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This article was published 21/7/2010 (4074 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
La Société franco-manitobaine is speaking out against the federal government’s decision to eliminate the long-form national census.
Canadians are required to fill out the short-form population census, which asks questions about mother tongue.
But in the past, about one in five Canadians were required by law to fill out the long-form census instead, which asked more detailed questions — including which of the two official languages a person speaks.
Now the Conservative government has scrapped the long-form census in favour of a voluntary version.
Daniel Boucher, president and CEO of La Société franco-manitobaine, said asking Canadians about only their mother tongue does not capture an accurate picture of the country’s language landscape.
"The census is a very important part of who we are and identifying who we are," said Boucher from the organization’s office in St. Boniface. "We have a different demographic now, things are changing and people are identifying themselves differently."
Boucher is concerned that two specific groups will be overlooked without the long-form census.
The first is students who may speak English as their first language, but attend French schools and identify as bilingual. The second group is newcomers to the country, he said.
"There’s new immigrants whose mother tongue is not either French or English, but they speak French at home all the time. And that will not be captured in the short-form," Boucher explained.
And while the immediate concern is statistical data that doesn’t represent the linguistic realities of Canada, Boucher said there’s a fear that it will lead to a reduction or elimination of services for francophone communities.
Marie-France Kenny, president of La Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne, said that reduction of services could come on both the provincial and federal levels.
"We feel that every decision that’s made in Canada is at some point linked to the census data," Kenny said in a telephone interview from Regina.
"Everything that’s in the long census — including linguistic questions, but everything in there — helps shape public policy (and) provides information to provincial and federal governments."
For example, she said, the Treasury Board — the federal body that determines which government offices need to be bilingual based on demographics — uses information gleaned from the long-form census to make its decisions.
The provincial government — which is responsible for portfolios such as healthcare and educations — receives transfer payments from Ottawa that may also be affected, Kenny said.
"The federal government has the obligation to provide services in both languages. When it transfers the payment, it also transfers the obligation," she said.
"How can provincial governments rely on data that might not be available?"
Kenny’s organization has filed a complain with the Official Languages Commissioner and requested a meeting with Industry Minister Tony Clement, who is responsible for the census.
With the next census set to take place in 2011, both Boucher and Kenny said they hope the government changes its mind before the decisions has a lasting impact on francophone communities.
"How can we measure the vitality of the francophone communities across the country if we don’t have that information?" Kenny asked.
"How can we improve the vitality if we don’t know how it is going?"tion?" Kenny asked. "How can we improve the vitality if we don’t know how it is going?"