Censuslessness

The Harper government has once again managed to raise a tempest where before there were but ripples. Having unilaterally decided on a whim, with no consultation with the public or major stakeholders, they will be dropping the mandatory long-form census because “People don’t like it.” (… Like Taxes?)

Statisticians and a host of both private and public sector organizations that rely heavily upon this information have stridently objected that this decision will severely damage the quality and therefore the usefulness of the data. It will impair decisions around urban and rural planning, health services, buses, rapid transit, bridges, highways, schools, shopping malls, education, resource management, etc., etc.

The idea to offset this loss by sending the long form to more households for voluntary response won’t resolve the problem at all, according to statisticians, except that it will cost a great deal more. More money for less value! – Not to mention the additional costs that will follow from having to base future policy decisions on bad information.

Personally, I didn’t like having to fill out the long-form. Yet I see the need for it, and the value of it, and given that odds are that I need to do this maybe once every 25 years, I can easily live with it as a civic duty. I can see no conflict with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; confidentiality is protected by separating the data from the identities of respondents; and the Privacy Commissioner has found no privacy issue.

If there are indeed real concerns with the current approach, fair enough, let us indeed look at them. But let us have proper public input, and especially hear from statisticians and all stakeholders. Let’s gauge the consequences and consider the solutions. If this was anything but knee-jerk spur-of-the-moment policy we could have done this years ago, after the previous census, but it’s too late now for this one.

This decision is ill advised and clearly not thought-through. The responsible action here is to leave the upcoming census well enough alone, and engage the dialogue (if at all) for the subsequent one. This will give us five more years to sort out the problems and examine ways and means, if any, to properly resolve them without harm.

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