It’s been over four years since I last mentioned the mandatory Canadian long form census, a topic which seems to be enjoying some new interest. For those unfamiliar or whose memory of the controversy is foggy, here’s a brief description of the situation. The mandatory aspect of the long form census was abolished by the Conservative government despite serious opposition from core Conservative supporters in the business community and at least two of the Prime Minister’s own cabinet members. There’s more about the discussion at the time in my July 20, 2010 posting (scroll down about 25% of the way).
Thanks to David Bruggeman’s Feb. 1, 2015 post cleverly titled, Counting The Impact Of How A Government Counts, on his Pasco Phronesis blog, I can update the situation (Note: Links have been removed).
Back in 2010, the Canadian government opted to make the long form portion of its 2011 census voluntary. Researchers who use the data in their work, and policymakers who use the data to make decisions were concerned about how a voluntary survey would impact the resulting data.
As expected, the early analysis suggests that the lower quality data will lead to higher spending. …
Ted Hsu, Liberal member of Parliament (MP), introduced Bill C-626 An Act to amend the Statistics Act (appointment of Chief Statistician and long-form census in Sept. 2014 when it received its first reading. Last week, Jan. 29, 2015, the bill received its second reading and was referred to committee according to this Bill C-626 webpage on the openparliament.ca website. I’m excerpting portions of Ted Hsu’s Jan. 29, 2015 (?) comments from the House of Commons floor, (from openparliament.ca’s Bill C-626 webpage; Note: Links have been removed),
Today I rise to present my private member’s bill, Bill C-626. It is a bill that reflects the belief that people must have trustworthy information about themselves to govern themselves wisely.
Indeed, the Prime Minister himself said in his recent speech to the United Nations:
…vital statistics are critical.
You can’t manage what you can’t measure.
We parliamentarians should aspire to safeguard the integrity and quality of fundamental information about the people of Canada, whom we endeavour to serve. Is that not what we seek when we pray at the beginning of each day in the House of Commons: Grant us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all, and to make good laws and wise decisions?
However, the quality of national statistics has been compromised. In 2011, the voluntary national household survey replaced the long form census. Researchers have publicly called that survey worthless.
What are some of the effects? In May 2014, the Progressive Conservative premier of New Brunswick said that the elimination of the long form census makes it hard to track the outcomes of the province’s poverty program. That is, it is hard to figure out what New Brunswick got from the money spent to help the poor.
National household survey data were too meaningless to be published for 25% of Canada’s towns and cities because of low response rates, rising to 30% in Newfoundland and Labrador’s and 40% in Saskatchewan.
All levels of government and the private sector have been handicapped by bad data here in Canada. What is worse is that the one mandatory long form census forms an essential anchor that is needed to adjust for errors in many other voluntary surveys. We have lost that data anchor.
Why is the voluntary national household survey so poor? The problem is that certain groups of people tended not to fill out the voluntary survey. Rural residents, single parents, one-person households, renters, the very rich, the poor, and younger people all tended not to complete the national household survey. The result is a biased and misleading picture of Canada and Canadians. This is what scientists call a systematic error. A systematic error, unlike a random error, cannot be corrected by sending out more census forms.
This systematic error is eliminated if everyone who receives a long form survey fills it out. Not filling out the long form census is a disservice to the country. That is why filling out the census should be considered a civic duty.
In 2011, the government went ahead and sent out more voluntary surveys to compensate for the lower response rate. This inflated the cost of the census by approximately $20 million, but it gave us poorer information. Avoiding such waste is another reason we should restore the mandatory long form census.
More importantly, making business and investment decisions and managing the economy and the affairs of the people all require trustworthy information about the people. That is why, just this past summer, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce passed a policy resolution calling for the restoration of the mandatory long form census. That is why, in 2010, groups such as the Canadian Association for Business Economics, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Conference Board of Canada, and the Toronto Region Board of Trade opposed the elimination of the mandatory long form census.
Let me say this again. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Association for Business Economics, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Conference Board of Canada, and the Toronto Region Board of Trade want the mandatory long form census.
It’s well worth reading all of the comments as they run both pro and con. BTW, kudos to the openparliament.ca website for making information about legislation and the legislative process so accessible!
The Globe & Mail newspaper ran a Nov. 6, 2014 editorial about six weeks after the bill was first introduced,
Bill C-626, a private member’s bill that would restore the mandatory long-form census and shield the Chief Statistician of Canada from political interference, has no chance of becoming law. It was introduced by a Liberal MP, Ted Hsu, and has limited support in Parliament. Even more foreboding, its adoption would require the Harper government [Stephen Harper, Prime Minister, Canada] to do something it loathes: admit an error.
But an error it was – and a now well-documented one – for the government to eliminate the mandatory long-form census in 2010 and replace it with the voluntary National Household Survey.
