Return of Long-form Census Backed by one of Canada's Leading Demographics Experts
Return of Long-form Census Backed by one of Canada's Leading Demographics Experts

September 5, 2012

One of Canada’s leading demographic experts is reinforcing a report by Statistics Canada (StatsCan) that recommends reintroducing in 2016 the long-form census.

Dr. Susan McDaniel, a University of Lethbridge Sociology researcher, the Director of the Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy and a Canada Research Chair in Global Population and Life Course, said the extensive report, made public at the end of August, makes clear a number of reasons why the long form Census, which gathers data from a representative sample of Canadian households, needs to be re-introduced.

“The cancellation of the 2011 long-form census has left a big hole in long term trends, a hole that will always be there. The chances of a government agency or other organization making an ill-informed decision in the future could be quite high, based on the increasingly-outdated 2006 Census data. We could save a lot of trouble for people decades in the future if we were to correct this for 2016.”

McDaniel said the data provide crucial information which are used for everything from high level government policies in health, education and other ministries to, at a local level, demographic information that might assist local police, businesses or community groups.

“People would be quite surprised about the reach and impact that long form Census information has on the average person. For example, data from the long form Census is used to plan roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and long-term care facilities, none of which we would wish to do without. The information needs to be kept to a very high standard, and needs to be current so that accurate decisions can be drawn from the census data.”

McDaniel said that the last census, in 2011, did not include the long form Census information, an expanded series of questions that would have been sent to about one-fifth of the population, or almost 7 million households. “With Canada’s population changing so rapidly, we have now missed a lot of information on immigration, migration and workforce changes, as well as how people are living across the country.”

McDaniel and her research colleagues look beyond numbers but still need accurate and stable data if they are to dig deeper into the complex issues that face people over the course of their lives, such as aging, income inequalities, access to health care, how global economic challenges affect people, and policies that take aging and population shifts into consideration.

A replacement survey called the National Household Survey gathered some information but McDaniel said that that is insufficient to substitute for the long-form Census information. “This survey would be considered more biased by the research community than the long form Census, and certainly not adequate for developing the type of iron-clad information a government agency may expect when new social, health or economic policies are being developed.”
The next steps will be critical to the change in information gathering, McDaniel said.

“There are many cost-effective and credible ways to gather information that we as researchers and policymakers as well as businesses and other users of the data can work with. I would anticipate that Statistics Canada is considering expanded use of internet or other electronic means of gathering this information, since more than 54 per cent of census respondents filled in their short forms online in 2011.”

McDaniel added that the next census is in 2016, which, in census management terms, is just around the corner given the huge effort that has to go into creating not only the census documents, but the infrastructure necessary to gather the information.

McDaniel said that the StatsCan report looked at a number of different options to replace the traditional long form census, and the authors received advice by independent experts from around the world.

“This is not a case of this group researching a topic with a self-justifying end. I doubt that any research organization has ever examined their information-gathering abilities so completely, and by turning their findings over to the international community, they are demonstrating complete transparency.”

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Dr Susan McDaniel, Director, Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy,Canada Research Chair in Global Population and Life Course

Phone (403) 380-1814

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