A Statistics Canada 2016 Census mailer sits on the key board of a laptop after arriving in the mail at a residence in Ottawa, May 2, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Statistics Canada sees more demand to fill out census online during pandemic

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the response to the census is higher than the agency expected to far, with online submissions coming from some remote communities for the first time.

Census cards with information about how to fill out the short- and long-form questionnaires went out to households in the last week ahead of census day on May 11.

One reason for the higher online response involves a pandemic-related change the agency made this year to allow anyone in the country to file through the internet-based form for the first time.

Geoff Bowlby, director general at Statistics Canada responsible for the census, says the agency assumed in previous census cycles that remote parts of the country didn’t have enough internet coverage to allow for online responses.

Now, he says, the agency is getting responses at a faster rate than expected from urban centres, First Nations, rural and remote communities.

Bowlby says the agency has even received a response from as far north as Grise Fiord in Nunavut, which registered a population of 129 in the last census five years ago.

The agency had expected about eight in every 10 people to respond to the census online, but that number could change as Bowlby noted that fewer people are requesting paper questionnaires.

He says having more online responses makes life easier for agency analysts, and safer for workers who will have to manually input fewer paper replies at a processing centre in the National Capital Region.

Analysts will spend the coming months sifting through the data gleaned from the census forms before releasing results in 2022.

The census, which takes place once every five years, provides the most detailed look at Canadians, leaving a wealth of information for demographers to review to see how the country continues to change.

For policy-makers, the census provides the base for local decisions on where to build new schools and hospitals, and how much the federal government sends to provinces and territories in transfers payments to pay for health-care systems.

But the pandemic has thrown a statistical wrench into the paint-by-numbers portrait of the population as daily routines have changed over the last year due to COVID-19.

Bowlby says the agency is looking at how to analyze responses to questions affected by the pandemic, such as a commute to work that for some people has been replaced by a walk down the staircase to a home office in the basement.

“We’ve had the same kind of conversations at our workplace. We’re all working from home at StatCan and can relate to how people might have difficulty responding to some of the questions because of COVID,” Bowlby said.

“As a result, we’re aware of this and there is, in fact, guidance for any respondent who is having trouble understanding how they should respond to those questions.”

The agency will again use existing data held by governments, such as income information from the Canada Revenue Agency, to supplement or replace parts of the questionnaire.

Statistics Canada had been working on ways to use these administrative data to potentially replace the short-form census that asks questions on the number of people in a home, their ages, and relationships.

It had to test those efforts five years ago when it used administrative data to help enumerate Fort McMurray during the wildfires that devastated the Alberta city.

Bowlby says the agency is still studying how a digital register of the population might work, citing technical barriers and the need to consult Canadians should it ever decide to replace parts of the questionnaires.

“If we were to replace some parts of the census, we have to be absolutely sure that … doesn’t impact the quality of the information that Canadians expect of the census,” he said.

“You can see how Canadians are enthusiastically taking up the census. There is a sense of pride in responding to the census form.”

Just Posted

Alberta is now below 3,000 active cases of COVID-19, as the province reported 2,639 Wednesday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer below 100 active COVID-19 cases for first time since March

69.7 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

A Comox Valley 55+ baseball team isa being organized for the 2021 season. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
18U AAA Carstar Braves start season strong

The Red Deer Carstar 18U AAA Carstar Braves started the Baseball Alberta… Continue reading

(Contributed image).
Online poetry reading to benefit Red Deer women experiencing period poverty

The Period Promise Poetry Powerhouse is a central Alberta collective of some… Continue reading

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron, right, celebrates after scoring on Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during the second period in Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Montreal hangs on for 3-2 win to even series with Golden Knights at a game each

Canadiens 3 Golden Knights 2 (Series tied 1-1) LAS VEGAS — Montreal… Continue reading

New York Yankees Gary Sanchez celebrates his two-run home run during the seventh inning of the team's baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Cole, Sánchez, Chapman come through as Yanks edge Blue Jays

Yankees 3 Blue Jays 2 BUFFALO, N.Y. — Gerrit Cole pitched eight… Continue reading

Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young, right, is fouled by Philadelphia 76ers' Matisse Thybulle during the second half of Game 5 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Hawks rally from 26 points down, stun 76ers in Game 5

Hawks 109 76ers 106 (Atlanta leads series 3-2) PHILADELPHIA — Trae Young… Continue reading

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

OTTAWA — Annamie Paul is firing back against the coterie of party… Continue reading

Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan leaves the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Bill to implement UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clears Senate

OTTAWA — A landmark piece of Liberal legislation aimed at harmonizing Canada’s… Continue reading

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) flips a shot on New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (40) during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Sunday, June 13, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Russian goalies highlight Lightning-Islanders series

NEW YORK — Semyon Varlamov is the wily veteran, coming off a… Continue reading

Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime reacts during his ATP Tour Singles, Men, Round of 16 tennis match against Switzerland's Roger Federer in Halle, Germany, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Friso Gentsch-dpa via AP
Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime upsets Roger Federer in second round of Noventi Open

HALLE, Germany — Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime earned one of the biggest victories… Continue reading

A course official keeps out of the sun on the seventh green during a practice round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
A different US Open than imagined at Torrey Pines

The spectacular ocean vistas will fill TV screens as usual, along with… Continue reading

Most Read