would gladly pay into any tax if I had some actual explanation of how it was being spent. We were told it would’ve go towards socialized medicine? Has it? probably part of it, but they haven’t been bothered in the slightest to show any accounting for it.

    As a consumer I hate another tax – just increase my income tax if you want my money (note: I’d happily pay the tax levels of scandinavian countries if I was assured that social housing was available to all). As a friend of small business owners, however, I do know that it is saving them thousands of dollars a year. Sadly, I don’t see any of that. I’m still on the fence as to how I’m voting.

    Can I just vote “no” to Christy Clark?

  3. Alyssa says:

    Yes to filling out the census.

    No to the HST.

  4. Why should it be mandatory, even on the short form (where it’s still mandatory), for me to reveal whether or not I’m having sex with anyone else who’s living here, as well as whether that sex is gay or straight? What dire social need is served by forcing my sexual activity from me complete with names?

    I have an outstanding case number with StatsCan regarding just what specifically they are asking in their definitions regarding sexual relationships, and they are aware that I have published it for use also by anyone else who is wondering if they are asking what it sure looks like they’re asking, and if so, sees this as none of their mandatory business.

    On my blog, in the Can. Census category, is my full exchange with StatsCan, as well as the case # for anyone to use while awaiting StatsCan’s next answer (can’t send in my form until it’s clarified further).

  5. Grant says:

    For little it’s worth – hmm, to be a catch-phrase of mine lately, probably means not much I say is worth much…!! – anyway, our census was cancelled entirely! In a sense postponed, but whatever. It was meant to happen a little after the February 22nd earthquake, but it was decided that the earthquake aftermath would affect the results too much, and too add to matters the base for the group taking the census was in Christchurch. I’ve forgotten when it’ll be now, perhaps 2013. (They’re still getting aftershocks – the one last Monday was as big as the February event; there’s been another magnitude 5.1+ tonight.)

  6. Grant says:

    Rats, forgot to say that I think ours is long-form for everyone. Equality and all that 😉

  7. Liz says:

    My opinion on the census mirrors Ian’s comments. I don’t think not filling it out is a useful form of protest, and it probably doe more harm than good.

    I’m less opinionated on the HST. I’m in Ontario where we had our 13% HST introduced last year with no chance for a formal public say in the matter (so good for BC for taking that step, at least). As a “lower-income” graduate student, the net effect in the form of rebate cheques has likely caused me to personally come out ahead financially since its introduction. I haven’t heard much from the media in terms of positive or negative impacts on businesses or individual so its difficult to judge how others have been affected, or whether the province is benefiting as a whole.

  8. chall says:

    hm, I’d definetly fill in the census… simply because I think your protest will get mixed in with “other ppl who want the government to go away”. That said, it’s the same dilemma when “wanting to vote but not having a party to vote for compared” (the “blank vote”) to “not wanting to vote at all since you don’t care and just abstaining” (“couch potatoe”).

    As for the tax thingy… I’m not sure since it sounds good imho with 10% in one tax, since that is still an increase – as said previously, the GST was supposedly a “temporary tax”… but stream lining it with one tax instead of two might be better? Although, I am not sure on how much it will help since the Government/Federal part will probably be taken out anyway? In any event though, I’d refrain from the “you lied and therefore I vote against it” since again, “they” won’t think about it that way. It’s too complicated to actually try and think what the voters think (*slight bitterness about the democratic process and personal responsibility every once in awhile*)

  9. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Thanks all for the great comments – this is exactly what I was hoping for when I wrote this post!

    Looks like you guys think I should complete my census… a nice clear-cut result! There seems to be more of a to-and-fro on the HST issue, and frankly I’m relieved to learn that I’m not the only person who’s conflicted!

    Ian, welcome to the blog! You make some excellent points on both issues. Your comment that the GST + HST option gives the (current and future) provincial government a freedom to exempt things that doesn’t exist under the HST is especially interesting – I hadn’t heard that point of view before, and now I will do some digging into which items both major parties have historically wanted to exempt! The possibility of a greener-than-Harper (everything’s relative) BC government exempting environmentally friendly items, for example, is extreeeeemely interesting.

    KJ (and Chall), thanks for the history lesson on the origins of the GST – before my time, so I didn’t know that before. Interesting.

