2011 Census severely slashed

A surprise announcement was made by Statistics Canada that the long form of the Population Census is no longer obligatory. These are questions that have been asked for the last 7 Censuses and suddenly without notice or evidence to support the decision, these will not be part of the 2011 Census. This was not an issue discussed or on the table during Statistics Canada’s Census public consultations.

Insiders tell me that Statistics Canada did not approve of this change and was ordered to do so by The Harper Government.

This has very serious implications for those who monitor social indicators and use these data to inform policy on: immigration, ethnicity, visible minorities, education, labour, culture, religion, linguistics, income, women, transportation, commuting, unpaid work, housing and etc. in Canada.

The long form will become a voluntary National Household Survey (NHS), conducted 4 weeks after the census disseminated to a much smaller sample size. This will affect any kind of longitudinal research as it will no be backward compatible with previous Censuses.

I have contacted StatCan to find reports or studies that would have provided the evidence to support such a radical decision. I have also contacted the offices of the Information Commissioner, Privacy Commissioner. I think I will now contact my MP, opposition parties and so on. Here is Canada Gazetter Order in Council that approved the 2011 Population Census. It is not that informative as there is no context as to why the long form is not included.

Below are media on the issue. I will capture PDFs of these articles.

CBC: Tories scrap mandatory long census – Move could affect amount of detailed information obtained

Bender would not comment, however, on how the change might affect the data in terms of whether respondents of a certain socio-economic or ethno-cultural background might be more or less inclined to answer the longer survey.

Peter Morrison, assistant chief statistician responsible for the census, said that he knows of no other country that has made a similar move. He would not confirm that the idea was not one proposed by Statistics Canada, nor would he or Bender address whether the move is something statisticians agree with.

“Our role is to execute the decision that was made [by the government],” he said, adding that he is optimistic it can be a success.

Globe and Mail: Tories scrap mandatory long-form census – StatsCan says quality of data will suffer.

“What we can tell you is that the data we will release will be of quality, but we do acknowledge that we may not get the same level of detail as that of a census,” said Rosemary Bender, director-general of the agency’s census, social and demographic statistics branch.

“This is something we’ll be monitoring closely.”

Insiders who spoke to The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity decry a new world order within the agency since the Conservatives came to power in 2006 and legendary chief statistician Ivan Fellegi retired.

Montreal Gazette: Census restrictions hurt historians Feds cite privacy. Genealogists slams new rules protecting data.

The idea of doing away with the long census questionnaire form, transferring the questions to the NHS and no longer releasing the information did not become public until Saturday, when it appeared in a government publication.
The decision to change the census came from the federal government and not from the ministry or Statistics Canada, he said.

Toronto Star: Tories eliminate compulsory long census form

The federal government is scrapping the mandatory long census form in favour of a voluntary survey — a move some critics blame on a Conservative campaign to slash analytical work done by Statistics Canada.

For the first time in 35 years, the census will not feature a detailed, long form that Canadians are obliged to send back to the government.

Ottawa Citizen:Genealogists slam new restrictions on census information.

A door to Canada’s past has slammed shut, leaving future Canadians with very little information about their own families and the country’s history, in a move the government says was prompted by privacy concerns.

Statistics Canada has quietly made major changes to the country’s census in time for the upcoming round of national sampling in 2011. The long census questionnaire that provided information on a broad range on such topics as ethnicity, education, employment, income, housing and disability has been eliminated. Instead, those questions will be asked on a new, voluntary National Household Survey (NHS) and the results will never be released, in contrast with the treasure trove of census data that currently becomes public after 92 years.

Cyberpresse: Recensement: le formulaire détaillé obligatoire éliminé

Le gouvernement fédéral a décidé d’éliminer le formulaire détaillé de recensement obligatoire au profit d’une enquête à participation volontaire, une décision que certains observateurs imputent à une campagne conservatrice menée afin que soit réduit le travail d’analyse fait par Statistique Canada.

Edmonton Journal: Restrictions on census information criticized

Officials from Statistics Canada say the 2011 census went through the usual consultation process, with citizens invited to provide feedback online. The idea of doing away with the long census questionnaire form and no longer releasing the information did not become public until Saturday.


