Statistics Canada 2011’s long form census questionnaire will play out neighbourhood by neighbourhood

Within less than a month, Canadians will be filling in the new census forms delivered to our front doors, which we all have to answer. One month later,  a third of us will be given the voluntary long form, now called the National Household Survey.

People smarter than me have pointed out how this new format will hurt the reliability of the census. We know that low-income people and others who are not included in full civic  participation are less likely to participate. And, frankly, if they are not counted, then the government will look good.

“Look, fewer poor people in Canada!” And then, because dollars follow the evidence presented, “We can cut some of those costly support programs.”

That exact logic has some of us in the community sector worried. If people in our neighbourhoods are not counted, we will not be able to make the case for the need.

Toronto had a more small scaled rehearsal of this census “undercount” problem in 2006. Key Toronto organizations, City of Toronto staff and local academic researchers all raised concerns about undercounting in some key Toronto neighbourhoods. As a result, Statistics Canada went out and re-sampled the target areas.

In fact, when the Inner City Advisory Committee at the Toronto District School Board looked at the last census, they also worried about the undercounting problem and moved a motion to encourage local schools to set up form-filling clinics to help parents to complete the census.

Schools and community agencies are close enough on the ground to reach people who live in basement apartments, or who speak one of the official languages as a third or fourth language, or who have limited literacy skills. These are the people who are less likely to fill in the census form — especially if it is voluntary — so helping them to do so, helps build a more accurate picture of the neighbourhood.

On the other hand, some are arguing that we should boycott the voluntary long census form. The data, by most measures, will be unusable because the methodology has changed so much. Any data collected this way cannot be compared with earlier censuses. “Why participate?” they ask.

So, in the end, what community agencies and local schools are left with the prisoner’s dilemma.

  • If some of us, working for the benefit of our local community, support a higher response rate, our neighbourhoods will be helped,  but others, who didn’t do the additional outreach, will be hurt in the comparison.
  • If none of us work to support a higher response rate, then the resultant undercounts will hurt our clients.
  • And the final option, that we will all work to improve the census, seems the most unlikely scenario of all.

What we choose, and what others choose, will have consequences for all of us.

 Save the Census

Canadian Social Research Links: Keep the Census Canada Long Form Questionnaire

Data Libre: Urging governments to make data about Canada and Canadians free and accessible to citizens

Ask for the Long Form Census (Facebook group)

3 Comments to “Statistics Canada 2011’s long form census questionnaire will play out neighbourhood by neighbourhood”

  1. Filed on-line the 2011 Canada Census form today —
    From what I filled in the Government of Canada has very little information about me and my husband.
    What they know as fact:
    1) where we live
    2) if others live with us
    3) how old we are
    4) what languages we speak

    What important information they don’t know about us:
    1) do we own our own home or do we rent?
    2) do we both work?
    3) what is our household income?

    If you don’t know if one is a homeowner, is employed, and how much one earns, how can The Government of Canada assess what is needed, community by community, across our vast Nation?

    I don’t understand why the Government of Canada isn’t interested in the facts necessary to service our villages, towns, cities vis-a-vis cost for housing, infrastructure of cities, how many schools, hospitals, community/recreation centres, all of which are key reference points for how to service Canadian citizens. I also wonder how medi-care can meet the needs of Canadians if the census form does not ask questions regarding major health issues of individuals. How can one plan to meet medical needs of a whole country if we have no idea how many Canadians have specials needs vis-a-vis education, medical care et al?


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