Wednesday, November 24, 2010

That Pesky Census Issue

Yeah, yeah, I know it's basically a dead issue at this point but, via Wherry, a comprehensive list of what that long form census data is used for:

More than 50 federal government agencies and departments rely on longform census data on ethnic origins, visible minorities, citizenship and immigration for planning and policies, according to a newly released internal report.

In the documents, Statistics Canada says more than 700 different clients bought reports or data based on the 2006 census, including 297 government bodies from all levels, 232 businesses, 66 non-profit organizations, 54 health and social service agencies and 62 educational institutions.


The Department of Finance reported using long-form data to track Canadian migration patterns during economic changes. Health Canada employs it to assess well-being in first nations communities, while the Public Health Agency relies on this information to target services to clusters of immigrants or particular ethnic groups. The Canada Student Loan Program uses this census data for demographic analysis of post-secondary enrolment, and the Department of Justice uses it to tailor studies on elder abuse to different ethnic populations.

Maybe my vision is clouded because I have a poster of Gauss in my apartment and bell curves on my pyjamas, but I maintain this has been one of the most needlessly destructive decisions of the Harper government during their time in office.



  • I don't get it.

    The long form census still exists.

    Technically it was mandatory, but people who refused to participate were never really prosecuted.

    What's changed?

    Seriously - if the number of people that refuse to participate actually increases, isn't that a point in Harper's favour?

    Because doesn't that mean a lot of people were very uncomfortable with it and only doing it out of fear of prosecution?

    1. I don't see what damage was done (in reality).
    2. If damage was done, it was damage that needed to be done, almost by definition.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 11:14 a.m.  

  • Robert,

    I can only assume you watch fox news and read sun media endlessly. Anyone who has read maybe a half dozen articles on this issues has to have read some account of why the data is compromised. By articles I don't mean editorials.

    Dan, I loved the whipping sound I heard at the line: "needlessly destructive decisions." Puts things in context.

    By Anonymous Luke, at 11:29 a.m.  

  • I still don't understand why the government pushed so hard on this. Unlike Robert, I really don't see any harm in Ottawa maintaing a record of who lives here. Maybe I'll see it in ten or fifteen years, but right now, the census seems harmless and the actions against it seem sort of paranoid.

    By Anonymous Jacques Beau Verte, at 2:13 p.m.  

  • A personal insult - that will open my mind! :)

    I didn't know the data had been compromised.

    I thought people were already being non-compliant with the long-form, and such offenders were already not being prosecuted, and all that the government did was make it official that non-compliers won't be prosecuted.

    I readily admit I could be mistaken on something - but where?

    As for JBV, no need to add "Unlike Robert." I agree that Ottawa should maintain a record of who lives here.

    Where we (probably) disagree is where the line should be drawn as to what information Ottawa should have, and whether people should face fines or jail-time for refusing to comply.

    On a scale from 1-to-10, if you're a 5 on an issue, and someone else is a 4, your instinct is to characterize him as being a 1.

    Just because I don't think someone should face fines or jail time for refusing to provide more than basic information to the government doesn't mean that I think we should get rid of the census completely. I also don't think it's helpful to ask people to choose from one of the extremes - can't I stay in the middle?

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 2:29 p.m.  

  • The issue with the government's decision on the census is that the data collected under the new methodology will be, in statistical terms, worthless. Sending a form to a vast number of uncontrolled households with no way of knowing who will send one back or controlling for that variable means that we will be conducting the world's largest and most expensive internet poll. If the (never used) penalties were such a trauma then eliminate them, but don't destroy the methodoligical validity of the process.

    By Blogger Alexander Muir, at 2:35 p.m.  

  • Thank you Alexander.

    Tell me more. I honestly haven't heard anything about the methodology changing - all I've heard was lifting penalties on non-compliance.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 2:55 p.m.  

  • Argh, a misclick appears to have lost a lengthy response.

    I blogged about the changes here:

    A quote from the former head of Statistics Canada:

    "I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census.
    It can not." —Munir Sheikh

    By Blogger Alexander Muir, at 3:34 p.m.  

  • As someone who had a gun held to their head for 6 months by Stats Can to "participate or talk to our lawyers", this was a change that I am 100% in favour of.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:09 p.m.  

  • To Anon@4:09: a gun to your head? Really? What consequence was really visited upon you? This is only partially a rhetorical question. I would really like to know how it played out.

    By Anonymous One Alberta Voter, at 5:58 p.m.  

  • If the (never used) penalties were such a trauma then eliminate them...

    ...and that's exactly what the government did.

    Frankly, when the announcement of the change first came out, I was moderately against it. But after months of listening to opponents try to claim that this is an "attack on science" (when it's actually a judgment call on margin of error vs. the burden on Canadians) and frequently outright lie about it (eg. claiming that the long form is being "scrapped" or "ended"), I say: Go for it!

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 1:12 a.m.  

  • Harper: Junk the long-form census.

    Ignatieff: I don't mind my junk being touched.

    = Don't be afraid to fill out the long-form.

    Anon Deux

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:02 a.m.  

  • Alexander,

    Thanks for the link to your blog. But it sounds like you agree with me!

    "It is entirely possible to return the form blank, or with inaccurate answers. Tens of thousands do"
    "its results are accurate even though many people either don't complete it or send back they they are a Jedi"

    And you say nothing of the methodology changing. The laws simply now officially reflect the reality that "no Canadian has ever been jailed for the failure to complete the census." That's not a methodology change.

    Now that you've argued that having non-compliers (e.g. Jedi) don't have an impact on the quality, JBV is about to say you want to scrap the census altogether.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 10:22 a.m.  

  • Alexander methinks you hit it on the head in your first post

    By Anonymous Jacques Beau Verte, at 9:34 p.m.  

  • So, I do not really consider it may have effect.

    By Anonymous sex shop market, at 4:08 a.m.  

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