After ten years, the mandatory long-form census is back.
Cancelled by the Harper government in 2006, the Trudeau government reinstated it when they were re-elected in 2015.
That means 1 in 4 Canadian households will receive the 36-page survey, while others will receive the shorter version census, which is ten-pages long. Both the short-form and long-form census are mandatory.
Census goes digital
Today, most Canadians can expect to receive a yellowish envelope in the mail. It will give details of the online census, and a secure access code. Paper copies will only be mailed out upon request.
Geoff Bowlby is the Director General of Collection and Regional Services at Statistics Canada. He joined Jon McComb to talk about why the long-form census is such an important tool for Canadians.
How the census is used
Bowlby says with the return of the long-form census, we’ll get far more detailed information that is invaluable to communities.
“Back in 2011 when we ran it a as voluntary survey – it was called the National Household Survey – it had the same content as the current mandatory long form. We didn’t have response rates that were high enough to be able to publish data at the sub-provincial level: for smaller communities, for parts of cities, for smaller population groups.”
With the return of the mandatory requirement, they’re expecting they’ll be able to produce those data again. The data is then used by municipalities, provincial governments, and the federal government in determining the appropriate services and service levels in communities we all live in.
“So for example, if you’re a municipality and you’re designing bus routes, you’re going to look at the long-form place-of-work information, compare that against the information on where people live to see where are the commuting patterns, and how can we optimize the bus routes. Also we may need this information for the location of schools and the placement of a fire station or a police station.”
Statistics Canada collects the information and then produces statistical tables for the country, province, municipalities and neighbourhoods, which summarizes the situation in that part of the country.
This information is available to anyone once it’s been completed, including private business.
Is my individual survey available to anyone to see?
No, the individual questionnaires are completely confidential and no one, excepting StatCan employees, have access to the data.
How long is it?
The long form is about 30 or 40 questions in addition to the ten questions on the short form.
“Yes it takes some time, but our view is it is providing us with essential information. The census data that is provided to StatCan forms the very basic data backbone of the federal government, provincial governments and municipal governments.”
- Place of birth
- EthnicityPhysical disabilities
- Health conditions
- Employment, such as hours and time worked
- Childcare arrangements
- Commuting habits
- Housing costs and housing characteristics, such as number of bedrooms and age of the dwelling
See all of the long-form census questions here.
Why is it mandatory?
The more people who respond, the better the quality of data, says Bowlff.
“We do have many voluntary surveys at StatCan by the way, but an important survey like the census – the important use of the information justifies its mandatory status.”
Bowby says after the 2011 National Survey, which was voluntary, StatCan couldn’t produce data for some parts of the country and some components of the population, because they didn’t have sufficient enough data.
“The lower the response rate on any survey or on a census, the lower the quality of the information. And we have thresholds for quality at StatCan, we cut off or suppress the publication of the data if it goes below a certain threshold.”
He says they’re expecting to having a much higher rate of return now that it’s mandatory, and hopes they’ll be able to start publishing that information again.
What about privacy and data breaches?
Statistics Canada is governed by laws that forbid the department from releasing the information to anyone else.
“In our surveys, such as the census, what we’re doing always is promising the absolute confidentiality of the information that comes back.”