The Census is here! The Census is here! Sorta!

Today, Statistics Canada released the head count and the dwelling count of the 2011 census, the 2011 Census, the shortest decennial census in the history of Canada, the 1st official census since confederation was taken in 1871. More data on age, relationships and language to follow, and uh that is it!
The Census is the only legislated instrument that counts everyone every 5 years. Surveys come and go, are not legislated and do not have designated budgets.

Also, Statistics Canada announced a short while ago that its data were going to be disseminated for free for the first time and under a new more open and less restrictive licence (G&M article, Embassy Magazine Article). This is really good news as cost recovery was a horrid policy instrument barring access to data that we by law had to give away. Restricted access only allowed for a small subset of the population to study, discuss and know about who Canadians are. It also meant that we were not getting collectively smarter.

I and many others were and remain concerned that we do not know what data exactly will be made available, at what level of geography, will cross tabulations and special orders such as by neighbourhood or ward be more expensive than before, will that licence be as open, and as Woolley observed, how the data are disseminated is of concern, since well, right now it is clunky at best.   We all do applaud the effort.

Upon playing with the data dissemination interface today, my concerns were re-affirmed.  The data are free but not necessarily accessible, in the sense that the methods used to disseminate and discover these is complicated, unclear and there are some favourite geographies missing – most notably Dissemination Areas (DA) while others are hidden – Census Tracts (CTs).

For example, if you go to the Census Profile and you want to look up 5 cities at once you cannot! You can only look up one city at a time, which also means you can only download one geography at a time.  There are over 2000 cities in Canada and if you want to know who the top 30 are in terms of population, then its “Houston we have a problem!” sorta.

Furthermore, once you look at your city, you are provided with Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs), Census divisions (CDs) and Census Subdivisions (CSDs), economic region (ERs), electoral districts (FEDs) and population centres (POPCTR).  CTs are hard to find and DA data more so.  CTs and DAs are smaller geographies very helpful for sub city analysis.  Now, when you do get lets say FED data for your city, you only get provided with one district at a time and not the cities FEDs at once.   So,  have to go back and download them one at a time and then assemble the file.  CT and DA geographies are also not in this list.  You have to dig for those!

To get to CTs  (no DAs to be found yet)  my friend Sara a GIS expert at the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton made this discovery:

  1. Go here
  2. Click on Thematic Maps (scroll down),
  3. Go to CMA maps & choose your location.
  4. Then on the following page there will be a link to the map and a table with all the pop change values for each CT.

Alternatively, and again thanks to Sara you can do the following:

  1. Go here
  2. Then type in a random CT (you can use the example given at the bottom of the list).
  3. On the next page, click the CT number
  4. On the next page, click the download tab.
  5. Then scroll to Option 2, and select Census tracts and your data format,
  6. and “Continue” – Voila, it will download a file for population counts for all CTs in Canada!

Which is ah, absurd. First cuz, well that is a lot of clicking to get to what should be on the first page.  Second, what CTs are in my city?  This file organizes CTs into CMAs which are not CDs or CSDs.  CDs or CSDs correspond to the legal administrative boundaries of cities and municipalities.  CMAs are much larger geographies, they are a StatCan construct and are not an official administrative city or municipality.  You have to be an analyst or a good dictionary reader to know this.  Most people report CMA results, but those miss many cities and some cities are split.

Also, what if you want 5 cities at a time and not just one at a time?

Ted, the GIS expert at Community Development Halton, who was trying to join the CT data with his geomatics files discovered the following:

Unfortunately, the CT table is a mess for GIS purposes.  For each CT, there are 7 entries (rows) for each discrete piece of information (Population in 2006, 2006 to 2011 population change (%), Total private dwellings, Private dwellings occupied by usual residents, Population density per square kilometre, Land area (square km)). When trying to perform a join, ArcGIS doesn’t know which of the rows to join on to map it.

You can however, download complete files in not well coded spreadsheets at a variety of geographies for all of Canada here  by selecting Option 2 – Comprehensive download file for a selected geographic level.  This is great, but be sure you know what you are doing with these data as there is a lot going on! For example, if you download the CT file they are organized by CMA, you do not have a way to know which are in your CD or CSD and that would be a nice addition. It would be even better if a table provided CTs, and city, or electoral districts and the CTs they contain and CSD with their postal codes, CTs or CSDs and their DAs and so on.

But where are those pesky DAs?,

Analyst will do fine with this release, after incessant digging, the GIS folks will have to play around with things and they will grumble at the waste of time incurred with coding and joining.  Journalists and the public will however find it hard to compare cities.  People default mistakenly to CMAs, but CMAs a city they are not.

Sara also pointed me to these gems

These reference maps are also excellent as these help unravel georeferences  and you can download geographic files here.   The search by postal code is a nice feature, as finally you can enter your postal code and find out which census geographies you fall into.  DAs are not there either!  People however really want that postal code file for free! It is the file that can be used to look up your elected officials and many democratic engagement tools have been developed, and they are sorta illegally page scraping that data all to foster democratic engagement, that file should be shared as broadly as possible.  If the government is going to open data then one would presume Crown Corporations and Agencies are also part of that deal!

But what if you want all the postal codes for your city, or all the CTs and DAs for you city and what if you want that for more than one city at a time, then you are out of luck as the tool does not allow for that type of access.

Anyway, there will no doubt be more discoveries and grumblings and I hope StatCan will work with users to make these things more useable.

Finally, a community of practice is really important, the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO) data list folks were busy this morning communicating among analysts as they were looking for and finding things. These folks know their stuff well and have their members in their communities to answer to, who will no doubt be looking for NEW DATA arranged in a way that is meaningful.  Social Planning and Community Development councils have been working with these data for a very long time and have much of expertise. Demographic and geographic data are complicated and you need to know how to work with them, you need to be sensitive to underlying issues when communicating these and these folks do so with care.

Perhaps, as David E. pointed out, StatCan will begin training people more broadly on how to use these data! Alternatively, people may find a way to resource planning councils to enable them to train journalists and others on how to work with these data on StatCan’s behalf.

oh yeah!  DAs!  After emailing StatCan, I was directed to Geosuite for the 2011 Census.  But I could not find them in there either!  It is a nice tool that has to be downloaded, and as one Research Librarian Veteran commented, it will be nice when StatCan data products are software agnostic and operation system neutral, GeoSuite does not work on a MAC!

DA DATA FOUND – in GeoSuite you have to choose the Chart Search from the main Menu.  The data in there are not for the faint of heart though! (Thanks Amber from DLI List).