Tag Archives: Jeffrey Simpson

FrogHeart (part 1) at the 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference (& Thinking big panel)

Unfortunately, I was only present for one day (Nov. 6, 2012) at the Fourth Canadian Science Policy Conference in Calgary, Alberta. In fact, my one day was more like a 1/2 day due to delays at the airport. It broke my heart to miss most of Panel 13: Dissecting Canada’s Science & Technology Landscape, which featured a discussion of the Council of Canadian Academies’ latest assessment, “The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012.” I have my fingers crossed that a video of the presentation will be posted in the not too distant future.

Jeffrey Simpson, Ph.D and National Affairs Columnist at The Globe and Mail moderated the panel discussion about this latest assessment (the last one was in 2006) which was requested by Industry Canada. The panel included: Dr. Eliot Phillipson, Ph.D, Sir John and Lady Eaton Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Toronto (he led the expert panel which presided over the assessment); Lorraine Whale, Ph.D and Manager of Unconventional Resource Research at Shell Global Solutions (Canada); and R. Peter MacKinnon, former President of the University of Saskatchewan.

I did manage to attend Panel 16: The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese: Turning Talk of Creativity Into a Sustainable Creative Economy which featured a slew of creative types such as Mary Anne Moser, Ph.D and Co-Founder of Beakerhead; Jay Ingram, Co-Founder of Beakerhead; Jasmine Palardy, Program Manager of Beakerhead;  Patrick Finn, Ph.D and Performance Expert, University of Calgary; and Haley Simons, Ph.D, Executive Director of Creative Alberta.

Creativity workshops are to hard to pull off, especially when you pepper them with leadership information, an argument for the importance of creativity in examinations of the economy, descriptions of the creative process, etc. while leading the group through the process of designing a better mouse trap. It was an odd choice for a creativity exercise, notwithstanding the metaphor in the group’s panel title. I liked some of the ideas they were trying to discuss and demonstrate but I associate creativity with an element of play and letting loose. Devising a better mouse trap didn’t activate my sense of play nor was there time to let loose any creative/chaotic impulses as we were either listening to someone giving us information or trying to complete the exercises we were given.

For anyone who’s noticed the incidence of the institution, Beakerhead, amongst the panelists, it’s a new  art/engineering event which will be taking place in Calgary during the Calgary Stampede, I believe (from the About page),

Beakerhead is an annual movement that culminates in a five-day citywide spectacle that brings together the arts and engineering sectors to build, engage, compete and exhibit interactive works of art, engineered creativity and entertainment.

Starting annually in 2013, Beakerhead will take place in Calgary’s major educational institutions, arts and culture venues, on the streets and, most importantly, in communities.
From performances and installations to workshops and concerts, Beakerhead is made possible by a continuously growing list of partners who share the desire of staging a collaborative event of epic proportions.

I wish them well with Beakerhead while I’m somewhat unclear as to what the workshop was supposed to achieve. Personally, I would have preferred working on a Beakerhead event for 2013. Imagine if those of us at the 2012 CSPC “Second mouse” presentation had developed something that might actually take place. That’s creativity in action and I think they could have drawn together all that other stuff they were trying to communicate to us by inviting us to participate in something meaningful.

Next up was Panel 19: Thinking big: science culture and policy in Canada, which I was moderating. From my Oct. 1, 2012 posting,

… here’s the description,

Science culture is more than encouraging kids to become scientists to insure our economic future; more than having people visit a science museum or centre and having fun; more than reading an interesting article in a newspaper or magazine about the latest whizbang breakthrough; more than educating people so they become scientifically literate and encourage ‘good’ science policies; it is a comprehensive approach to community- and society-building.

We live in a grand (in English, magnificent and en francais, big) country, the 2nd largest in the world and it behooves us all to be engaged in developing a vibrant science culture which includes

  • artists (performing and visual),
  • writers,
  • scientists,
  • children,
  • seniors,
  • games developers,
  • doctors,
  • business people,
  • elected officials,
  • philosophers,
  • government bureaucrats,
  • educators,
  • social scientists,
  • and others

as we grapple with 21st century scientific and technical developments.

