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Canada: land of new jobs?

Analysis: Canada has regained almost all the jobs it lost since the 2008 downturn.

In parliament, his government has passed legislation that reflects long-discredited American policies that have filled prisons to bursting. Kevin Page, parliament’s budget watchdog, estimates the longer jail terms will add another $1 billion to the $1.6 billion the federal government spends annually on its prison system. Harper calls it being tough on crime. He’s silent about the fact, however, that Canada’s crime rate has tumbled more than 25 percent during the past 15 years.

The spending continued this month with the government announcing it would buy 65 new F-35 fighter jets at a cost of $9 billion. Some defense experts noted Canada rarely flies combat missions. They described the purchase as out of line with the counterinsurgency operations the Canadian military now performs in Afghanistan, and is likely to perform in the future.

But Harper seems bent on appeasing his right-wing base, no matter what the costs. The latest example is his decision — without public consultation — to end the requirement to fill out a long version of the census. This version — with questions ranging from the number of bedrooms in a home to how one travels to work — is sent to 20 percent of households. It will no longer be mandatory to respond.

Harper’s ministers argue the questions are too intrusive, and the move to a voluntary “long-form” census protects the privacy of Canadians who don’t want to divulge such information.

The move comes with a cost: In the hope of getting as many people to, as in previous years, respond voluntarily, the government will now send the forms to 30 percent of homes. That will cost an extra $30 million.

The change has caused a nationwide uproar. It has been condemned by major groups representing business, academia, charities, social organizations and municipal and provincial governments. The deputy minister in charge of Statistics Canada, the government’s number-crunching agency, resigned in protest.

Statistics from the mandatory census have for decades been used, for example, to determine the needs of poor neighborhoods, or the trends in public transit, and make policies and programs accordingly.

It is widely accepted that some groups are less likely to respond to a voluntary questionnaire — low income families, for instance — and that the results, therefore, could not be compared with those from mandatory censuses of the past. Tracking trends will become more difficult. In short, the government has decided to pay more for less.

But maybe Harper has a different goal. By breaking the statistical trends used to determine program and funding priorities, it makes it harder for Canadians to judge his government’s spending as politically and ideologically motivated. Scrutiny and accountability take a beating.