In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…among those who felt like it

I know this isn’t a big issue. I don’t expect facebook groups and protests in the streets over it. But, as someone who worked on the Census in the past, this really grates me:

Former StatsCan head slams census decision by Tories

OTTAWA – The former chief statistician of Canada says he would have quit his job if the Conservative government had tried to axe the long census form, as they’re doing now.

Ivan Fellegi, a veteran public servant who spent 51 years at Statistics Canada before retiring in 2008, says he’s alarmed by the decision to replace the long census form with a voluntary survey next year.

He joins a chorus of groups, including the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Council on Social Development and others who rely on the detailed data to make major public policy decisions.

“It would have been a heck of a lot better if this long-form census was cancelled because at least we would have saved $100 million — that would have had a rationale,” Fellegi said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“To come out with something (voluntary) that has uncertain quality, and certainly for some groups it will be unpublishable quality, is not something that I can understand.”

The mandatory short census, with its basic questions on the ages and sexes of people in a household remains unchanged. But one-third of Canadians, up from one-fifth, will now receive a voluntary “national household survey” with detailed questions on ethnicity, education and income similar to those on the long census.

The cost of the change could reach $30 million, says Statistics Canada: $5 million for the additional mailout, and $25 million in case there is a major problem in getting people to respond.

The problem is that once you make the form voluntary, the sample becomes self-selecting, losing its randomness and, by consequence, its representativeness. The bottom line is that certain types of people will be more likely to fill out their form, skewing the results.

You’ll get far more accurate data from 1/5 of all households than you will from the 1/3 of all households that bother to complete their form. It’s the same reason why you get better data from a scientific telephone poll of 1,000 Canadians, than you do from the 10,000 people who vote on the Globe and Mail’s web poll.

Census data is used for everything from municipal governments deciding where to build schools, to entrepreneurs deciding where to open up new restaurants. Making the long form voluntary will compromise the data used to make thousands of public and private sector decisions.

Yeah, I know data collection isn’t sexy. But it’s important. This decision needs to be reviewed.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Federal Politics

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at and online at the National Post.

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