As scientists work on prosthetic neurons for repair in people with Parkinsons and other neurological diseases, techniques for tissue engineering, self-cleaning windows, exponentially increased tracking capabilities for devices and goods tagged with RFID devices, engineered bacteria that produce petroleum and other products (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Living Foundries project), and more, Canadians will be challenged to understand and adapt to a future that can be only dimly imagined.

Composed of provocative thinkers from the worlds of science writing, science education, art/science work, and scientific endeavour, during this panel discussion they will offer their ideas and visions for a Canadian science culture and invite you to share yours. In addition to answering questions, each panelist will prepare their own question for audience members to answer.

The panelists are:

Marie-Claire Shanahan

Marie-Claire Shanahan is a professor of science education and science communication at the University of Alberta. She is interested in how and why students make decisions to pursue their interests science, in high schools, post-secondary education and informal science education. She also conducts research on interactions between readers and writers in online science communications.

Stephen Strauss

Stephen Strauss, Canadian Science Writers’ Association president, has been writing about science for 30 years. After receiving a B.A. (history) from the University of Colorado, he worked as an English teacher, a social worker, an editor before joining the Globe and Mail in 1979. He began writing about science there.

Since leaving the newspaper in 2004 he has written for the CBC.ca, Nature, New Scientist, The Canadian Medical Association Journal as well as authored books and book chapters. He has written for organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Government of Ontario and has won numerous awards.

Amber Didow

Amber Didow is the Executive Director for the Canadian Association of Science Centres. She has over 20 years experience in the non-profit sector and advancing informal education. She has worked within the Science Centre field for many years including the Saskatchewan Science Centre and Science World British Columbia.  Amber’s background includes new business development; educational outreach; programming with at-risk youth; creating community based science events; melding science with art and overseeing the creation and development of both permanent and travelling exhibitions. Amber has a strong passion for community development within the sector.

Maryse de la Giroday (moderator)

Maryse de la Giroday currently runs one of the largest and longest running Canadian science blogs (frogheart.ca) where she writes commentary on  nanotechnology, science policy, science communication, society, and the arts. With a BA in Communication (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and an MA in Creative Writing and New Media (De Montfort University, UK), she combines education and training in the social sciences and humanities with her commitment as an informed member of the science public. An independent scholar, she has presented at international conferences on topics of nanotechnology, storytelling, and memristors.

Dr. Moira Stilwell, MLA

Dr. Moira Stilwell was appointed Minister of Social Development  for the province of British Columbia in September 2012. Elected MLA for Vancouver-Langara in the 2009 provincial general election. She previously served as Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Research and Innovation to the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health with a focus on Health Innovation. She also served as Vice Chair of the Cabinet Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth. In her first cabinet appointment, she served as Minister of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development from June 2009 to October 2010.

Prior to her political career, Stilwell graduated from the University of Calgary Medical School. She received further training in nuclear medicine at the University of British Columbia and in radiology at the University of Toronto after that. She served for several years as the Head of Nuclear Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver, Surrey Memorial Hospital, and Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Clinic but left all those positions in 2009 to run for public office.

The driving force behind the province’s Year of Science in BC (2010-11) initiative for schools, Stilwell has a passionate interest and commitment to integrating science awareness and culture in government, education, and society.

Rob Annan

Rob is the Director of Policy, Research and Evaluation at Mitacs, a leading Canadian not-for-profit that supports innovation through skills development, research, and collaboration between students, researchers, and industry. Mitacs supports research across sciences, humanities and social sciences and understands that innovation often occurs at the intersection of science and culture. Mitacs’ approach to innovation is reflected in our outreach activities, most notably Math Out Loud – a theatre musical designed to inspire Canadian students to understand and appreciate the mathematics that surround them. Inspired by Laval University’s renowned Professor of Mathematics Jean-Marie De Koninck and produced by Academy Award winner Dale Hartleben, Math Out Loud explores the relationships between math and culture as an effective outreach tool.

Prior to joining Mitacs, Rob worked as a consultant to universities, researchers and non-profit agencies for strategic planning and policy, and was active as a blogger on science policy issues in Canada. Rob embodies the intersection of arts and science, with a PhD in Biochemistry from McGill University, a BSc in Biology from UVic and a BA in English from Queen’s University.

We started late and I think it went relatively well although next time (assuming there is one) I’ll practice cutting people off in a timely fashion and giving more direction. In other words, any criticisms of the session should be directed at me. The panelists were great.

