Another Sample Letter

Thanks to Aspi Balsara for providing this!

House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6
7 July, 2010


I wish to express my concern about the Conservative government’s
misconceived and abrupt cancellation of the 2011 Census long form.

As you are no doubt aware, information from the long form provides
accurate data on numerous social and economic characteristics of the
Canadian population, such as income, immigration, citizenship, mobility
& migration, housing and the labour force.  No other survey by Statistics
Canada brings so many disparate elements together, and in doing so, reveals
a detailed, nuanced picture of the social, economic and demographic trends
shaping Canadian society.  As such, it is a vital tool for policy and
program planning at the federal, provincial and municipal levels of
Members of Parliament rely on the data to learn about their riding and
the issues affecting it.  The long form data are also a crucial resource
for researchers in fields ranging from business to public health, sociology
and criminology.  Most importantly, it is consulted by the community at
large, be it an entrepreneur determining a suitable location for a business
or a family deciding where to buy a home.  As a government documents
librarian at an academic institution, I cannot emphasize enough the
frequent and varied uses of the long form data by both the university
community and the public.

The proposed replacement of the long form by the National Household
Survey (NHS) ill serves this vast user community for many reasons.
Unlike the census long form that requires compulsory participation
from a 20% sample of Canadian households, the NHS is a voluntary
survey that will not provide the reliable, representative data
produced by a mandatory 1/5th population sample.  The suggested
switch to a voluntary survey runs a very real risk of
under-representing marginalized groups – the very segments
of the population targeted by social programs – not to mention
loss of data for smaller geographic areas.  In other words,
data reliability will be seriously compromised, rendering it
untrustworthy by the very government and public it is intended
to serve.  Government’s assurance that random sampling in the
NHS will be increased from 20% to 30% of Canadian households,
does not rectify the stumbling block created by switching to
a voluntary survey.

It is also worth remembering that the 20% obligatory sample
(as followed in the long form) has stood the test of time,
extending way back to the 1941 census.  But more importantly,
it has provided a consistently reliable basis of comparison
across census years, only to end with the proposed transfer
to an optional survey.

Furthermore, the long form data serve as a benchmark for
measuring reliability and correcting for response bias in
Statistics Canada’s many voluntary surveys.  Polling and
market research companies also draw upon census data to
ensure the representative accuracy of their samples. Thus,
abandoning the long form not only undermines the validity
of census data but also a host of linked data produced by
both government and the private sector.  It would also
tarnish Statistics Canada’s reputation for data quality.

Government asserts that the long form intrudes on privacy
but has scarcely presented any evidence to support this claim,
nor did Canadians express such misgivings when the 2011 Census
Consultation took place.  Indeed, the electorate was never even
consulted about discontinuing the long form, which renders privacy
concerns specious at best and disingenuous at worst. Besides,
Statistics Canada adheres strictly to privacy laws by anonymizing
its data and even suppressing it where necessary to ensure
confidentiality. Its data files undergo lengthy, rigorous
checks prior to release.

Finally, there are roughly 35 federal statutes that call for census
data.  A list of the legislation may be viewed at:

While you have undoubtedly compiled information on this issue
already, the following website might still be useful:   It has been prepared by
the Canadian Association of Public Data Users, of which I
am a member.

I strongly urge you and your colleagues in the House of Commons
to continue your efforts in persuading the government to see
sense and reverse its policy of defending the indefensible.
It can only result in the adverse consequences outlined above.
Thank you for considering this with care.



Minister Tony Clement
C.D. Howe Building
235 Queen Street
Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0H5


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