The federal government is planning to do away with the mandatory ‘long census’ form, mainly because some people complain that it is an invasion of privacy, according to Industry Minister Tony Clement. One-fifth of Canadians have been required to fill out this longer questionnaire as part of the national census every five years, and the rich and statistically significant information is vital to a range of research and policy initiatives. For instance, the Wellesley Institute is using data from the long form to populate our dynamic new Wellesley Urban Health Model, that is designed to help communities navigate to better health outcomes.
Twenty per cent of Canadians are required, by law, to fill out the long form – and their individual responses are kept strictly confidential under Statistics Canada’s extensive privacy protections. “The census long-form questionnaire is a unique tool that affords decision-makers a rich set of facts about Canadians, facts that are as reliable at the census tract or neighbourhood level as the nation-wide level,” says economist Armine Yalnizyan. “This is because of its huge sample size and the fact that response is mandatory…”
“The information that the census long-form generates is invaluable for decision-makers at every level of governance. We are unlikely to get a similarly high quality of information across geographies and sub-groups of the population from the proposed survey. Though current plans envisage circulating the new survey to one in three households, the response rate will be significantly lower because it will be a voluntary questionnaire. Response rates will be particularly depressed in areas where there are active campaigns urging non-compliance, as was the case during the 2006 Census,” says Yalnizyan.
“Without robust Census data, it is difficult for local governments, health districts and other community service providers to respond effectively to shifting patterns of need or introduce changes – including cuts – that do the least harm or provide the greatest value for money. Indeed, it is the local level that is most hampered by this federal decision. The issue raised by cutting the Census long-form questionnaire is not just about having good information; it’s about having relevant tools for democracy,” she notes.
An on-line petition has been created to allow people to register their support for maintaining the long census form.