Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said he believes in the value of the long-form census and wants to find a compromise with the federal goverment, which has cancelled the initiative.

Selinger, whose province is hosting the annual premiers' conference, spoke to CTV's Canada AM on Thursday morning.

While the primary issues on the premiers' agenda are water quality, job creation, education and health spending, premiers have also been informally discussing the thorny census issue.

"Some premiers feel very strongly the long-form census provides essential information for provincial health services, education and labour market opportunities. Manitoba is one that also supports that position," Selinger said.

"Others want to leave it to the federal government to decide on the best way to collect that information."

Informal discussions will continue among the provincial leaders, and it's possible that a common position may emerge on the issue, he said.

It might be possible, for example, for the premiers to agree that the long-form census should remain in place, but with some changes to its implementation. For example, the census might be more palatable if potential jail terms were no longer a threat for those who don't participate.

"We'll identify whether there is any practical basis on which we can form a consensus," he said.

The federal government announced it was cancelling the mandatory long-form census and replacing it with a voluntary option, saying the census was intrusive and Canadians shouldn't be forced to participate.

Statisticians, academics and the opposition have widely opposed the decision, and the government eventually signalled it was open to discussing the issue.

Advocates for the census, including the former head of Statistics Canada, say it is an invaluable source of information for policy makers, and changing the system effectively makes all previously-collected data redundant.