What’s all the fuss about cancelling the long-form census?
Just because it is “arguable” that a voluntary questionnaire sent to 30 per cent of the population will still give good results – as the federal government claims – does not mean it is true. (The mandatory long-form census went to 20 per cent of the population).
About 370 professional groups and government bodies agree that all we will get from a larger survey, which will under-represent low-income Canadians, immigrants, and other marginalized groups who tend to not respond to voluntary surveys, is a very expensive, unreliable survey.
So what will we lose if the long-form census is cancelled? Governments in Canada at all levels spend a lot of money – probably in excess of a hundred billion dollars each year – on services to improve the lives of Canadians. They help pay for adult literacy programs, immigrant settlement programs, subsidized child care, affordable housing, skills training, education from kindergarten to post-doctoral studies, health services for Aboriginal communities, and much, much more.
This funding will continue to be provided to some extent, but we will lose a significant amount of our capacity to evaluate whether it is producing positive outcomes. We won’t be able to tell whether immigrants are able to use the skills and education they brought to Canada, and we won’t know whether their earnings match their education and training. We won’t know whether the general population in our community has the education needed for the jobs that are being created. We won’t know where to build subsidized child-care centres because we won’t know where people with young children and low incomes are settling. We won’t know where to set up adult English-as-a-Second-Language programs because as new immigrants settle in new neighbourhoods, we won’t know which ones they are moving to.
The loss of the long-form census is of specific interest to community foundations across Canada because of the impact it could have on their annual Vital Signs reports.
I know, because for the past four years I have been the data consultant for Waterloo Region’s Vital Signs. I have also provided consulting to many community-based planning initiatives, including a recently completed 40-year plan to reduce violence in Waterloo Region. I have done research for federal, provincial and municipal levels of government.
All of these plans and reports were heavily dependent on data directly from or dependent on the long-form census. Producing such plans and reports at their current level of comprehensiveness – or anything approximating it – will be utterly impossible.
Governments, community and other foundations, United Ways, and individual donors base their funding on identified needs in their communities. They judge the success of their efforts by measuring positive changes in the lives of those in their communities.
“My gut tells me” or “I think” are not sufficient criteria for making decisions on where to direct money to improve the lives of Canadians. We need solid information and that can only come from having solid, reliable, valid socio-demographic statistics from which to work.
Ernie Ginsler has been actively involved in community-based research and nonprofit governance as a professional and as a university faculty member for almost 40 years. He has taught at York University, the University of Waterloo, and, currently, at Wilfrid Laurier University.