Least Shocking Headline: Our Government Ignored Data about the Census

Since the resignation of Deputy Minister Munir Sheikh and his public repudiation of voluntary long form census it has become clear that Industry Minister Clement has – at best – been misleading the public about the advice he received from statscan.

Now more evidence has emerged showing how the Government was well informed about the significant problems their plan would create. As Steven Chase of the Globe and Mail writes:

For instance, the real 2006 census long-form found that renting households as a percentage of the population in Canada had dropped by 3.08 percentage points from the 2001 census.

But when the Statscan study simulated the results of a voluntary 2006 long-form – which reflect the lower response rates expected in optional surveys – it got a markedly different answer. Calculations instead indicated that rented dwellings in Canada as a share of the population declined by 8.07 percentage points from 2001.

The difference – nearly five percentage points – suggests a voluntary survey in 2006 would have massively undercounted renting households.

So a mere 150% difference. Which, of course, might affect how every city in Canada considered zoning issues and adjust policies around the housing and rentals stock.

Again, if the Government wants to scrap the long-form census, that’s their prerogative. And I suppose we can’t be surprised that a government that wants less data and information to inform decisions would ignore data that showed them the negative consequence of their proposal. I mean, when you’ve already decided evidence doesn’t matter in crime policy, health policy and a myriad of other issues, you aren’t suddenly going to decide the collecting evidence is important…

But if that is your conclusion, stick with it! Don’t lie to me and the Canadian public and claim it won’t have a dramatic impact on the quality of data the Government collects or an impact on how policy and services for Canadians are affected.

And, of course, given how sensitive the decision is, and how it will cascade down and impact businesses, non-profits, local, provincial and federal government decision making, I wish we’d had a chance to debate the merits of it before the decision was made. Who knows, such a debate might not have just saved the long form census, it might have save government a 10-point decline in the polls.

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