I've come for your data

Congratulations! You have been specially selected to receive the Robson Long Form Questionnaire. Please answer all questions honestly and in detail or you will be obliged to sit through a five-year round table on federal-provincial relations in the post-Meech Era. Admittedly that's a bit of a heavy-handed way of forcing you to spend time answering intrusive questions so we can meddle in your life in your own best interest if only you knew it.

But let's face it: You desperately need to be pushed, prodded and scientifically socialized into a less unappetizing form.

And as responses to the voluntary Robson Short Form Intrusive Questionnaire were discouraging, nay discourteous, well, we have no choice but to use force.

Remember, we're from the government and we're here to help. So no cheating. Back in 2001, 21,000 Canadians told the census their religion was "Jedi" and here at the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments we frown on levity. Now that we've strapped you down please do try to be serious.

Question one: How excited are you about lengthy debates on the government's decision to scrap the long form census?

(A) I don't give a hoot

(B) I only give one hoot and I got it from a passing owl

(C) The government's decision to do what?

(D) Get off my porch before I call the cops

Question two: If the government is determined to go around telling you not to canoe in the noonday sun without a flashlight, putting you in jail if you smoke marijuana and otherwise guaranteeing your right to a satisfying life, how much do they need accurate information?

(A) They should know everything about me including which molar has a crown

(B) As much as I know about them

(C) They already know everything, (didn't you read Dan Gardner's Wednesday Citizen column about the government and bank data?)

(D) Given what they've done with what they already know I don't want to encourage them.

Question three: If it weren't a hot day in July with Parliament in recess would journalists give this subject much ink?

(A) Heck no, the silly season is always like this

(B) It's always silly season for journalists

(C) It's always silly season for politicians

(D) I don't know, I skipped those stories.

Question four: If the government didn't collect lots of information in the census, couldn't they get it faster, cheaper and more accurately from the reams of market research and sociological study done by firms whose prosperity depends on getting the answers right, from politicians whose re-election depends on it and from academics who find numbers fascinating?

(A) Duh

(B) Yes, that's why the British government is planning to ditch their census

(C) Actually the government collects buckets of information about all of us in lots of other ways anyway

(D) No, because people lie to pollsters too.

Question five: Given that the Canadian government spent two years and $400,000 to develop made-in-Canada astronaut meals, missed their 2009 deadline, and wound up with nothing but some "Canasnack" cream-filled oatmeal cookies and a bunch of off-the-shelf beef jerky, what makes you think they could do anything sensible with accurate information even if by some miracle they got some?

(A) I'm naïve

(B) I work for the government

(C) I'm so stoned those Canasnacks sound good ... aaaaah, wait, I don't want the government knowing that

(D) Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful Force collecting all my data.

Question six: Overall, how satisfied are you with the Robson Long Form Questionnaire.

(A) I want my hoot back

(B) The owl wants its hoot back

(C) Get off my porch before I call the cops

(D) The farce will be with me always

Oh dear. Well if that's your attitude, with the failure of the Meech Lake Accord we ...

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson