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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2010

Harper Told: ‘Restore Long-Form Census’

More than 300 organizations have joined the call for the Harper government to reinstate the manda­tory long-form census since the federal government announced it would be replaced by a voluntary survey.

“Stakeholders ranging from the business community, to university researchers to social justice advocates are raising their voices to oppose this move,” reads an online petition to overturn the government’s decision that has collected more than 16,000 signatures.

The government axed the long form for the 2011 census claiming it had received privacy complaints from many Canadians, but has presented no evidence to this effect. The short-form census remains mandatory.

The change was made without any consultation or input from the broad range of people and groups affected by the decision.

The government also ignored advice from Statistics Canada, whose head quit in July over the government’s assertion the agency had agreed that a voluntary replacement would be as statistically sound.

“Provincial governments use data exclusively available from the long-form census to guide services for their communities as well as develop policies for elementary, secondary and post-secondary education,” said CAUT executive director James Turk.

Local governments and school boards rely on census data to plan for the future, he said. “Decisions informed by demographics of neighbourhoods are made on where to locate schools, transportation services, community and social services, day cares and language program for new Canadians.

“Only the detailed long-form census can provide enough information to determine the needs of communities and their social and demographic characteristics,” Turk said. “For example, it is the only reliable source of information on the location and numbers of Aboriginal Canadians.”

He pointed out that new businesses use long-form census data to decide where to set up shop, examining measures such as education levels, incomes and occupations in particular areas. Existing companies use census data to know where to focus their marketing, where to locate new stores and what products to offer in which outlet.

“The mandatory long-form census is used as the reference point, a benchmark, for other important surveys, such as the Labour Force Survey used to measure unemployment and other key aspects of employment incorporated in the national economic accounts,” said Michael Ornstein, director of the Institute for Social Research at York University who appeared with Turk on behalf of CAUT before a Parliamentary committee examining the census controversy.

He said cancelling the manda­tory census prevents Canada from evaluating the quality of, and taking measures to correct information from, Statistics Canada’s and others’ sample surveys — thus undermining the entire system of Canadian social and economic statistics. This
includes “standard” surveys needed to compare Canada with the OECD and other countries.

The government plans to replace the mandatory long-form census by mailing a new voluntary survey to 30 per cent of households next year at an estimated additional cost of $30 million.

“From research, we know that response will be substantially lower — particularly among certain groups, such as young people who tend to be more mobile, poorer people, very well off people, and those not from English-speaking communities,” Ornstein said. “Whereas the mandatory census had a consistently solid response rate of 95 per cent, a voluntary survey’s rate will be between 60 and 75 per cent, meaning the results will be biased no matter to how many households the survey is sent.”

With the support of the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberals are tabling a private member’s bill to reinstate the long form census when Parliament returns this fall.