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The Longform Census: Our Generation’s Avro Arrow

July 8, 2010
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Cancellation of the avro arrow program: one of our nation's biggest regrets

Though you’ve never seen it in one of the Canadian Heritage Moments, Statscan is the world leader in data collection, and the Canadian Census, specifically, is the gold standard in census-taking. Canada perfected the census, and statisticians in every country around the world have modeled theirs after ours. It may be a bit geeky for a nation known for hockey, lumberjacks and taking Vimy Ridge, but it’s the truth.

I remember learning about our international status as the top census-takers in university. I did a double-major in political science, specialty public opinion and economics, specialty in statistics. Every day of my degree was spent listening to professors worship at the alter of the Canadian Census. Most international academics and researchers will tell you that the early inception, detail, and professionalism of the Canadian Census has been one of our least-known national treasures.

It makes me think back to the Avro Arrow - a program that perhaps was similarly unknown to the public despite its huge benefits to our country – and was thus expendable to the government of the day. An easy sliver cut out of a budget that was in fact a great amputation to our nation’s future.

David Eaves in the Globe and Dan Arnold in the National Post make excellent arguments about the social, economic and democratic benefits of the census. Please, I beg you, if you’ve ever boarded a plane or driven over a bridge and thought, “I wonder what would happen if an engineer made one slight miscalculation in building this airplane/bridge that I’m on” then you should take a look at their op-eds.

But I’m going to make two more additional points. Firstly, that ending the mandatory long survey, once implemented, can never be undone. Unless we are absolutely sure, through a national consensus (zing!), that we are comfortable letting this data go forever – as there is no chance to re-collect information from this moment in Canadian history – then we simply cannot gamble it all away.

And finally, it is important to realize that once the longform census is no longer representative of the Canadian population, Google Execs will reliably know more about our country and its people than does our own government.

So in conclusion, what do I think of the Government’s plan to gut the census? Not worth the risk.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dilip Andrade permalink
    July 9, 2010 12:36 pm

    Don’t be silly… this generation’s Arrow will be AECL.

    As for the value of the Long form, the Conservatives are half right. They’re increasing the number of long forms sent out (good), but making them optional (bad because it will result in a sampling bias).

    I figure that if Mary and Joseph could make it to Bethlehem for a census, we can certainly fill out a form.

  2. Murray B permalink
    August 9, 2010 6:49 pm

    Interesting article but there is really no comparison with the Avro Arrow because it was the military that wanted the thing cancelled.

    From Cabinet minutes dated August 28, 1958, “Finally, the cost of the CF-105 programme as a whole was now of such a magnitude that the Chiefs of Staff felt that, to meet the modest requirement of manned aircraft presently considered advisable, it would be more economical to procure a fully developed interceptor of comparable performance in the U.S.”

    The Chiefs of staff had been trying to cancel the thing from the beginning and Diefenbaker’s Cabinet finally took their advice. No one with knowledge of aircraft was surprised at the military’s recommendation.

    The Cabinet was worried about job losses at Avro, however, and budgeted $50 million to help the company keep their people working. Cabinet was also looking for other contracts to keep the company afloat. Despite this Avro decided to destroy the industry instead.

    It looks like Canadians have been blaming the wrong guys for over half a century.

  3. August 25, 2010 10:32 am

    Excellent point and very well stated.

  4. danno permalink
    March 2, 2011 9:51 pm

    Your choice of the Arrow as a national legacy does more to damage your point that reaffirm it. Among those with a passing interest in Canadian or aviation history, the Avro Arrow was a boondoggle that should never have been and although it may have hurt our collective pride (not to mention 14,000 A.V. Roe employees) canceling it made more sense in retrospect.

    Among the many problems, Orenda simply couldn’t get the Iroquois engine complete, and thus had to purchase Rolls Royce powerplants in the interim. The aircraft had climbed to a staggering 12 million dollars per unit, which is just over $100 million today (corrected for inflation).

    Also, it should be mentioned that many Canadians, especially those in southern Quebec/Ontario, were well aware of the Arrow. Have a peek through the microfiche of your local library…it was no secret.

    The aircraft was useless. This pains me to say – i’m a professional pilot, a Canadian, and aviation enthusiast, but i believe that for the sake of your argument, you’re sort of nailing your coffin shut.

    There were virtually no buyers for the airframe, and as impressive may have been, it was obsolete before it even hit the air, thanks to the missile age.

    As for the census? You’re probably right.

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