To be fair, I don’t know of any government that admits its errors easily but, even by those standards, the Harper government seems extraordinarily loathe to do so.
More of the new National Household Survey’s shortcomings come to light in a Jan. 29, 2015 article by Tavia Grant for the Globe & Mail,
The cancellation of the mandatory long-form census has damaged research in key areas, from how immigrants are doing in the labour market to how the middle class is faring, while making it more difficult for cities to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely, planners and researchers say.
Statistics Canada developed a voluntary survey after Ottawa cancelled the long-form census in 2010. Many had warned that the switch would mean lower response rates and policies based on an eroded understanding of important trends. Now researchers – from city planners to public health units – say they have sifted through the 2011 data and found it lacking.
Their comments come as a private member’s bill to reinstate the mandatory long-form census will be debated in the House of Commons Thursday [Jan. 29, 2015]. The bill, expected to be voted on next week, has slim odds of passing, given the Conservative majority. But it is drawing attention to the impact of the switch, which has created difficulties in determining income-inequality trends, housing needs and whether low-income families are getting adequate services.
The impact isn’t just on researchers. Cities, such as Toronto, say it’s become more expensive and requires more staffing to obtain data that’s of lower quality. …
Sara Mayo, social planner at the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton [Ontario], says the result of the census changes has been less data for more money. “In terms of fiscal prudence, this made no sense. Why would any government want to pay more for worse-quality data?” [emphasis mine]
Many, many people noted in 2010 that we would be paying more for lower quality data. Adding insult to injury, the cancellation was not made due to a huge public outcry demanding the end of the mandatory long form census, In fact, as I noted earlier, many of Stephen Harper’s core supporters were not in favour of his initiative.
Moving on to Ted Hsu for a moment, I was interested to note that he will not be running for election later this year (2015) according to an Aug.7, 2014 article on thestar.com website. For now, according to his Wikipedia entry, Hsu is the the Liberal Party’s Critic for Science and Technology, Post-Secondary Education, Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and Federal Economic Development Initiative in Northern Ontario. By training, Hsu is a physicist.
While no one seems to hold much hope for Hsu’s bill, there is a timeline provided for its passage through Parliament before the final vote (from tedshu.ca’s C-626 webpage),
First reading: September 22, 2014
First hour of second reading debate: November 7, 2014
Second hour of second reading debate: January 29, 2015
Second reading vote to send the bill to committee: February 4, 2015
Committee hearings: March-April (expected)
Report Stage to vote on any amendments and the report from committee: April 2015 (expected)
Final hour of debate and third reading vote to send the bill to the Senate: April 2015 (expected)
According to the openparliament.ca website the Jan. 29, 2015 reading was the one where the bill was sent to committee but Ted Hsu’s site suggests that today’s Feb. 4, 2015 reading is when the vote to send the bill to committee will be held.
ETA Feb. 4, 2014 1420 PDT: Apparently, city governments are weighing in the discussion, from a Feb. 3, 2015 article by Tavia Grant and Elizabeth Church for the Globe & Mail,
The debate over the demise of the mandatory long-form census has reached the city level in Canada, where mayors and local officials say the cancellation has hampered the ability to plan and support the needs of their communities.
Toronto Mayor John Tory told The Globe and Mail he plans to raise the issue at the big city mayors’ meeting this week.
Across the country, cities are feeling the impact of the census changes, said Brad Woodside, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and mayor of Fredericton [New Brunswick].
“We’ve heard from our members that the change to the new National Household Survey [NHS] is impacting their ability to effectively plan and monitor the changing needs of their communities,” he said in an e-mailed statement to The Globe. “We support all efforts to increase the reliability of the data from the census.”
A website that lobbies for more accessible data, called Datalibre.ca, lists 11 individuals and organizations that supported the government’s decision to scrap the census and 488 who oppose it. Those who were against the move include 42 cities – from Red Deer to Montreal, Victoria and Fredericton.
Regina’s mayor said the loss of detailed data is a concern. He wants the long-form reinstated.
In Vancouver, city planner Michael Gordon said the end of the mandatory census is a “significant issue,” hampering the ability to analyze infrastructure needs, such as transportation planning, along with housing, particularly affordable housing. Mr. Gordon, president of the Canadian Institute of Planners, has found some data from NHS “fishy,” and says there has been a “very disappointing” impact in the ability to provide sound advice based on factual information.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any information as to whether today’s vote to send this bill committee was successful or not.
ETA Feb. 5, 2015 0840 PDT: The bill did not make it past the second reading, from a Feb. 4, 2015 news item (posted at 2000 hours EDT) on the Huffington Post,
Liberal MP Ted Hsu’s drive to resurrect the long-form census has come to an end.
His private member’s bill to bring back the long-form census and bolster the independence of the chief statistician was voted down on second reading in the Commons on Wednesday.