Levels of government, businesses, non-governmental organizations, researchers and urban planners will have a more accurate picture of the state of Canadian society beginning in 2016. The Liberal government announced this week it will reinstate the long-form census that was abandoned by the Conservative government five years ago.
“With the 2016 Census of Population program, communities will once again have access to the high-quality data they require to make decisions that will truly reflect the needs of their people, businesses, institutions and organizations,” reads a statement by Navdeep Bains, the federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
“As we said throughout the election campaign, we are committed to making evidence-based decisions on programs and policies and to providing better and more timely services to Canadians. With solid community information, together we will deliver a real and fair chance at success for all Canadians.”
In the years that followed Stephen Harper’s decision to cancel the long form and replace it with the voluntary ‘National Household Survey’, researchers have been told to be cautious with comparing the data with the data from previous censuses. For instance, three years ago Statistics Canada warned researchers about the reliability of the 2011 census data for the purpose of tracking language trends.
“Data users are advised to exercise caution when evaluating trends related to mother tongue and home language that compare 2011 census data to those of previous censuses,” reads a Statistics Canada statement in 2012.
Critics have argued that the long-form census was necessary for both the public and private sector as it provided a more complete picture for evidence-based decisions and policy making. In contrast, the voluntary truncated survey opened the door for ideology-based decisions.
The response rate for the 2011 census was just 68.6 per cent and it cost $22 million more to implement whereas the previous mandatory long-form census in 2006 had a response rate of 93.5 per cent. Researchers have also noted that the 2011 census saw substantially lower response rates from rural areas, smaller communities, aboriginals and immigrants.
Harper’s controversial decision even sparked the resignation of Munir Sheikh, the head of Statistics Canada.
“I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion,” Sheikh said in a statement in 2010. “This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census. It cannot.”
Gordon Price, the Director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University, called the decision to abandon the long-form census “anti-Canadian in the sense it defined who we were.”
“If they can do something like this so dismissively, particularly as more and more organizations including businesses… this is just such a bad indication of where they’re likely to go,” Price told Vancity Buzz. “For me, Statistics Canada just had a stirring international reputation. We cared about ourselves collectively and how we measured.”
“We measure what matters, and if what matters is an understanding of who we are and to base policy on that… to just trash it is an act of vandalism. Trashing it just for the sake of serving probably a very small part of your political base, on a pretty thin ideological base, is disturbing.”
Statistics Canada conducts a nationwide census every five years. Census packages for the next census will be sent to Canadian households beginning on May 2.