07.16.2010 02:36 AM

Here comes the Long Form Census Election!

One of the nice fellows from The Mark came and interviewed me again yesterday. Topic du jour: the shocking scandal surrounding the Census Long Form thing!

Get ready for the election campaign on this crucial, critical issue: it’ll make the Free Trade election of 1988 look positively trivial in comparison!  It’s the issue everyone is talking about!

UPDATE: Some Lib friends have genially disagreed with me, saying they don’t understand what I’m so worried about.  Fair enough. A sampling, found here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.  I could go on. Other Grits may favour the Conservative government collecting and disseminating highly personal information about them; this one doesn’t.  Just as I don’t trust Facebook to protect private data, I don’t trust sloppy bureaucracies, either.


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    Jeff P says:

    Sorry Warren but you could not be more wrong on this one, and I’m frankly surprised that you aren’t seeing right through what these guys are doing.

    The data that the census collects is absolutly critical to the development of social and economic programs across the country. It drives planning in health care, urban development, education, transportation, and a wide range of other policy fields.

    Eliminating the random nature of the long form dramatically weakens its effectiveness. Are you even listening to the policy developers out there? The Conservatives are getting rid of the census to ensure that we don’t have the data necessary to plan effective long term social and economic policy. It’s yet another way they are limiting the capacity of the government to resopnd to critical policy needs.

    Canadians should be very afraid of losing this critical resource.

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      Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Jeff P,

      At first blush, I’m with you.

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    Martin says:

    I agree with you that it would be stupid to fight an election on this one…really, M et Mme Sixpack could not possibly care less, and supporting a mandatory government form is no way to win friends.

    But it really is important to the country’s back-office infrastructure. There’s a reason that no other rich/western/etc. country fails to collect this stuff in this way. The long form is the only way that we know the quality of all the other surveys, etc. that are done. And it’s usually those at the low end of things who are missed on voluntary surveys- recent immigrants, low income folks, Aboriginal peoples, resulting in falsely higher income estimates, and lower measured inequality.

    Not a problem for those who don’t think inequality is something governments should be concerned about. Not so good for those of us who do.

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    smelter rat says:

    Filling out the long form is the equivalent of jury duty. To toss this out is insanely short sighted. It is the basic framework of all services provided to Canadians by federal, provincial and municipal governments. Doing away with this data may simply be a short sighted pandering to the Reform base, but more likely it is the first step in privatizing this sort of data collection.

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    Sandra says:

    Talk about a “Republican” strategy tactic. The very right wing in the US are fighting against the Census, British PM, David Cameron is planning the same thing (Frank Luntz was an adviser in Cameron’s campaign.

    This is a Republican “wedgie” folks. Not made in Canada – made in the USA.

    Harper doesn’t like to be proven wrong with facts – so he’s going to eliminate it.


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    Heather says:

    I think Susan Delacourt is the one asking the right question on this one. Of course the Cons don’t care about the census – they’ve got their own means of data collection! Why would they care about making Canada the only country with a voluntary portion to their census? And the giant waste of money it will be? Meh. After the summits, what’s another hundred million? But all of those points, while relevant, don’t scare me as much as Delacourt’s question:

    “Who do you trust more with your information — a political party or government statisticians?”

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      Warren says:

      Fair enough. I just have read too many stories, over the years, about “private health records found in dumpster in [fill in Canadian city]” to be sanguine about the process. Sorry.

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        Jeff P says:

        Thata could be a legitimate concern Warren. But why don’t we start that discussion AFTER you’ve told us the last time that there was a private information lead from STATS CANADA.

        I dealt with Ivan Fellegi for years when he was Chief Statistician, and I can tell you that there was no one in Canada more passionate about safeguarding privacy than him. He knew at his core that it was critical to the quality of the census.

        So I’ll chime in again after you’ve dug up that tid bit about a STATS CAN privacy error.

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          Warren says:

          Chretien to probe jobless leak
          Financial Post news services
          643 words
          9 April 1994
          The Financial Post
          (Copyright The Financial Post)
          Prime Minister Jean Chretien said Friday heads will roll over the leak of unemployment figures half a day early, while some economists said the news helped strengthen the C$.

          Chretien said in Vancouver the government is investigating, adding that if he learns the perpetrator’s name, he or she will be looking for a new job.

          Chretien insisted his government gained no advantage from the early release of the information, saying he personally gets such data the day before it is released to the public.

