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The Progressive Economics Forum

Media Storm Over Census

Here’s the media round-up from over the weekend and today’s press. You will note almost all the stories are against the Harper decision to cut the Census long-form questionnaire.

However the push-back-in-print has begun. Clark’s piece from the Province [BC] is an ode to libertarianism, and Ditchburn’s story for CP, “Census consensus among Conservatives”, offers some insights on where this thinking comes from, but oddly shows that there is no consensus among Conservative thinkers in Canada.

Overwhelmingly, though, the country is not amused with this decision, including people in Harper’s home constituency, Calgary.

Gutting of census stirs opposition to Stephen

No privacy concerns in census feedback report (Ottawa Citizen, July 10)

(UK) National census in 2011 could be last of its kind (BBC, July 10)

Britain nixes national census (Toronto Sun, July 11)

Census demand undemocratic (Edmonton Journal, July 11)

Why the census matters (Calgary Herald, July 11)

The federal government is senseless on the census (Globe & Mail editorial, July 11)

Freedom from the census busybodies feels great (Province, July 12)

Census consensus among Conservatives in Canada, UK, US (CTV, July 12)

How the census is used in Canadian Elections (, July 12)

Also on Friday (July 9) Lorne Gunter blogged on the topic on the National Post’s Full Comment site.


Enjoy and share:


Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: July 12, 2010, 8:47 am

Despite all these notes and call outs, I still do not feel those who made this decision actually get how important the census long form is to the fabric of our society and economy and situated within a framework that response rate is the utmost concern.

They just do not get it, because they have done a very poor job of gathering the information to make such decisions.

The census data runs through so much of our baseline infrastructure, which are like nails within a very large fence. The numbers are used by all side of the political and economic spectrum, and to lose any notion of the quality in such numbers is like letting more boards in the fence fall off. If anything, within a nation striving to become an information economy and society, more reliable information is a prerequisite.

You cannot get from here to there without such baseline, arterial like data.

I hope we can change their minds.


Comment from Scott A. Wolfe
Time: July 12, 2010, 9:58 am

It is encouraging to see that a number of leading economists, reseachers and organizations have called for action, and have themselves opposed the elimination of the mandatory long-form questionnaire. Thanks to the Progressive Economics Forum, CCPA and others for helping lead this important charge.

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: July 12, 2010, 10:07 am

I should also mention, that they have very little understanding over the statistical program underway at Statistics Canada.

A survey is a very complicated measurement instrument, however, like many complicated processes, there are a a few empirically grounded notions towards data creation and measurement. Mandatory surveys have a much higher response rate than voluntary surveys and hence the bias is better contained and the reliability of the data sky rockets.
I say this right now, we are better off without the survey being proposed, as all it will do is introduce a whole pile of statistical hood winking into the equation. Imputation rates will run rampant, and everything once solid, will now seem like it could at any moment- melt into the air. (sorry I could not resist)

We are not talking some small proportion of difference here. Voluntary mail out surveys are down in the 20% response range. Mandatory surveys, backed up with the follow up staff that will be deployed by the census short form, will have a response rate in the high end nearing 75-80% or even higher depending on follow up resources.

This is huge when it comes to data quality. You can have as many methodologists as you want, the best survey designers and the best plan, but my 15 years within the industry, a voluntary survey’s response can
be death to a sampling plan. You can over sample to your hearts desire, you can have follow up staff numbering in the thousands, but you are still cannot get anywhere close to what a mandatory survey can achieve.

A coordinated effort that was put together by the Statcan team to collect census data, was that which
launched Statcan into the top of the national statistical world. Which in the midst of gravitating towards the information age, gives us a leg up on making this transition.


Comment from duncan cameron
Time: July 12, 2010, 12:02 pm

Thanks for raising this issue here Armine. I seem to remember writing a strong letter to Statistics Canada protesting the “privatization” of the census. Data collection was farmed out to an American (natch) company a few years ago. At the time we assumed the initial price would skyrocket once StatCan had lost its ability to do what only they should have been doing.

Comment from Denise Kouri
Time: July 12, 2010, 1:32 pm

One of the reasons the Conservatives feel they can get away with this is because the Census long form is in the realm of social science rather than “natural” science, where they would not feel it is their right to so cavalierly lower scientific standards on the basis of some people’s opinions about being inconvenienced.

Comment from Darwin O’Connor
Time: July 14, 2010, 6:36 am

One of the reasons the Conservatives feel they can get away with this is because the Census long form is in the realm of social science rather than “natural” science, where they would not feel it is their right to so cavalierly lower scientific standards on the basis of some people’s opinions about being inconvenienced.

From what I’ve read, the Conservatives have no problem undermining “natural” science as well.

Comment from Paul Tulloch
Time: July 14, 2010, 1:13 pm

According to a report today the Privacy commission has received only a handful of complaints from the public over Statcan (see below).

So who exactly is Mr. Clement making reference to. Is it not a justification for a minister to be forced to step down fro blatantly not speaking the truth.

I think the opposition should be calling for Clements resignation, he clearly is acting on his misguided beliefs and could end up doing such harm to the baseline infrastructure of a parliamentary democracy that could see Canadian leaders from both the public and private jurisdictions lose the ability to make effective policy.

What is the price of such dictating? Is this not a democracy that we do not at least consult before making such drastic changes?

How come not one labour organization has come out with a statement on this????????

Here is a quote from a CP article today-

Despite statements by the Conservative government that they scrapped the long-form census due to widespread privacy concerns from citizens, Canada’s privacy watchdog has received just three complaints about the census in the last decade.

Their office was not consulted on the government’s decision, says Anne-Marie Heyden, spokesperson for Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart, nor did they recommend the government drop the long-form mandatory questionnaire or replace it with a voluntary one.

“If we felt that would be warranted, I think that’s something we would have recommended to them,” she said. “I do want to emphasize the fact that we have a good working relationship with StatsCan and we’ve always worked closely with them to ensure that privacy rights are respected throughout the census process.”

Over the last 20 years, the privacy commissioner has received about 50 complaints related to the census, Hayden said. Not all of those complaints were about the long-form, she said, and the number of complaints has been on a steady downward trend over the last decade.

In 1991, the commissioner heard 33 complaints, she said, and many of those were related to the types of questions asked on the census, including those about race, religion, fertility, mental and physical health and people who lived elsewhere but stayed overnight in a household. Other citizens were uncomfortable with the agency employing local enumerators because they felt their neighbours might be reviewing the information on their forms.”

Comment from Dr. Frankson
Time: July 20, 2010, 12:15 pm

The real reason Harper wants to damage the census is he knows it will show how economically devastated the country on his watch.

This would harm him politically. It’s as simple as that.

See how Obama is being hurt in the US by bad jobs numbers… Bad economic news hurts the party in power.

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