IASSIST letter to Canadian Government on loss of 2011 Census long form

By robin | October 5, 2010

Industry Canada Office of the Honourable Tony Clement Minister of Industry C.D. Howe Building 235 Queen Street Ottawa, ON K1A 0H5                                25 July 2010

Dear Minister Clement

We write on behalf of the International Association of Social Science Information Services and  Technology.    IASSIST is an international organization of professionals working in and with information technology and data services to support research and teaching in the social sciences. Its 300 members are from a variety of workplaces, including data archives, statistical agencies, research centers, libraries, academic departments, government departments, and non-profit organizations.

We respectfully express our concern about the recent decision of the Canadian Federal Government to eliminate the long-form questionnaire as part of the 2011 Census of Population. We encourage the Government of Canada to put this decision on hold, and engage in an open dialogue about the value of the Census.   Data from the Census Long Form are unique, and are a critical source of information related to evidenced based policy development, not only within Canada but beyond.  

In our organization we are exposed to data gathering from many countries and we have seen many good decisions and we have seen many poor decisions.  It is not always clear up front what the long term implications may be.   It is safe to say that Statistics Canada, and Canada in general, are looked up to in terms of the wealth of information available, the participation rate of the citizenry and the privacy framework around survey data.  That is not to say all is perfect, but there is certainly something valuable, that is worth protecting. We have watched many thoughtful comments being made around the importance of the long form census in Canada.  Canada needs to ensure that they make the right decision, because if you eliminate the 2011 long form, you cannot go back and replace it.  It will be lost forever.

IASSIST can offer comment on a few key issues:

•    There are several international projects linking census data across countries, that allow for a rich comparison.   We are concerned that if Canada eliminates the Long Form Questionnaire, it will become much more difficult to make these comparisons, and Canada will be left behind.  In addition many post-census surveys in Canada rely on the Census Sampling Frame.  Without the long form, this sampling frame will not be available, and we will see an erosion of other valuable Canadian surveys.

•    IASSIST questions the validity of the voluntary National Household Survey replacement survey.  From a methodological point of view, a voluntary survey cannot substitute for a mandatory census due to uneven response rates among various subgroups of the population.  A larger sample size will not solve this fundamental problem; indeed, a mandatory census of the entire population is the only survey where citizens from all socio-economic groupings are sampled and the quality of the information is maximized.

•    The fact that there was no consultation with the community around this critical decision is also of concern to IASSIST.   Although we understand there was an open public consultation around the 2011 census, we are disappointed there was never any indication that there would be no long form.  From a distance we have seen a significant expression of concerns, from  both the public and the private sector, and this suggests a need for more dialogue.

•    The protection of an individual’s privacy is a significant issue in all countries, and Statistics Canada is one of the most respected institutions in the world when it comes to protecting the privacy of survey respondents.  Canada is in an enviable position when it comes to the survey response rate of it’s citizens.  We see this as a direct reflection of the trust that the general public places in the institution.  For the government to jeopardize this trust, in such a public forum is irresponsible and of great concern to us.

The  Census is unique, and a recognized building block for creating evidence-based public policy.  We feel strongly that there needs to be more dialogue before undertaking the irreversible decision of eliminating the long form.   The impacts will be far reaching, beyond the census itself.  Eliminating Canada 2011 long form census will erode Canada’s ability to participate in international comparative analysis and will leave Canada at a disadvantage relative to other countries.  

Yours sincerely,

Melanie F. Wright President International Association for Social Science Information Service and Technology

William C. Block Vice President International Association for Social Science Information Service and Technology

c.c.   Industry Science and Technology Committee —-. http://www2.parl.gc.ca/CommitteeBusiness/CommitteeMembership.aspx?Cmte=INDU&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3 The Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper;  Opposition critics for Industry Canada :  Robert Bouchard (Bloc); Marc Garneau (Liberal); Brian Masse (NDP)