Ignorance is bliss they say. If you don’t know about something, you don’t worry about it, see a problem that needs fixing, or take action. If you don’t know everything is not fine, you may conclude that everything is fine.
I thought about this when I read a recent article in The Globe and Mail about results from the new National Household Survey in 2011 that replaced Canada’s long-form census. According to Statistics Canada, they do not have sufficient and reliable information about low-income households. Additionally, due to methodology changes, they cannot compare what data they do have with previous survey results including the 2006 census. That means we don’t know if Canadians are getting poorer, if the gap between rich and poor is growing, or if average incomes are stagnating. We now know very little about poverty and wealth in Canada.
Alarms about the limitations of the National Household Survey were sounded back in 2010 when the Harper government announced it was canceling the mandatory long-form census. At the time, experts and observers noted that data gathering methods weren’t broken and were in fact reliable and reputable. They feared that changing from a mandatory long-form census to Harper’s new and more expensive voluntary model ($650 million is the new price tag) would make an already difficult task of collecting data from low-income households nearly impossible. The result: an inaccurate picture of Canada.
Now we know for certain. They were right. The census response rate in 2006 was typical at 93.5 per cent. In 2011, the new National Household Survey saw a response rate of 68.6 per cent that’s skewed in favour of middle-income earners.
Here we are, we don’t know important data about trends in average income, income disparity and if families are doing more with less.
You and I may see homeless people every day and know that we need more affordable housing. We may see the need for affordable childcare, improved mental health services, and greater support for aboriginal peoples’ access to education. Yet the numbers don’t back up our individual experiences. And the figures never lie.
But liars figure.
With questionable figures or none at all, governments may shirk their responsibilities. If governments don’t have basic data about the populations they serve, they don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know that poverty is growing, so they don’t need to take action to stop that trend. They don’t need to invest in affordable housing, food security, childcare, education, healthcare, and income assistance — all of which are responsibilities of the provincial government. Rather, they can remain focused on cutting taxes for the rich while also cutting everyone’s healthcare to keep a balanced budget.
And that’s just what the BC Liberal government does. Billions in corporate tax cuts while Kaslo loses 24/7 health services and KLH stays a level-one hospital.
However, ignorance isn’t bliss. It is the biggest problem of all. Our job for the next four years is to expose that problem and hold feet to the fire. Action to reduce poverty is necessary. We know that, and we know it’s possible.
Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall writes for the Star once a month