By: Maria Wilson
Global Health Office Outreach Assistant
I’m training to be an Epidemiologist, which loosely translates to “full-blown health data nerd.” So when I heard that Justin Trudeau and the Canadian Liberal government planned to bring back the mandatory long-form census after a ten year hiatus, I was ecstatic. As of May 2nd 2016, the long-form census has returned. Here are three reasons why I am excited for this data gold mine, and why you should be too! To view the Buzzfeed version of this article, complete with New Girl gifs, click this link.
1. Informed decision making is back!
In order to make informed decisions on policies and programs at all levels of government, and in the non-governmental sector, there is a need for reliable, accurate, up-to-date, comprehensive data. When the former Conservative government chose to replace the mandatory long-form census with the voluntary National Household Survey (NHS) in 2011, we lost an extremely important, representative data source. The 2011 NHS had a response rate of 74%, much lower than the 94% response rate for the 2006 long-form census. Furthermore, the 2011 NHS left out some small communities over quality concerns, and failed to accurately provide information on immigrant and Indigenous populations. Bad data leads to bad decisions. Re-instating the mandatory long-form census will take Canada out of the data dark ages, and back into the 21st century.
2. More jobs for Canadians
The 2016 census will staff 35,000 jobs across Canada. Although these positions are temporary, the census jobs are ideal for students, those who work seasonally, and others wanting to supplement their income. With unemployment rates hovering around 7% this year, 35,000 jobs (even jobs that are temporary in nature), is good news.
3. Saving money
The tagline for the 2016 census should be “more for less.” On top of providing Canadians with better data than the 2011 NHS, the 2016 long-form census will also cost less (about $22 million less by the Liberal government’s estimates). How? A mandatory questionnaire is less expensive to administer than a voluntary version, because penalties for non-response lead to less non-response! This means that less resources will be needed for respondent follow-up. The 2016 long-form census is only being distributed to 1 in 4 Canadian households, compared to the 1 in 3 Canadian households surveyed for the 2011 NHS, while still maintaining a representative sample.
Although re-instating the mandatory long-form census is a key step toward informed decision-making, there is still plenty of room for improvement. For instance, trans/non-binary gender identities are not yet included in question E-2. In order to more accurately address the needs of the trans/non-binary population in Canada through policies and programs, we first need to know who they are. Hopefully in 2021, improvements will be made to the long-form census, resulting in an even better data source for Canadians.
Overall, kudos to Justin Trudeau and the Liberals for bringing back the mandatory, long-form census!