Council will back retention of the long-form census

By David F. Rooney

They may be divided over some of the value of the long-form Census — that’s the mega-page document all Canadians must fill out every five years — but City Councillors have agreed to back a position paper that argues the Census actually yields valuable information for municipal governments.

The long-form Census question is a federal issue that has some meaning for municipalities. The data gathered by the multi-page form helps municipal governments track local economic, social and demographic developments. Making the form optional — instead of mandatory as it is now — will degrade that ability, Community Economic Development Director Alan Mason said in the position paper, which was presented to Council during its Committee of the Whole (CoW) meeting last Tuesday.

“As reported in The Canadian Press (the national news service) of July 1, the only justification for doing away with the long-form Census questionnaire is that ‘many Canadians had complained of its coercive and intrusive nature,'” Mason wrote. “It is true that some people have made such complaints. It is also true that, as with tax forms, which are also mandatory, the Census asks something of Canaians in order toa chieve a public good. The vast majority of Canadians accept this and readily comply.

“Fortunate so as the usefulness of the long-form Census depends critically on the exceptionally high response rate — ver 95 per cent, the highest of any G20 country — that is only possible with a mandatory questionnaire.

“Replacing it with the voluntary National Household Survey, as has been proposed, is not acceptable alternative. The average resposnse rate to voluntary Statistics Canada surveys is of the order of 70 per cent. The problem is that the 30 per cent who do not respond are likely to be drawn disproportionately from the most vulnerable groups in society, including aboriginal peoples, persons with weaker language skills, newly arrived immigrants and the low-income elderly. Young people, especially in the critical years of post-secondary education and entry into the labour force are also under-represented. Our understanding of these groups would be diminished and policy measures would be based on much weaker evidence.”

Despite that, some Councillors argued against supporting the paper, largely because the statistical analysis is produced over a period of years — not months.

“It has always been my feeling that the (statistical analyses) are so late that they’re of little value,” said Councillor Phil Welock.

Steve Bender argued that dismissing the value of a voluntary census may be putting the cart before the horse as many people may be willing to fill out a voluntary form.

In the end, though, all Councillors voted to support the paper and “strongly urge the federal government o reverse its decision to cancel the mandatory Census long-form questionnaire.