Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Who Counts Now? Re-Making the Canadian Citizen"

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Who Counts Now? Re-Making the Canadian Citizen"

Article excerpt


On June 17, 2010 the Government of Canada issued an Order in Council that authorized the cancellation of the nation-wide, decadal mandatory long-form census. It was replaced by a mandatory short-form census, with most of the questions from the previous long-form census shifted to the new voluntary National Household Survey. This announcement was met with a firestorm of resistance from organizations and communities all over Canada and the resignation of Munir Sheikh, Chief Statistician of Statistics Canada--the government agency charged with administering the census. Business, planning, and advocacy groups argued that without these data their work would become impossible to execute. For example, a damning Canadian Medical Association editorial stated that "... Canada will stand alone among developed nations in not having detailed information about its population" (Cohen and Hebert 2010:E541). Other groups argued that their very existence as parts of the Canadian multicultural mosaic was at stake. Without being officially counted, they argued, they would cease to "count." It is such groups we discuss here, specifically in terms of how they think and talk about counting and citizenship. As we will discuss, these Canadians have come to understand and represent themselves in terms of the categories articulated since Confederation in census questions. Moreover, they understand their capacity to appear "officially," and hence gain access to resources and political representation, as dependent on their being counted as linguistic, regional, cultural, ethnic, and religious groups.

We investigate this change in census policy by way of an historic comparison with another area of citizen-state relations--the legalization and state monopolization of gambling in Canada. As these two case studies show, the rhetorics of counting that constitute the census and the discourse around gambling are radically different, generating contrasting versions of citizenship. In the first case study we inspect census questions, Statistics Canada publications, and the arguments of ethnocultural groups pushing for reinstatement of the census, and find a version of citizenship rooted in ethnocultural group membership and the mosaic metaphor. The second part of this paper seeks an historical explanation for the cultural shift away from this version of citizenship that allowed for the cancellation of the census. Here we discuss the case of state monopolization of gambling. Inspecting advertising and government policy we find a rhetoric of counting that encourages a risk-assessing, individualized, neoliberal, and utilitarian version of citizenship. State-owned gambling and the withdrawal of the census point to versions of state conduct vis-a-vis citizens, and frame the citizen in particular ways. While the withdrawal of the census appears to signify a withdrawal of the state from the lives of citizens, the gambling example shows a curious form of state expansion into their lives. Ironically, the move of the state into gambling enterprises foreshadows the construction of the citizen offered in the government arguments against the long-form census. Its logic has set the cultural and political stage for the withdrawal of the census.

Our analysis contributes to discussions of contemporary forms of state conduct and governing (Dean 1999; Nicoll 2010). The individualizing discourse is important for our discussion because it sustains both the argument for the long-form census withdrawal, and the legitimacy and use of gambling as a form of state conduct. The counting of citizens in our two case studies thus also addresses the question of the "public good" as it is conceived in early 21st century Canada.


Hundreds of groups publicly opposed the removal of the mandatory long-form census. These included organizations representing health, antipoverty, planning, religion, marketing, law, insurance, ethnicity, language, teaching, research, youth, aging, women, family, childcare, unions, chambers of commerce, municipalities, provinces, and civil rights organizations. …

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