Statistics Canada (mandatory long-form census)
The long-form Census was abolished by the Harper government despite protests from all sectors of society and testimony from the country’s two most senior statisticians, who claimed that the voluntary census will result in “useless” data.
On June 28, 2010, the Harper government replaced the mandatory long-form census with a voluntary National Household Survey.
The government's justification was that it wanted to “protect privacy,” but all the data is depersonalized for statistical purposes, meaning that it cannot be traced to any individual. The Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, had called StatsCan’s protection of privacy exemplary.
The abolition of the mandatory long-form census contradicted advice from experts and professionals, including statisticians, economists, business people, doctors, lawyers, police officers, faith groups, anti-poverty groups and advocates for linguistic minorities. Economists and statisticians spoke up for the value and integrity of the long-form census, and warned against the biases that would occur in a voluntary survey.
The Canadian Medical Association was alarmed by the abolition of the mandatory long-form census, saying the decision would negatively affect the collection and use of health information.
The business sector had long opposed such a decision, and actually quashed a previous attempt to get rid of the long-form census by the Progressive Conservative government in 1986.
Faith-based organisations, non-profit groups, and Aboriginal and Francophone groups all spoke out in support of the mandatory long-form census, and against the effects that its elimination would have on religious, linguistic and cultural minorities, as well as economically disadvantaged Canadians.
Both the Canadian and Quebec Bar Associations oppose the abolition of the mandatory long-form census, in part because the loss of robust statistical data makes it more difficult to develop evidence-based arguments in equality law cases under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and hampers Canada's ability to meet its international human rights law commitments.
The head of Statistics Canada, Dr. Munir Sheikh, resigned in protest in 2010 when his opposition to the move was mischaraterized by the government.
In the end, 69.3% of respondents filled out the voluntary survey, confirming that Statistics Canada would not have the information necessary to conduct accurate critical assessments of Canada's economic and social needs. The volutary survey is now distributed to only a third of households, meaning it is based on answers from only a fifth of the population.
In 2012, StatsCan's high-profile chief economic analyst Phil Cross resigned too, saying that internal debate at Statscan was being suppressed in relation to questions about the long form census.
Canada’s Constitution sets out a legal requirement for a census and places this responsibility in federal jurisdiction. Statistical information provided through a mandatory census is a low-cost source of reliable and robust information about how our society works. It helps us reliably pinpoint trends, areas of concern and it informs policy decisions to make sure that we have the information to make accurate decisions.
Reliable statistical information about all parts of society also supports government decisions to fight poverty and reduce the marginalization of disadvantaged groups. Measuring equality requires good, long-term and repeated data in order to determine if we are making progress. Without it, we simply don’t know.
International experts have sounded the alarm about the lack of independence of Canada’s Statistical agency.
- 1986: The Progressive Conservative government tries to abolish the long-form census, but this attempt fails.
- 28 June 2010: The Harper government replaced the mandatory long-form with a voluntary National Household Survey. This move was condemned by many experts and professionals, in the public as well as the private sector.
- 21 July 2010: Dr. Munir Sheikh, the head of Statistics Canada resigns in protest, when his opposition to the abolishment of the long-form census is mischaracterised by the government.
- 1 February 2012: Phil Cross, Statistics Canada chief economic analyst resigns, claiming that internal debate in Statistics Canada was being suppressed on the topic of the long-form census.
Role or Position
Statistics Canada produces statistics that help Canadians better understand their country - its population, resources, economy, society and culture. It provides accurate and reliable information. Over the decades, Stascan has gained a reputation as one of the most reliable sources of statistical information in the world, thanks in part to its mandatory long-form census.
Implications and Consequences
- Free Speech and Transparency: Internal questions from Statscan staff about the quality and distribution of the responses from the voluntary survey are limited by Statscan management’s insistence on presenting the voluntary survey as a success.
- Free Speech: Erosion of informed, democratic debate based on reliable data.
- Democracy: Negative impact on the ability of governments, businesses, police forces, and others to do their job.
- Transparency: Loss of policy-relevant, objective, reliable and robust data about the state of Canadian society.
- Equality: Inability to meet international requirements to provide evidence of progressive realization of economic and social rights.
- Equality: Loss of our ability to track progress in equality rights on issues such as education and housing.