The Return Of The Long-Form Census In Canada For 2016: My Quick Take Editorial

There is much happiness in the land of academia, urban planning, social development among many sectors who have expressed strong opposition to the rather silly, voluntary National Household Survey that posed as the Census of Canada in 2011.

Today, the Hon. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Development alongside the Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development announced that the new Canadian government, sworn in just yesterday, was returning the mandatory long-form census for 2016.

There is a strong case to be made for quickly fulfilling this election campaign promise. The change reuired no legislation to be passed and the mandatory census simply produces better data. As my children can attest, I believe that better information produces better decisions. The voluntary census of 2011 resulted in a 77.2% response rate, meaning that more than 20% of all Canadians in that year were not included. This is particularly troublesome for smaller communities and the vulnerable in our society. How can you know where needs exist if more than one-fifth of the population is not surveyed. How can businesses complete reliable forecasts.

“Statistics Canada has always stated that a mandatory survey will inevitably produce data of better overall quality than a voluntary survey of the same size, all other things being equal.” (Wayne R. Smith, Chief Statistician of Canada: 4 June 2015) By comparison to the poor 2011 response rate, the mandatory census survey of 2006 produced a response rate of 93.8%. There is still work to be done to get that number to 100% but ‘better information produces better decisions.’

Genealogists may also be happy with the return of the long-form census but I’m not so quick to jump on that bandwagon. While there will be plenty of statistical data churned and disseminated by StatsCan following completion of the 2016 returns, genealogists will not be able to access the census information until 2108!

In Canada, there is a belief that withholding the rather generic information gathered in a census form for a period of 92 years protects the privacy of the individuals who provided the information. Following the current rules, sometime in 2053, the Canadian government will release the first census in which I will appear, the census of 1961. That census will likely make public that I was 6-years old and attending school. Not quite earth shattering news and certainly not anything that anyone could have guessed. All that information from a form that was not even completed by a family member for in those long ago days, enumerators were hired to go door-to-door, ask the required questions, and complete the forms with the answers received, or at least the answers they thought they heard.

I’m not suggesting or advocating for immediate census access. The risk of identity theft, however real or perceived, does exist. There is a good case to be made for a reasonable amount of privacy. But why 92 years? In the United States, the census is released after a period of 72 years. Why the difference? I know from an historic perspective, reasons can be given about the context in which different governments in certain times decided that these were the best and safest timeframes. The reality is that identity theft and fraud are not new, 21st century crimes.

So, I simply question the current lengthy delay in releasing these public records. Why look at this question now? Well, as newly-minted Prime Minster Justin Trudeau replied yesterday to a question on gender equality in Cabinet, “Because it’s 2015.”

On the other hand, if someone in 2053 wants to pretend to be 98-year old me, have fun with it.

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