Information Policies Under the Harper Government Part 3: Cancellation of the Long Form Census

One Line Description: Despite living in the so-called ‘information age’ the Harper Government has decided to make the Government of Canada vastly less informed on its own country by eliminating the long-form census.

Short Description: The government’s 2010 decision to eliminate the long-form census in 2011 and all subsequent censuses under the guise of strengthening privacy[1] greatly limits the ability of the government to effectively plan for programs and services such as benchmarking the Labour Force Survey and calculating regional unemployment rates for the EI program.[2] The replacement of the long-form census with the voluntary National Household Survey has introduced the pervasive risk of sampling bias and underrepresentation of minority groups into government planning.[3]

Details: The government’s claim of protecting privacy by eliminating the threat of jail time was a spurious defence at best as Canadians already face the prospect of incarceration for refusing to complete two other Census (the short form Census and the Census of Agriculture).[4] Furthermore, over the past several decades there have been only a handful of complaints to the Privacy Commissioner’s Office about the claimed intrusiveness of the survey. The elimination of the mandatory long-form census and its replacement with a voluntary survey has met near universal criticism from a wide range of Canadian individuals and organizations. Datalibre.ca has compiled a list of proponents and opponents of government’s decision. Only a handful of organizations and individuals have spoken out if favour of abandoning the long-form census including The National Citizens Coalition, The Frasier Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Nearly 500 groups and individuals have gone on record against the move including three provinces (Ontario, Quebec and PEI), over 40 cities and a broad range of civil society and professional organizations.[5] Now, several years after the cancellation of the long-form census the impacts are starting to be felt most heavily. Harvey Low, manager of social research at the City of Toronto has stated that Canada’s largest city is now “less sure” about the characteristics of communities it is serving, has “huge gaps” in assessing health trends in the nation’s largest city, and ultimately ends up costing the city more for lower quality data.[6]

[1] Tony Clement. “Statement on the 2011 Census.” http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=547529

[2] Statistics Canada, Methodology of the Canadian Labour Force Survey, Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 71-526-X: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/71-526-x/71-526-x2007001-eng.pdf ;and, David A. Green and Kevin Milligan, “The Importance of the Long Form Census to Canada,” Canadian Public Policy, 36(3), (2010), 386.

[3] Ivan Fellegi, Evidence before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, 40th Parl. 3rd Sess., (27 July 2010): http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=4648017&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3  

[4] Marc Garneau. Evidence before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, 40th Parl., 3rd Sess., (27 July 2010).

[5] Datalibre.ca, “Census Watch: List of Organizations Against and Supporting the Government’s Position on the cancellation of the Long Form of the 2011 Census,” (23 Dec. 2010): http://datalibre.ca/census-watch/

[6] Harvey Low, as quoted in, Tavia Grant. “Damage from Cancelled Census as Bad as Feared, Researchers Say.” The Globe and Mail, 29 Jan. 2015. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/cities-footing-the-bill-for-data-gap-after-long-form-census-scrapped/article22695286/