    Yeah, the HST would help some of my friends who run small businesses, but not me, not directly at least. As always, you have to look at the balance between what benefits you personally, versus your family and friends, versus the greater good of the provincial population as a whole. Always a tough call.

    I think a good balance between income & sales taxes is hard to find, but I personally favour sales taxes. Income taxes have the benefit of an impact that scales with your ability to absorb it, but the great thing with sales taxes is that you have a lot more control over how much you pay. For example I’m all in favour of massive sales taxes on petrol/gas, if it encourages people to rethink how much they drive!

    You can vote no to Christy Clark at the next full election!

    Alyssa, thanks! Short but to the point 🙂 Maybe I should have also included a poll, eh? 🙂

    Scented Nectar, my cynical side says that maybe Harper wants to know exactly how many people he’s going to screw over when he repeals gay marriage? (

    (Yeah, yeah, I know he said that he’s personally against it but won’t try to legislate against it. I can only hope that he’s telling the truth).

    The marital status info we filled in on our short-form census is nothing the government don’t already know from our joint tax filings since we first moved in together, before we were married… but I’ll be sure to read the posts you linked to get a more detailed insight into your arguments!

    Grant, understandable, I suppose! I’ve read a lot about the earthquake and the aftershocks on Nina’s blog – she’s based in Christchurch, but currently enjoying a few months away on more stable ground. Oh, and you’re entitled to as many errors as you feel is reasonable. I’m sure there are some I haven’t picked up in this post (and this comment, which is now almost as long as the original post!)

    Liz, you’re probably right about the census. I’ll start filling it in this weekend. I might append a strongly worded cover letter, though, possibly CCed to my MP (who’s NDP and probably agrees with me) and whoever else may be interested.

    The long-term effects of the HST may not be evident yet, especially with respect to restaurant closures etc. But by then it’ll be too late.

    The BC law that forces the government to act on ANY petition signed by at least 10% of all registered voters in each district is, in my opinion, the best law I’ve ever heard of. Every jurisdiction should have something similar on their books, to keep politicians accountable and on their toes! I admit that not wanting to waste all that energy – a welcome change to the usual apathy – would be part of my motivation for voting against the HST, if that’s what I end up doing. I’m definitely leaning more that way now than I was yesterday!

    Chall, the census issue is definitely analogous to active versus passive non-voting.

    I have to disagree with your second paragraph, though. I think if the vote goes in favour of abolishing the HST, the government will be quite clear about the reasons…

    • Grant says:

      Thanks for pointing at Nina’s blog. I’ve been maintaining a news feed of sorts, trying to cobble the more important stories on a thread on my blog.

      I see Nina has left the country. Wouldn’t mind a job overseas myself, but more for funding reasons that earthquakes.

      Regards long comments… I started as a blogger through writing comments longer that the writer’s article…! One local blogger held one of them up and invited me to have it presented as a guest post and the rest was history as they say 🙂

  10. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    GAAH just as I felt like I was making my decision, Mr E Man went and informed me that he’s voting to keep the HST because it’s good for the movie industry. Tax structures are a BIG part of studios’ decisions about where to make their movies, and movies pay well over half of our bills…

  11. chall says:

    After reading a little more about the HST, I wonder if it isn’t partly a thing for BC to keep some more % of money if they get the Federal tax to get decreased? I mean, if it’s one tax block it would be easier to redirect a % of that into the Federal account…. (I assume it’s not done like that irl but as a thought process.) Partly becasue I think the GST has been under some “discussions” and potentially lowered? I think that would be one of the provinces vs federal discussions.

    Alas, I don’t honestly know 😉

    But I do know that Tenneessee has lost out on many movies and TV series, like Memphis beat, since Louisiana has a generous tax situation for the movie/tv industry… and I would’ve thought there was something interesting like that going on in BC considering on how many sci-fi and other movies that are filmed in Vancouver and surroundings….. Good luck with making a decision you like!

  12. ricardipus says:

    My armchair take on the HST here in Ontario (we’ve had it for a while now) is this – the general public doesn’t know whether or not they’re spending more on haircuts, or food, or books, or whatever. Attack ads against the McGuinty Liberal government go on about how the HST was a tax grab, but honestly I doubt if any but a very select few really know whether it’s true or not.

