Friday, January 30, 2015

"Damage from cancelled census as bad as feared, researchers say"

On the front page of today's issue of Toronto's The Globe and Mail was Tavia Grant's article reporting that the scrapping of the long-form census once collected by Statistics Canada, ordered by the Canadian federal government for inscrutable reasons of its own, has really caused a lot of damage.
The cancellation of the mandatory long-form census has damaged research in key areas, from how immigrants are doing in the labour market to how the middle class is faring, while making it more difficult for cities to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely, planners and researchers say.

Statistics Canada developed a voluntary survey after Ottawa cancelled the long-form census in 2010. Many had warned that the switch would mean lower response rates and policies based on an eroded understanding of important trends. Now researchers – from city planners to public health units – say they have sifted through the 2011 data and found it lacking.

Their comments come as a private member’s bill to reinstate the mandatory long-form census will be debated in the House of Commons Thursday. The bill, expected to be voted on next week, has slim odds of passing, given the Conservative majority. But it is drawing attention to the impact of the switch, which has created difficulties in determining income-inequality trends, housing needs and whether low-income families are getting adequate services.

The impact isn’t just on researchers. Cities, such as Toronto, say it’s become more expensive and requires more staffing to obtain data that’s of lower quality. The key areas of concern are tracking long-term shifts and understanding what’s going on at the neighbourhood level.

The last census in 2011 cost a total of $652-million, including an extra $22-million due to the change to the voluntary National Household Survey. The total budget for the 2016 census won’t be decided until February or March, Statscan has said. But the current plan is to hold another voluntary survey. All told, 35,000 people will be hired for this effort.

The article goes on to describe groups and cities and provinces and economic classes with specific needs which can't be met by the low-quality data collected in place of the long-form census. I quite like the observation made in the final paragraph of Grant's article.

Sara Mayo, social planner at the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, says the result of the census changes has been less data for more money. “In terms of fiscal prudence, this made no sense. Why would any government want to pay more for worse-quality data?”

1 comment:

Brett said...

That's Stephen Harper's MO: damage the enforcement mechanisms and data collection for anything that might lead to policies you don't support.

I remember when his government suddenly cut off funding for a lot of libraries of wildlife/forestry/ecological data, causing much of it to be thrown - presumably because it would make it easier to sell environmental damage in Alberta if nobody had a good idea of what conditions were like before the damage started.