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Counting on Being Counted in for Canada’s Census

May 15, 2016 8:09 AM | Columns

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman


(Census image via Shutterstock)

NEEPAWA, Man. — Every person counts, everyone matters. That message becomes quite literal every five years during the national census. This year, May 10 was census day and the previous week, census questionnaires were delivered to Canadians across the country.

Every household was to receive the short form census. The basic questionnaire asked the respondents to list their names, date of birth, gender, address, marital status and relationship to others living in the household. There are also a series of questions about languages spoken by the respondent.

The form takes about five minutes to complete and can be done either hard copy or online. One in four households were also asked to complete the long-form census, which is now mandatory, unlike the optional National Household Survey which was distributed in 2011. The long form census asked more detailed questions about disabilities, health condition, sociocultural information, mobility, place of birth of parents, education and labour market activities. There are also questions about the person’s dwelling.

The move to the NHS was an unsuccessful experiment and it’s good to have the mandatory long form census back. The mandatory census in 2006 had a response rate of 93.5 per cent, while the 2011 NHS had a response rate of just 68.6 per cent. This low response rate caused all kinds of challenges and means that there is no NHS data for 20 percent of the country’s 4,556 census subdivisions. This lack of information has an impact both locally — governments and organizations don’t have the information to better serve the needs of their communities’ residents — but also nationally — the information from these communities isn’t aggregated into national data.

The long-form census in particular asks a lot of personal questions and despite many of us wishing to keep our information private, sharing such information every five years is vital.

Once aggregated, census data is made public. Canada is a vast country and without this, there would be no way of knowing what Canadians need or don’t. Census data doesn’t just provide information to help governments plan and provide services, such as knowing that there are many older people or babies in a community who will need health care or educational services, census data also helps private businesses. Knowing the population, income and language needs of a community can better allow a company to tailor its product to its market.

I am not alone in my recognition of the census’ importance. Early last week, we had readers contacting us about how they get their forms and what they should do if they haven’t arrived. Statistics Canada’s website crashed for 45 minutes on May 2, the day the census forms were first made available. There have been reports on Facebook of people upset they only got the short form census.

The provincial government has also been pushing residents to complete the census. Not only does accurate census data help plan for services, such as policing, schools, hospitals and roads, but it also impacts federal transfers, which are calculated on a per capita basis. The province estimates that for every person missed in the 2016 census, the Manitoba government loses $46,000 in federal transfer payments over five years.

Canadians like to complain that governments make poor decisions, ones that are out of touch with the needs of the community. The best way to counteract that is to make sure that they have the accurate view created by full information.

So if you forgot to complete your census, please fill it in, or log in and do it online. For those who don’t really like sharing personal information, they can decline to have their information included when the census information is made public in 2108, 92 years from now.