  1. ian’s avatar

    It’s actually a larger sample with the Census 2B questionaire at 2.9 million (1 in 5 households) and the NHS questionnaire with 4.5 million (1 in 3 households). The real danger here is the switch from the mandatory nature of the Census 2B (with its high and representative response rate) to the voluntary NHS (with a potential low and “skewed” response rate). This change could have a very real and negative impact on the quality of the 2011 data and any chance of comparability to the earlier Censuses (up to and including 2006).

  2. Holly Stick’s avatar

    Thanks for that press roundup. Here is a blog which has good posts and more good links about the issue.


  3. Marianne Levitsky’s avatar

    I started an online petition to oppose scrapping of the census long form: you can sign it here:

  4. Mark W’s avatar

    Having worked the Census in 2001, I know that the 2B long form was not welcomed by many people who thought it was invading their privacy. However, I only had 2 people refuse to complete it in the Census District I was responsible for (15,000 people, 12 Census Representatives).

    Taking what information I have been able to obtain about this change, it appears that the Harper government feels they can get whatever statistics they need by commissioning polling companies. This is possibly a first step toward privatization of Statistics Canada, to follow on the heels of similar moves with Canada Post. These will likely be introduced after the next election is called.

    This is another move that does NOT serve Canadians, it serves the Harper Agenda.

  5. Robyn’s avatar

    Please sign this petition that advocates keeping the Canadian census long form: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/keep-the-canadian-census-long-form.html

    This is of extreme importance; tell as many people as you know. The list is slowly growing (at least 1,000 per day), but we need more signatures. If anyone can post a comment here with an e-mail list of MPs and relevant political members, it would be much appreciated. Thanks for posting this and reading; it matters.

  6. Kathy Laing’s avatar

    As a former federal employee working with occupational information and occasionally meeting with Stats Can concerning current human resources and the need for future workers, the Long census is an absolute requirement for short and long term planning for this country.

  7. David Godwin’s avatar

    Maybe Mr. Harper should hit the gym instead of the programs and services that are vital to future planning in a country with a nationl mosaic of people.
    It looks like Mr. Hraper has been at to many Bar-B-Ques and pancake breakfasts and fundraising dinners. Time would better be spent understanding the needs of minorities in Canada.

  8. Grin’s avatar

    Canada Census

    I vividly recall the exasperation of constituents during the last go-around of the Canada Census. There was a sense of intrusiveness and of big government invading where it didn’t belong. In the end, basic respect for government was diminished, and confidence in our public institutions was undermined.

    So to be practical, the new Conservative government said that this time around, it would not put Canadians though the ordeal again. Interestingly, Britain is scrapping the whole census process. But now here in Canada, all the special interests have set their hair on fire about what Canada might loose due to the proposed little Census change. Every possible justification has arisen about why Canadians should be forced to answer the ‘long-form’, and why Canada needs to keep to the old ways.

    The newsparer articles keep coming in the “summer silly season” when there is not much of importance to fill the pages. The over-the-top reaction to a little change, is perhaps about who’s in charge, the voters or the unaccountable bureaucrats who love to spend other people’s money. Two articles in the Van Sun today (July 23) from “the esteemed”, spin their bias into serious sermons about their sacred ‘long-form’. When one drills down to the real issue, it is not about the flawed forms or the reputation of statistical mathematics, but about the audacity of a government to touch their bureaucratic temples. Most can see through the so-called scientific spin. The whole “silly season” is an eye opener to the average voter, about vested interests verses the public interest. I hope there are more voluntary resignations to clean house.

  9. Steve’s avatar

    I’m also a former Statistics Canada employee and disagree completely with “Grin” little diatribe posted above. The census is an essential tool, much as the Labour Force Survey, agricultural surveys and so on, performed by StatCan, without any political bias or influence allowed. Without collecting such information there can be no reliable way to measure everything from age distribution, first language spoken in the home, income and employment distributions by region, etc. The idea that policy should be driven by ideology is wholly and fundamentally wrong, morally and scientifically. Heck, since people object to having their personal information collected for the census… what’s next? Can a speeding ticket be dodged simply by refusing to hand over you driver’s licence because your privacy could be “violated”? Can I refuse to submit ID when voting, citing “privacy concerns”, and get away with it??? The Statistics Act makes it a severe offence for anyone from StatCan to disclose personal information collected in any survey without permission of the individual. Minister Clement is a hypocrite for what he has said about this issue and he, and “Grin” above, both must have some other agenda for which they are arguing for such a shameful, stupid and negligent policy decision.

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