On November 4th, 2015 the newly sworn in Liberal government reinstated the Long form Census that had been axed by the previous conservative government. This is a great day for Canada, as it has been hailed by Scientists and the new Canadian government as a great step forward in Canada’s ability to find reliable and accurate information. “So what?” “Who cares?” These are some of the responses I hear from some people in my library, around town, and online. I am going to try to explain why the long form census matters and why it is a necessity in our society.
Online is probably the worst culprit for misinformation on the planet. There are so many people with opinions (I am one of them), and many of them are uninformed, misinformed or just ignorant. There are those who believe that the long-form census is antiquated and such a horrible way to find information. I saw one response online that asked why we needed it when so many companies and government agencies have most this information in databases already? My reply went something like this: He was correct in assuming there are many other databases out there with this kind of information. His assumption that this information is available to all, as the long form census is, was misinformed.
Information is a commodity these days. It is a commodity that is closely guarded by those who have it be they government agencies or public corporations. Corporations might be willing to sell the information for quite the profit, but will not give it freely. As for his assumption about information being already in the hands of government agencies, that is once again true, but they can not just hand over all the information between agencies. Information sharing between government departments is carried out on a case-by-case and/or ad-hoc basis, which is antiquated and inefficient. Meaning only certain information is shared when warranted while other information may not be shared. This is just one example of how information sharing through existing public and government agencies is not feasible. This is also an example of why collecting populace data from people directly is needed.
Another reason this is important to Canada is for the purpose of research. Researchers need accurate data that is relatively easily accessible to do legitimate research. Businesses rely on accurate data as well. For instance, when a developer is looking to put a new sky scraper in downtown Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver it may be wise to look at the population density, average income, and trends in population to determine if he can profit from a 20 storey building or 50 storey building. How is he going to find that information if it is spread between 6 different agencies and 50 companies? Also he may use old census data for this, but what use is the information if it is 5, 10, 20 years old?
Another reason for the census is to make sure everyone is included in the data. A corporation that collects data about the workforce, may omit information on those who are more than 200km from their operation, or people who are unable to work. What about the native population in rural Canada? to a corporation does that matter? will it be kept or even recorded? When the mandatory long-form census was stopped in 2010/2011 it was replaced by a voluntary household survey. Now people could do it if they wanted, but data becomes less prevalent. A town of 50 people may disappear from information records simply because it is too small of a community to exist in a voluntary record or it may exist, but because only 3 people from the community filled it out its new estimated population is next to nothing and therefore a corporation may have passed on a start up in the town.
Native people of Canada are scattered primarily away from population centers and may not even have access to online resources to participate in a digital and optional census. The long form census being mandatory meant everyone was included, everyone’s voice was counted. Minorities of all types become almost invisible in one of the most diverse nations in the world.
One last point of why the long form census is important. The long form census being mandatory meant people actually filled it out. It has been shown that when something is optional many people opt out. How many times have you received a phone call and it is telemarketer offering a survey? Many people opt out of it not only because they are annoying and sometimes trying to sell you something, but also because you don’t have to listen so you choose not to. The National Household Survey is quite similar. People begin to tune out and so less information is gathered. If less information is gathered it can skew results (such as the fictitious town above) or total alienate parts of our population. The household survey also costs more tax dollars than the census, because it was sent to more households than the long form census 1 of 3 instead of 1 of 5 (note the other 4 houses who did not receive the long form census received a short form instead).The Household survey was then summarily tossed by many because they were not required to do it, so why bother. The long form census had consequences if not filled out (Fines and possible jail time). So even though it was sent to less houses, it was more cost effective than the household survey.
The Household survey cost more to distribute, was less effective and tossed by many. Another argument I hear from people is the census is a waste of money. Maybe, but when the government replaces it with another waste of money that is tossed in the trash most the time, I would prefer more accurate data, that reflects the diversity of Canada, and was easily accessible to all. Other countries are moving away from the census, but Canada being a nation with a population of over 33 million people (2011 Census) spread over 9.9million kilometers , having two official languages and over 9 recognized regional languages, it is a necessity to maintain information in such a vast and diverse culture. Though I admit….the data above is getting a bit old.