Marie-Claire Shanahan, professor of science education at the University of Alberta, introduced a provocative question in the context of acknowledging Canada’s excellent science education programmes, Why isn’t there an active science discourse in Canada? Audience members tried to answer that question and came to no general agreement.

Stephen Strauss, president of the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA), introduced what I thought was a very exciting idea, a science entrepot supported by the CSWA. The entrepot would be a storage webspace for all Canadian science news releases and a place where the people producing the news releases would get feedback on their efforts. The feedback idea is an acknowledgement that, increasingly,  scientists in Canada are writing their own news releases. There wasn’t much uptake from the audience on this idea but perhaps people need more time think about something that changes their relationship to the media.

The Honourable Dr. Moira Stilwell discussed her experiences trying to introduce science into government, that is, trying to use more scientific approaches in the various BC ministries. The former head of Nuclear Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, Surrey Memorial Hospital, and Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Clinic described the process by which her big idea became part of a government initiative and changed mightily in the process.

Rob Annan, director of policy, research, and evaluation at Mitacs, talked about different approaches Mitacs has taken to embedding science culture in Canada and he challenged the audience about the notion of expertise with regard to science as one of the audience members expressed great distress (sadness mixed with anger/indignation) over the ‘declining’ trust in science experts. I hope Rob will correct me if I get this wrong, I believe his point was that experts need to stop assuming that they are right and the public just has to listen and do as they are told. The audience member did not couch his comments that way but the assumption that we, the unwashed must do as we are told and our concerns are not relevant or wrong, is often at the heart of the ‘expertise’ claim. (Also I’m going to interject, I think the audience member had flipped the issue around. The question I’d be asking is why expertise in science is accepted unthinkingly in some areas and distrusted in others.)

Amber Didow, executive director of the Canadian Association of Science Centres, spoke about the importance of these centres with regard to science culture, the extensive programming they provide, and their relationship to their communities both locally and further afield. The fact that we were in Calgary’s new ‘science world’ (in Calgary, it’s Telus Spark) added greatly to the experience.

I did attend one more session, Kennedy Stewart’s NDP (New Democratic Party) Science Policy session but that’s for part 2.

ETA Nov. 14, 2012: I’ve forgotten my manners and I apologize for not doing this sooner. Thank you to the organizers for an exciting and well paced conference. Special thanks to Marissa Bender who eased my way before, during, and after; Dustin Rivers for making sure that I didn’t fall over from hunger once I finally arrived and  his impeccable graciousness, Mehrdad Hariri for his understanding and for extending a helping hand in the midst of what must have been one of heaviest organizational periods for the 2012 conference (I am impressed), Sean for his invaluable advice regarding rush hour traffic in Calgary, and the two heroic women who managed the portable mikes for my session.

2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference and thinking big about Canadian science culture and policy

The 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference is coming up in Calgary, Alberta on Nov. 5-7, 2012. and FrogHeart will be there moderating the Thinking Big: Science Culture and Policy in Canada panel. More about that in a minute but first, here’s the announcement, which I received at about  12:30 pm PDT, Oct. 1, 2012 (so this is pretty fresh off the email) :

Minister of State for Science and Technology, the Hon. Gary Goodyear, and Alberta Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education, the Hon. Stephen Khan, will be speaking at the CSPC 2012

Calgary, Alberta November 5th – 7th

TORONTO, ONTARIO–(Marketwire – Sept. 28, 2012) - CSPC 2012 is pleased to announce that the Hon. Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology will provide the opening keynote address on Monday, November 5th at 8:45 AM.

Also, the Hon. Stephen Khan, Alberta Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education will provide a luncheon keynote speech on Tuesday, November 6th.