    My personal opinion – I haven’t spent more, or less, because of it. I didn’t notice its implementation and it’s had no measurable effect on my personal economic situation. Likely, this is just due to me being uninformed and apathetic though.

    As for the census – we did the online one and it was ACE! Easy to follow, contained numerous checks and balances to make sure I did it right, didn’t take too long. I was totally impressed, especially considering it’s a government document.

    As for the long-form one… we didn’t receive it, but I would have filled it out (with grumbling, no doubt). It’s the right thing to do IMHO, regardless of views on the politics behind it.

    Final point – HST or not, I am certain that the biggest issue the Canadian movie industry has at present is our strong dollar. At higher than par with the US Greenback, that’s bad news. It’s also ruining the value of the $US consulting cheques I occasionally get… 🙁

  13. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Chall, I haven’t heard much about how the federal & provinical governments will be splitting the HST revenue… interesting point that I’ll have to follow up on!

    Ricardipus, yeah, I’m gonna do the long-form census this weekend. Although like I said I may well be attaching a snarky cover letter to it 🙂

    On the HST issue, I *know* we’re spending more because of it, because we do so love to go out for dinners and drinks with friends. Like, at least once or twice a week (although not of late because Mr E Man’s not been working, but he started a new project today!). It’s our biggest luxury expenditure for sure, and now there’s substantially more tax on it than there used to be.

    Both: various governments across the continent and beyond (Australia, New Zealand, etc) have been attempting to undercut each other on movie and TV production tax breaks for years. For example Ontario introduced a lower tax rate a couple of years ago, at which point a few productions that had been planning to film in BC promptly moved East. So the BC government lowered their own tax rates, and business came back the next year. IMHO all governments concerned are shooting themselves in the foot long-term for short-term gains, but hey, I’m not at the decision-making end of the industry…

    Of course, Vancouver has advantages that are independent of the tax rate (i.e. geographical and time zone proximity to Hollywood, facilities, skills & expertise, diversity of shooting locations etc). But every other location has its unique selling points, too. The exchange rate has had less impact than predicted, because the US dollar is down against all other currencies, too, so we haven’t loss business to Australia / NZ for instance. For reasons I can’t remember it’s still cheaper to film in Canada than it is in the US. Liability insurance? Something like that. I’ll ask Mr E Man tonight!

    • chall says:

      I’d be interested to reda the answer US vs Canada in cheapness of filming – especially if it isn’t to do with the exchange rate – since I’ve been fascinated with the BC love by all the Sci/fi series/movies I saw being filmed there when I was at UBC even a decade ago (sometimes I like feeling ‘old’ erhm, experienced…. just saying 😉 )

  14. Okay, so I filled out the census with no issue and I don’t really have an issue with the long form. some of the q’s due seem odd, but I feel ensuring adequate services and really knowing who makes up our population is important for (1) getting proper funding (2) allocating more federal seats to us (3) determing how to implement infrastrucature.

    On the HST. Totally hate the way it was implemented and I think it costs me more as a poor student with a kid and another on the way. As a general rule, I personally I prefer consumption taxes as I keep more in my pocket than with income tax. I’m also not sure how much it is helping small businesses. The theory is that because they can now get 12% back instead of 5% (GST) their costs are lower and prices should go down. However that depends on how computer / financial suavy they are. The very nice hardworking carpenter that did our cabinets does not have that. He’s living job to job. He’s fair in his pricing, and very talented at what he does but when I spoke to him, he obviously doesn’t have the computer / quickbooks knowledge to assess how much he’s saving and if he can reduce prices.

    The fact of the matter is though, is if we don’t keep the HST we will have to pay a shit load of money back to the federal government if we rescind it. Also apparently its good for the bigger construction companies and I know my brothers engineering company is benefitting from it. Business likes it. And maybe now that I get $300 back that will help me out in the short term, but I still need find $3000 / yr to pay for daycare…..

    Unlike most of you, I”m more of a centrist. I believe that to provide a strong social net, we need to have a strong economy. I’m hoping that Christy Clark is really about families and is going to increase funding to things like childcare so that 20% of my income is not going to childcare…sorry end of rant.

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