Census change irks city
Ottawa’s decision to cut mandatory long census forms next year isn’t sitting well with the City of Red Deer.
The city is preparing to respond to the federal Conservative government’s decision to replace the form, which has more than 50 questions, with a voluntary survey that will go out to 30 per cent of Canadian households.
Since its inception 35 years ago, the long form has been giving municipalities information on issues like ethnicity from the 20 per cent of households that are required to fill it out. Eighty per cent of Canadian households are normally required to fill out the short questionnaire of eight questions
“We’ve asked our city departments to look at what the impacts of the loss of information will be and whether we can get it from other services,” said Lisa Perkins, divisional strategist for Corporate Services, on Friday.
Perkins noted the federal census only comes out every four years while the city census, which also seeks some information but not as extensive, is done annually.
After the city seeks input from its staff, Red Deer MP Earl Dreeshen will be consulted before a formal response is given.
Critics of the voluntary survey say there may be enough people who fill it out, but there’s no telling if people from all incomes will respond. The mandated survey controlled its sample to mitigate these problems.
“No statistician is completely happy with a self-selected sample, but I know they are a talented bunch of mathematicians so I know they’ll get it right,” said Dreeshen, referring to Statistics Canada which compiles the data. “When you expand the sample size, you should still be able to maintain the integrity of that information.”
Balancing citizens’ rights of privacy with the nation’s need for statistical data is key, Dreeshen added.
“This way too, we don’t have to threaten people with jail time,” he said.
Industry Minister Tony Clement has said the decision to cut the long census, which has been around for 35 years, was based on an unspecified number of complaints about the coercive and intrusive nature. People faced prosecution and fines if they didn’t fill it out.
But Red Deer, along with the City of Calgary, have come out to say the information from the census-gathering is invaluable.
Franklin Kutuadu, community researcher for the City of Red Deer, said it has helped the city gather trends when it comes to family and immigration patterns, language, labour force and income.
“It gives us an analysis of trends of our population over time,” he said on Friday.
Kutuadu said the information is useful in prioritizing social programs.
In the absence of the long form, those socio-economic variables will be much harder to realize.
The mandatory form gave the city a much more representative view of all the neighbourhoods.
“We’re not sure the (voluntary) survey will do this, although they say they are going to increase the amount of surveys,” Kutuadu said. “If no one sends a survey from one neighbourhood, what happens with that neighbourhood?”