CSPC 2012 will feature an impressive program with more than 90 speakers – leaders of science and innovation – from industry, academia, the media and government. These include:

  • Hon. Moira Stilwell,  MLA, Minister of Social Development, BC
  • Bob Fessenden, Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy, Government of Alberta
  • Dan Wicklum, CEO, Canada Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, (COSIA)
  • Antonia Maioni, Incoming President, Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Jeffrey Simpson, National Affairs Columnist, The Globe and Mail
  • Jay Ingram, Founder, Beakerhead, Science Journalist
  • Rory McAlpine, Vice President, Maple Leaf Foods
  • Mike Herrington, Executive Director, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM)
  • Richard Hawkins, Canada Research Chair, Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, University of Calgary

Keynote session: Pulling Together: “What is the appropriate division of labour between business, government, and the academy in advancing science-based innovation in Canada?” a dialogue with the three Honourary Co-Chairs:

  • The Hon. Preston Manning C.C., President & CEO, Manning Centre for Building Democracy
  • Dr. Eric Newell, Chancellor Emeritus, University of Alberta, Former Chair and CEO, Syncrude Canada Ltd.
  • M. Elizabeth Cannon, PhD, FCAE, FRSC, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Calgary

Twenty-one panel sessions, reflecting the four conference themes, submitted from across the country and internationally, including:

  • Innovation, R&D, and Productivity in the Oil and Gas Sector
  • Dissecting Canada’s Science & Technology Landscape
  • Innovation and Agriculture and the Role of Policy
  • Next Generation e-Health: Integrating Research, Policy, Industry
  • Entrepreneurship as a vehicle for innovation
  • “Science Policy 101″ workshop

For the complete agenda please go to http://www.cspc2012.ca/glance.php and for descriptions of all the panel discussions see http://www.cspc2012.ca/paneldescriptions.php.

Don’t miss Canada’s premiere science policy conference as it brings a spotlight to Western Canada!

Follow us on Twitter @sciencepolicy, Facebook, and LinkedIn for the latest in science policy news and conference updates.

Register Now!

Register today at https://www.verney.ca/cspc2012/registration/index.php to benefit from the Early Bird rate (ends October 1, 2012).

The Canadian conference has a major fan in David Bruggeman of the Pasco Phronesis blog as per his Aug. 28, 2012 posting titled ‘Where Canada Might Lead The World – The Fourth Canadian Science Policy Conference‘,

Later this year the fourth Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) will take place in Alberta, Calgary.  I attended the first conference in 2009, when it was held in Toronto.  I found it quite valuable, and not being Canadian, I think that says something.  In the three years since the first conference, the number of presenters and panels has grown consistently, and I think the conference provides an important convening function for the nation’s researchers and practitioners interested in science policy.

I wish we had something like it in the United States. …

As for the Thinking big panel, here’s the description,

Science culture is more than encouraging kids to become scientists to insure our economic future; more than having people visit a science museum or centre and having fun; more than reading an interesting article in a newspaper or magazine about the latest whizbang breakthrough; more than educating people so they become scientifically literate and encourage ‘good’ science policies; it is a comprehensive approach to community- and society-building.

We live in a grand (in English, magnificent and en francais, big) country, the 2nd largest in the world and it behooves us all to be engaged in developing a vibrant science culture which includes

  • artists (performing and visual),
  • writers,
  • scientists,
  • children,
  • seniors,
  • games developers,
  • doctors,
  • business people,
  • elected officials,
  • philosophers,
  • government bureaucrats,
  • educators,
  • social scientists,
  • and others

as we grapple with 21st century scientific and technical developments.

As scientists work on prosthetic neurons for repair in people with Parkinsons and other neurological diseases, techniques for tissue engineering, self-cleaning windows, exponentially increased tracking capabilities for devices and goods tagged with RFID devices, engineered bacteria that produce petroleum and other products (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Living Foundries project), and more, Canadians will be challenged to understand and adapt to a future that can be only dimly imagined.

Composed of provocative thinkers from the worlds of science writing, science education, art/science work, and scientific endeavour, during this panel discussion they will offer their ideas and visions for a Canadian science culture and invite you to share yours. In addition to answering questions, each panelist will prepare their own question for audience members to answer.

The panelists are:

Marie-Claire Shanahan

Marie-Claire Shanahan is a professor of science education and science communication at the University of Alberta. She is interested in how and why students make decisions to pursue their interests science, in high schools, post-secondary education and informal science education. She also conducts research on interactions between readers and writers in online science communications.

Stephen Strauss

Stephen Strauss, Canadian Science Writers’ Association president, has been writing about science for 30 years. After receiving a B.A. (history) from the University of Colorado, he worked as an English teacher, a social worker, an editor before joining the Globe and Mail in 1979. He began writing about science there.

