Canada’s long-form census is back for 2016

April 28, 2016

By Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star |

Just a day after taking office, the Liberal government announced Thursday that the mandatory long-form census — axed by the Conservatives in 2010 — will be reinstated for the 2016 census.

“Today, Canadians are reclaiming their right to accurate and more reliable information,” said Navdeep Bains, the newly named minister of Innovation, Science and Development.

With the next census, communities will “once again have access to high-quality data they require,” said Bains, the MP for Mississauga-Malton.

He portrayed the decision as the first step of the Liberals’ commitment to “open and fair government.”

The announcement rolls back one controversial decision by Conservatives and one that prompted critics to charge that the Stephen Harper government was turning its back on fact-based decision-making.

During the census — done every five years — most Canadian households get an eight-question form. However, a longer, more detailed, 61-question form was distributed to one-in-five households.

With questions on everything from income, cultural heritage, education, work habits, even details of where people live, it gave researchers a rich source of data to build an understanding of Canadian society.

The data was used in myriad ways, planning everything from public health to transit and rural development.

“The use is almost never-ending,” Ian McKinnon, chairperson of the National Statistics Council, the senior advisory body to the chief statistician at Statistics Canada told the Star.

Yet in 2010 that lengthy census form was scrapped by the Conservatives, who said its questions were intrusive, even though the data is kept confidential.

The government was unmoved by the protests and warnings that the lack of detailed data would harm everything from urban planning to business forecasts.

The Conservatives replaced the long-form census with a voluntary “National Household Survey” for the 2011 census. A poor response rate in some geographic areas and among some segments of society has lead to problems with the data.

And Bains said Thursday that the voluntary survey actually cost an estimated $22 million more than the mandatory form it replaced, even though it delivered poorer results.

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