As someone with several university degrees and who has spent most of his life doing policy work, I know that the information generated by the census is critical to both government and business. And anyone with a Master of Economics (i.e. the Prime Minister) should certainly know that a self-selected sample is not the same as a random one. The data is not as accurate and it is not comparable from one sample to the other. I have to admit that I find it disingenuous for a government to claim it is protecting our privacy and preserving such vital info as the number of bathrooms in our houses from the prying eyes of, well, the most privacy obsessed organization in the country, while at the same time they want to allow police to tap our phones without a warrant and permit CSIS greater powers to undertake domestic spying. Not to mention the nasty habit of their political staff to monitor and flame the postings of anyone who opposes them.
But as a science fiction writer, the elimination of the national census creates all sorts of possibilities for stories. I’ve heard it mentioned several times that some Scandinavian countries eliminated their national mandatory census decades ago. That is true. However, they didn’t replace it with a voluntary one. Rather, they merged all the various government administrative registries (driver’s license, health card, gun registration, employment insurance, pensions, tax returns, etc.) into a single data base linked directly to an individual by a national identity number (sort of an SIN on steroids). This number is also required for all your dealings with banks (have to watch for that money laundering) and a number of other private data bases as well. While the national census in Canada produces ‘aggregated data’ which can never be traced to specific individual, the data bases in Scandinavian countries can pretty much follow you personally from cradle to grave. Of course, they have nice benign social democratic democracies so it’s not a problem right?
While I’m sure this is not Minister Clement has in mind, it does create all kinds of possible plot elements for future fiction. For example, in my novel, Defining Diana, I postulate a National Data Base – very similar to those in Scandinavia. But not everyone is in it. Some people avoid it by living their entire lives in isolated religious colonies. But others have their data removed from the system – either willingly or unwillingly. If the former, they are often rich and are seeking the freedom of action anonymous money produces. If the latter, they become the Disappeared, people who don’t legally or officially exist and whose lives and deaths are reduced to simple commodities. They become the perfect victims. And that is what happens to people who don’t count (or aren’t counted) in society. They become prey for the unscrupulous, or worse, the psychotic. When we stop including the poor, the homeless, the immigrant and the aboriginal in the data that forms our public and private policy, pretty soon they disappear from our society altogether.
Great stuff for dystopic science fiction. Not so good for a modern society.