Since leaving the newspaper in 2004 he has written for the CBC.ca, Nature, New Scientist, The Canadian Medical Association Journal as well as authored books and book chapters. He has written for organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Government of Ontario and has won numerous awards.

Amber Didow

Amber Didow is the Executive Director for the Canadian Association of Science Centres. She has over 20 years experience in the non-profit sector and advancing informal education. She has worked within the Science Centre field for many years including the Saskatchewan Science Centre and Science World British Columbia.  Amber’s background includes new business development; educational outreach; programming with at-risk youth; creating community based science events; melding science with art and overseeing the creation and development of both permanent and travelling exhibitions. Amber has a strong passion for community development within the sector.

Maryse de la Giroday (moderator)

Maryse de la Giroday currently runs one of the largest and longest running Canadian science blogs (frogheart.ca) where she writes commentary on  nanotechnology, science policy, science communication, society, and the arts. With a BA in Communication (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and an MA in Creative Writing and New Media (De Montfort University, UK), she combines education and training in the social sciences and humanities with her commitment as an informed member of the science public. An independent scholar, she has presented at international conferences on topics of nanotechnology, storytelling, and memristors.

Dr. Moira Stilwell, MLA

Dr. Moira Stilwell was appointed Minister of Social Development  for the province of British Columbia in September 2012. Elected MLA for Vancouver-Langara in the 2009 provincial general election. She previously served as Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Research and Innovation to the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health with a focus on Health Innovation. She also served as Vice Chair of the Cabinet Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth. In her first cabinet appointment, she served as Minister of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development from June 2009 to October 2010.

Prior to her political career, Stilwell graduated from the University of Calgary Medical School. She received further training in nuclear medicine at the University of British Columbia and in radiology at the University of Toronto after that. She served for several years as the Head of Nuclear Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver, Surrey Memorial Hospital, and Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Clinic but left all those positions in 2009 to run for public office.

The driving force behind the province’s Year of Science in BC (2010-11) initiative for schools, Stilwell has a passionate interest and commitment to integrating science awareness and culture in government, education, and society.

Rob Annan

Rob is the Director of Policy, Research and Evaluation at Mitacs, a leading Canadian not-for-profit that supports innovation through skills development, research, and collaboration between students, researchers, and industry. Mitacs supports research across sciences, humanities and social sciences and understands that innovation often occurs at the intersection of science and culture. Mitacs’ approach to innovation is reflected in our outreach activities, most notably Math Out Loud – a theatre musical designed to inspire Canadian students to understand and appreciate the mathematics that surround them. Inspired by Laval University’s renowned Professor of Mathematics Jean-Marie De Koninck and produced by Academy Award winner Dale Hartleben, Math Out Loud explores the relationships between math and culture as an effective outreach tool.

Prior to joining Mitacs, Rob worked as a consultant to universities, researchers and non-profit agencies for strategic planning and policy, and was active as a blogger on science policy issues in Canada. Rob embodies the intersection of arts and science, with a PhD in Biochemistry from McGill University, a BSc in Biology from UVic and a BA in English from Queen’s University.

Hope to see you at the conference!

The Jensen Project, researching, and the disappearing Canadian census long form

I couldn’t watch The Jensen Project (Friday, July 16, 2010) for more than about 3 or 4 minutes at a time as I had to keep channel surfing away from this bizarre ‘nanotechnology-themed’ tv movie. It was an awful fascination that kept me coming back.

I gather the writers did their science research by watching Agent Cody Banks (a 2003 Disney movie). They updated the concept so that the nanobots weren’t simple metal-munchers (the nanobots once unleashed would grab atoms to replicate themselves; they seem to particularly metal in the Agent Cody Banks movie. Now the nanobots (sometimes referred to as computers) were injectable (maybe they watched the Bionic Woman reboot?) into hapless victims whose biological processes could then be controlled by a phone app. That’s right. The nanobots could manipulate your hormones, your neurotransmitters and any number of other bodily systems so that you could be cured or killed at the touch of a fingertip by whoever was holding the phone/controller.

My favourite part was where the ‘evil ones’ had to procure a molecular assembler. There are only three or four in the world according to the story. Naturally, the evil chief scientist dashes off to pick one up and returns with it tucked under his arm. Yes, you wouldn’t worry about dropping it. After all, there’d be at least another two or three left in the world.

