The Canadian Association of Public Data Users (CAPDU) implores the government to reverse its decision to cancel the mandatory long-form questionnaire for the 2011 census. As data professionals advocating on behalf of Canada’s users of government data, we foresee serious consequences for Canadians’ ability to understand themselves, their neighbourhoods, their cities and their country.
The census long-form is the only reliable and consistent source for data on our population’s education level, income, ethnic and religious makeup, occupations, and other key characteristics, from the national to the neighbourhood level. As professionals who work with Census data, we are aware of the multitude of ways Canadians rely on these data every day. Entrepreneurs deciding where to start a business, social workers assessing the needs of their community, local government leaders providing services, and families deciding where to buy a home all need the reliable data collected by the long-form. Members of Parliament need this information to learn more about their constituents and the issues affecting different parts of their riding. Researchers in fields as diverse as public health, business, criminology and sociology use the data to better understand Canadian society and help improve it. Provincial governments and municipalities depend on Census data to do their planning. In addition, there are more than 30 pieces of Federal legislation that rely on Census data.
The proposed voluntary National Household Survey is not a satisfactory replacement for the census long-form. Our concern is that a voluntary survey will not result in as representative an outcome as the data from the long form, and there is no way to tell in what ways and how much they would differ. One result is fairly clear: there will be many segments of society that will be underrepresented in such a survey. Groups such as low income households, people with lower educational attainment, aboriginal peoples, immigrants and single parent families are often groups who will not voluntarily participate for a variety of reasons. And yet, these are often the groups targeted by social policies and programs. Furthermore since the data will be collected using a different methodology, the results will not be consistent with information from previous censuses. In the final analysis, it will be impossible to assess societal trends correctly. We are convinced that the high-quality data from the long-form Census are absolutely necessary to ensure comparability across census years.
Since the long-form data are in turn used to gauge reliability and to correct for response biases in Statistics Canada’s many voluntary surveys, its loss will render their results unreliable as well. Polling companies, market researchers and others who conduct Canadian surveys also rely on Statistics Canada’s Census data to ensure the representativeness of their samples. This single, misguided government decision will produce a cascading chain of damage that endangers our ability to describe and know Canadian society accurately.
The Government argues that Canadians find the long-form intrusive and an invasion of their privacy, but the evidence to support this claim is miniscule. In fact, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has received only three complaints about the census in the last decade. CAPDU members are well aware that Statistics Canada is very serious about protecting people’s privacy and, in fact, is legally bound to do just that.
CAPDU calls on the Government to reverse this decision and restore the long-form for the 2011 Census. This would simply be good governance.
Canadian Association of Public Data Users