Monday, July 25, 2011

StatsCan Spends and Spends to Push the National Household Survey

I would like a journalist to find out: how much more is the National Household Survey costing Canadians this year than the Long-Form Census did in years past? I bet it’s way more than what Prime Minister Stephen Harper claimed, if my experience is the norm.

After I completed the census at the last possible moment, Statistics Canada (StatsCan) informed me I’d been picked to do the National Household Survery. I emitted an expletive and shut down my computer. Harper had said it was voluntary, and I was sick, tired, and not interested in spending time filling in a form that is essentially useless as there will be no continuity of data from the Long-Form Census (and to the next one brought back by another government) and, it being voluntary, the numbers would be insufficient too.

StatsCan though is a persistent bugger. They mailed me another one of those tear-apart letters. I set it aside. They called me. I had a wedding to go to, call me later. "When?" "Oh, after July 15th," I replied airily, thinking it was so far down the road, they may not. But I guess, unlike Harper, numbers people really want their numbers to be solid.

They called after the 15th. I knew now that “GOCGDC” on the Call Display was StatsCan, so I ignored it. They left messages. I ignored em. They called and called and when they rang on a Sunday too, I knew their persistence was greater than my stubbornness. So I finally picked up. I was right in the middle of reading A Briefer History of Time too.

He launched in and didn’t give me a chance to say no. The voice had an accent too. Hoo boy, I was in trouble. I have a hard enough time following people in calls like this; accents make it much harder (have so since my brain injury). But hey, I was better, and I wasn’t going to do it on the computer after reading stories of the site crashing plus I do enough stuff on the computer anyway.

He gave the usual spiel, supervisor would be listening, data private, blah blah blah (literally to my ears), and then we got into it.

"Where were you born?"

"England."

"What citizenship do you hold?"

"Canadian and UK."

"Are you a Canadian citizen by birth or naturalization?"

Pause. Well, if anyone worries about these questionners remembering us or keeping track of our answers in their heads, worry no more! I pointed out having been born in England, I wasn’t born here. He chuckled a bit after saying oh.

It went on for a bit, me not having to ask him to repeat the question too many times until he asked where my father was born.

"Burma," I replied absently.

"Alberta?"

Huh?

"Burma."

"Where in Alberta?" is what I think he said.

"No. Burma." I replied, getting a bit testy.

"Blah blah blah a country," is what I heard.

"It is a country!" I snapped.

"Oh. Blah blah Alberta?"

"BURMA is a country. B-U-R-M-A!!!" How has this man not heard of Burma before? Is he so isolated in Qu├ębec, they don’t get news about anything?!! Like, who hasn’t heard of this junta-oppressed country, $&@:)(/!!!

"Oh. Burna. B-U-R-N-"

"No. 'M' as in ’mother’!"

"Sorry, sorry, M-A."

"Yes."

My racial background was just as perplexing to him, me being partly Ancient Persian and all. I gave up on saying Zoroastrian (I don’t think he recorded that part under Religion question either) and I didn’t attempt Parsi after the word "ancient" completely floored him. And I wonder if he took in some of the other ones I gave him as he didn’t repeat them all...

You know, it’s real nice that the Federal Government, including StatsCan wants to have bilingual employees, but it would be awesome if they hired ones fluent in English, as in being able to understand unexpected words over the phone in English, not just French.

And so we continued, me having a harder and harder time with understanding him (as time goes on in a conversation, my brain is less and less interested in processing accents) and giving up on ensuring he had recorded my answers correctly until we got to money. Before asking income questions, he told me that it would be easier and faster for me (and more accurate for them) if I gave them permission to see my income tax return summary for 2010. Like hell I will. It took me two kicks at the can for him to understand my answer was "N-O!"

I do not think any entity should be asking to see my income tax return, summary or not. And as much as me having a research background, I trust StatsCan to separate out my identifying info from their aggregate data, I don’t think even they should have access or even permission to ask. It astounds me how blithely Canadians give their SIN numbers to insurance companies, who can track all sorts of things with that information. Big brother isn’t government; it’s corporations. Unfortunately, to receive monetary assistance or breaks from other entities like the city or Trillium drug plan, you’re required to give a copy of your income tax summary to them. It includes info on it that they’re not entitled to. All they need to know is your income, nothing else. Revenue Canada (or whatever it’s calling itself these days) should issue a letter stating income, and only income, for purposes like these, a letter one can download and print off. But I digress.

We finished off the money part, with not too many hiccups. And it was over. Phew.

Despite my at times contrary opinions and radical stances, I am actually an obedient person who does my civic duty. So if I had to be chased, that probably means it’s the norm. And as I heard voices in the background while answering the questions, voices asking other Canadians the same questions, I wondered how much is slapping the word "voluntary" on and changing "census” to "survey" costing us taxpayers? -- For data that will have no relevance to the data that came before and will come in the future.



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