Census numbers don’t add up

I recently had the very brief pleasure of filling out the 2011 census. I usually look forward to new census data. Truth be told, I am a bit of a numbers nerd. I’ve always found it fascinating browsing through all of the data available on the Statistics Canada website. Yes, sometimes just for fun. No, seriously.

I recently had the very brief pleasure of filling out the 2011 census. I usually look forward to new census data. Truth be told, I am a bit of a numbers nerd. I’ve always found it fascinating browsing through all of the data available on the Statistics Canada website. Yes, sometimes just for fun. No, seriously.

This time around, however, will be different.

I’m sure most readers know that the Harper Government ordered the replacement of the mandatory long-form census with a voluntary questionnaire. There was the usual outraged response in the major media. The chief statistician quit in protest. Then everyone forgot about it a week later, an election happened, and suddenly here we are with a curious mandatory short-form census, and a voluntary household questionnaire that will very likely face a limited response from the demographics that would most benefit from responding – namely those with low income, the mentally ill, recent immigrants, and other marginalized people.

Previously, one in five households had to fill out the long form census, under threat of fines and jail time. A little harsh, to be sure, but as any good policy maker will tell you, it’s easier to legislate than to convince.

Now, one in three are being asked to maybe – if it’s not too much trouble – fill out the survey, if they feel like it. Statistics Canada officials are optimistically stating they expect a 50 per cent return rate on the voluntary survey. To quote Wayne Campbell, yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.

So why does the census matter? Well, Captain Obvious tells me that the lower the percentage of people that respond to the questionnaire, the less accurate (and useful) it becomes. More specifically, the census is used by governments decide where  to spend your money. Non-profits use census data for the same reason. If they don’t know who really needs help and where those people are, they can’t effectively offer help. The data is also used to analyze what’s been done already. Accurate and extensive census data is one of the most efficient ways to truly tell whether our tax dollars are being used effectively.

At there will be some very precise information coming from the short-form census. Aside from the name, age and address questions, there were several interesting and oddly specific queries that stood out a bit from the other questions asked.

So if you’ve been wondering for years where all the gay French farmers are living, rest assured, the 2011 short-form census has you covered.

Jon Muldoon writes Mulling it Over and Wilderness Man.

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