The CEO Poll: No census consensus

Canadian business leaders on the brewing census controversy.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

Industry Minister Tony Clement has set off a firestorm of controversy with the government’s decision to ax the mandatory long-form census from Statistics Canada, which caused the head of the national polling agency to resign in protest. A web poll conducted by COMPAS Inc. shows that Canadian CEOs are impressed with neither the federal government’s nor Statistics Canada’s actions in this case.

The Conservatives contend the decision to replace the mandatory census with a voluntary one was based on concern for Canadians’ privacy. Pollsters fear a voluntary census would produce less reliable data. Many governments, businesses and social organizations rely on the data, and opposition groups argue the Conservatives are attempting to influence future public policy decisions since low-income earners and immigrants will be less likely to fill out a voluntary form.

Most respondents disagreed with the Conservatives that the census is a privacy concern — 55% of the CEOs said the census should remain mandatory since the resulting data are important for setting public policy.

‘Our companies provide sensitive business information to Statistics Canada all the time, and they have incredibly strong standards,’ wrote one respondent.

‘Privacy should not supersede security and social planning,’ wrote another.

Even so, when asked to grade StatsCan on its performance in justifying the mandatory long-form census, respondents gave the agency a mean score of 57 out of 100. Some CEOs took issue with the mandatory nature of the survey. ‘In a free country, there is no justification for forcing citizens to provide personal information to government,’ wrote one.

Clement, however, fared even worse. He received a mean score of 39, which is lower than scores for other Conservative ministers in previous COMPAS polls. ‘There is no real rationale for changing something that has fundamentally worked for decades,’ wrote one respondent.

Other CEOs suggested all players involved could work toward census reform. ‘Instead of penalties for not filling it out, perhaps incentives for doing so would be more appropriate,’ according to one, ‘such as a tax credit.’