By comparison with The Jensen Project, Agent Cody Banks was a model of storytelling and scientific accuracy. The Disney movie correctly identified a fullerene (even if the actor was having trouble with the terminology). At least some of the character behaviour made sense and the story had a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ approach so the viewer could make allowances for the flights of fancy.

I searched for information about The Jensen Project as I was curious about any science consultation that might have taken place. Nada, there was no listing for a science consultant and, as far as I can tell, the writers have minimal writing experience (one or two writing credits including The Jensen Project) with some experience in production and none seems to have had a science background of any kind.

Regardless of how much experience you have, research is always important as we’re finding out if the discussion about the prospect that the Canadian long census form is about to disappear is any indication.

As Beth at The Black Hole noted,

All of this brings up questions about politicians’ understanding of the importance of data and evidence-informed practice, not to mention their ignoring the scientific experts on the matter – in this case, the statisticians at Stats Canada.

Beth did a little more investigating using Twitter,

This lead me to check out Clement’s [Tony Clement is the Cabinet Minister responsible for Statistics Canada] Twitter stream, where he referred to having a mandatory (as opposed to voluntary) long form as “state coercion” – I guess it’s fine to have the state “coerce” you to complete the short form – or, you know, obey any of our other laws – but they draw the line at the long form?

In response to a commenter who asked how the census discussion was relevant to science trainees (The Black Hole’s focus) and described the posting as ‘tory-bashing’,

… to call this random Tory bashing is pretty unfair. The census data is a tool that many scientists and social scientists use daily in their research. While it might not be directly relevant to whichever field of science you are in or thinking of when making this comment, it has a huge effect on trainees in epidemiology, public health, civil engineering, and even industry bound trainees. [emphases mine]

This blog is on issues affecting science trainees and a move like this which strips information from the public domain and many researchers is something we definitely see as having an effect.

Hope this helps explain a little why we found it important to post.

Dave [Note: Beth and Dave run the blog]

Interestingly, Tony Clement the minister defending this move fought against it according to Jeffrey Simpson in his July 17, 2010 column for the Globe and Mail,

Last fall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided his government would oppose the mandatory long-form census. Since then, nothing has changed his mind. His right-wing ideology and political instinct combined to make a policy that’s being denounced by almost every leading institution and commentator in Canada.

His decision was also opposed inside the government by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and by Industry Minister Tony Clement, who’s responsible for Statistics Canada, the agency that administers the census.

Both wrote to the Prime Minister, underscoring the importance of the mandatory long-form census to compile the most accurate statistics on which so much public policy and private-sector decision-making depends. [emphases mine]

Dave Bruggeman at Pasco Phronesis has also weighed in with some telling points (and sardonic humour which I haven’t reproduced here but do go and enjoy),

To the north, Canada is preparing for a census in 2011 (it does so every five years compared to ten for the U.S.), but is dealing with a very different methodological debate. The Conservative government, expressing a concern over the privacy of its citizens, has opted to make the census long form (distributed to twenty percent of the population, the remainder receive a short form asking for very basic information) voluntary. (Much like in the United States, you can be fined for not answering census questions.) However, the national privacy commissioner has received all of three complaints about the census since 2001, and Statistics Canada takes stringent measures to maintain confidentiality of census data (much like the U.S. Census Bureau), not releasing detailed census information for decades, if ever.

So the publicized rationale for the change does not reflect a statistically significant analysis of public opinion, but the anecdotes of a few people who caught the attention of Members of Parliament. [emphases mine]

Simpson goes on to suggest Harper’s possible  motivation,

What’s the point of all this, politically? There hasn’t been a hue and cry in years past about the fact that a fifth of Canadians have been required to fill out the long-form census. Past governments of both political stripes, like governments throughout the Western world, do something like this, and it’s one of the reasons why Statistics Canada is regarded internationally as one of the very best statistical agencies in the world.

… this sprang from Mr. Harper’s ideological core conviction about Big Government and, more important, a tactical political sense that here was an issue that could activate his party’s populist base – that could galvanize the core with bogus but potent arguments about the perils of the “nanny state,” the “elites,” the “bureaucrats,” the same sort of people who connive to take away your guns, raise your taxes and threaten your liberties, against whom only the Harper government stands resolute.

Personally, I’m wondering if this census storm isn’t simply a diversionary tactic.