OTTAWA - A new survey suggests business economists are overwhelmingly opposed to the Harper government's decision to scrap the long-form census.

The Canadian Association for Business Economics says 74 per cent of its members think it's bad policy to replace the obligatory long census with a voluntary survey.

Seventy-one per cent anticipate the quality of data obtained from a voluntary survey will be poorer than that collected from the compulsory census.

And 76 per cent believe the change will negatively affect the analysis done by their group or organization.

Indeed, almost 60 per cent expect they'll have to develop alternative, private sources of data.

The CABE released the survey results on the opening day of its summer conference, which is to be addressed Tuesday by former chief statistician Munir Sheikh, who quit Statistics Canada last month to protest the government's decision to abandon the mandatory long-form census.

The survey of CABE members suggests the data obtained from the long census is widely used by the private sector.

Forty-six per cent of members said they use the data at least once a week, while an additional 38 per cent said they use it multiple times per month or per year. Only eight per cent said they use it infrequently or never.

The CABE says the problems it encountered in conducting the survey of its own members underscores the difficulty Statistics Canada will have trying to obtain, through a voluntary survey, a large enough sample size to produce reliable data.

The association had trouble reaching its members, many of whom were on summer vacation. In the end, the CABE received email responses from 337 out of 828 members.

"This highlights the problem of achieving acceptable responses from surveys," the association says.