Long-form census back on lawmakers' radar
Published Monday, February 2, 2015 10:04AM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 2, 2015 5:42PM EST
Five years after the federal government scrapped the mandatory, long-form census, business leaders and policy makers are still urging its return, pinning their hopes on a private member's bill making its way through Parliament.
Roger Martin, a former dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto and the current academic director of the Martin Prosperity Institute, is one of those pushing for the revival of the long census.
He argues that, without the more detailed census data, policy makers are essentially flying without a radar, unsure of whether government programs are working now, and with no way of effectively planning for the future.
"The real problem is… we now don't have nearly the same capability to try public policy things… and figure out did that work or not? And that's just sad, it's really sad," Martin told CTV's Canada AM Monday.
The long-form census asked Canadians for details on a range of subjects, including income, employment, and religious affiliations. It was scrapped by the federal Conservatives in 2010, over concerns it took too long to complete and asked too many personal questions. The government replaced that census with the voluntary National Household Survey.
That move came despite the advice of the country's chief statistician and other experts who worried the response rate to a voluntary census would drop and skew the results.
Indeed, those predictions appear to have come true: when the results of the 2011 survey were released, data on more than 1,000 Canadian communities had to be withheld because the response rate was too low to draw any conclusions.
Ted Hsu, a Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands, has sponsored the private member’s Bill C-626 which calls for the return of the long-form census.
His bill would amend the Statistics Act to make the long-form census a permanent feature of the census process every five years. The legislation would also require the federal government to consult a selection committee when appointing a new chief statistician.
MPs are due to vote Wednesday on whether to send the bill to a Commons committee for further review.
At the same time, Conservative MP Joe Preston has submitted his own private member's bill about the census.
His proposed legislation seeks to remove the threat of jail time for those who don't fill out Statistics Canada surveys, including the still-mandatory, short-form census. Preston's bill would instead levy fines on those who refuse to complete the forms.
Under the old rules, it was mandatory for the 20 per cent of Canadians randomly chosen to receive a long-form census to complete it.
Martin says the problem with using a voluntary long census is that only certain people will fill it out. Those people tend to be more well-educated, well-to-do, and urban, while disadvantaged, minority groups are less likely to fill it out.
"We're missing a true picture of Canada, because the only people who fill out the voluntary census are those who feel like filling it out. That means we get a sample of folks who like filling out censuses," he said.
The result is that all sorts of policy makers, from city planners to school board trustees to public health officials can't figure out what Canada looks like as a whole, says Martin.
"Pretty much every economist and public policy person in Canada would say you can't measure Canada by having some people voluntarily decide to tell researchers about themselves," he said.
The federal Conservatives say the current National Household Survey is working fine, but Martin says he doesn't buy that.
"It is just disinformation to say this is a survey that works," he said.
With files from The Canadian Press