Census: the less we know, the less we know

Telegraph Journal
By Elsie Hambrook, chairwoman of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women

Who would have thought that, during a Canadian summer, so many would get angry about a government decision to collect less information? Probably not the federal government.

The federal government has managed to outrage marketers and feminist groups, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and stay-at home mothers, progressive economists and the Canadian Association of Business Economists, genealogists, investors, the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives and researchers and editorialists of all stripes.

What it did was announce …in next year’s national Census, it will not distribute the long census form to 20 per cent of Canadians, as in the past. The form will be replaced with a voluntary survey of some Canadians. …

The long form allowed Statistics Canada to tell us about ourselves. What proportion is bilingual? How many are handicapped? How many hours are spent on unpaid care of children or seniors? How many people have some high school education? How quickly are immigrants integrated? All of this sorted by province or region.

This is a devastating decision!

In a voluntary survey, only those who feel like responding do so. The people least likely to respond are the most vulnerable groups – the disadvantaged, aboriginal people, immigrants. This will make these groups even more invisible. Data from the voluntary survey will be biased, unreliable and not representative of the population mix. It will not be comparable to previous census information.

Facts are a good thing on which to base spending of public funds, even if they are inconvenient when they get in the hands of those who contradict us….

The decision will increase our ignorance about ourselves and make it easier for governments to manipulate us, as Richard Shearmur, the Canada Chair in Spatial Statistics and Public Policy, says.

Editorialists and critics have suggested that the federal government is doing this to limit the data and analysis coming from Statistics Canada, which the government sometimes finds inconvenient when the facts don’t support its agenda….

The worse news for anyone who cares about families is that the questions about household activity – hours worked without pay at child care, elder care or household tasks – may be dropped, even from the voluntary form. …