          Bank of Montreal chief economist Lloyd Atkinson said his currency traders called late Thursday afternoon to report rumors that the March unemployment rate would fall to 10.6% in March from 11.1% in February.

          The C$ moved to US72.31 cents late Thursday from US72.10 cents early in the session. It closed Friday at US72.28 cents.

          Statistics Canada released its March report at 7 a.m. EDT on Friday, and it showed unemployment did drop to 10.6%. Statistics Canada chief statistician Ivan Fellegi said he believed the leak occurred after financial markets closed Thursday. StatCan distributes employment data to officials in several government offices 18 hours before the scheduled release. Fellegi said he would like to fine the person responsible and see he or she receives appropriate punishment. Sylvia Ostry, chairman of the University of Toronto’s Centre for International Studies and chief statistician in the early 1970s, said the reports of a government leak of the data are ”astonishing.” ”The agency provides fundamental information … and to abuse it in any way strikes at a fundamental national asset. It risks undermining the credibility of an institution that provides a key resource.”

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            Jeff P says:

            Sorry Warren.

            No leak of personal information here. And this is even 16 years old

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            Warren says:

            Look, this is just my view. And I’m not your personal researcher. If you don’t like what you read here, go elsewhere, please.

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            b-y says:

            Warren, that story is about a premature release of aggregated employment data – and the leak may not have come from Statscan. No privacy issue there….

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            Warren says:

            Census privacy raises urban ire: ‘People gossip’
            Robert Remington
            National Post
            536 words
            5 June 2001
            National Post
            (c) National Post 2001. All Rights Reserved.

            CALGARY – Census workers with access to confidential information on their neighbours is not just a rural problem, according to people in urban centres upset that acquaintances know their detailed personal information.

            “The process stinks,” says Ruth Harper, of Toronto, whose local census representative lives in the 151-unit high-rise apartment building she manages.

            Susan Aiken, an accountant from Mississauga, Ont., is also concerned that a neighbour who lives eight houses away has access to her confidential census information.

            Last week, an Alberta rancher complained to his MP when a neighbour he sees twice a week contacted him because his long census form was not complete.

            Statistics Canada, which runs the national census, says it attempts to find local census enumerators who do not live in the area they canvas, but admits it is difficult to do so in rural areas and small towns.

            “It’s not just a rural problem,” Ms. Harper says. “Here we have a census representative living in the same building.”

            The country’s 35,000 part-time census workers not only distribute and collect census forms, but also edit forms for accuracy. If the forms are incomplete, they are expected to contact the person involved.

            That concerns Ms. Harper and Ms. Aiken, who agree with Alberta rancher Grey Alexander that follow-ups should be done by anonymous bureaucrats.

            About 2.4 million “long forms” containing detailed personal information on Canadians are being used in the 2001 census. About 60% of long forms, or 1.4 million, come back incomplete, according to Jerry Page, a StatsCan spokesman. Regional StatsCan offices are not capable of handling that volume, Mr. Page said yesterday.

            Local census workers take an oath of confidentiality, but Ms. Harper says that is not good enough when dealing with people you know personally.

            “Three months from now, or six months or nine months, what if somebody inadvertently reveals something? If it is handled by some bureaucrat in another city, that is unlikely to happen.”

            “People gossip,” Ms. Aiken said.

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            Namesake says:

            Ok, but this is the only StatCan breach — and still just a potential one, at that — that you’ve ID’d that actually involves identifiable personal data as opposed to violating the embargo on the date of release of aggregate LF data that constitues a type of insider trading.

            And the solution is identified in the article: don’t use local people for the follow-up of the people who need help filling out the data (and implement & enforce a better conflict of interest policy about not gathering the detailed info from people you actually know & live near.)

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            Warren says:

            Hey, look, it’s only my view. If you guys are so frigging exercised about it, picket Tony Clement’s riding office or something.

            I have always felt it was intrusive, and I do not believe every person in government – and pretty much every one of them handles our personal data, in one way or another – is as careful with our personal data as they should be.

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            WJM says:

            I am old enough to remember the Reformers making a lot of hay about the “intrusiveness” of the census in the run-up to the 1996.

            And WK is from Calgary.

            Just sayin’.

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            Warren says:

            Good Lord! And has anyone ever seen Warren and Preston Manning in the same room at the same time? Ever?

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            allegra fortissima says:

            Nope – but wait until he comes to your apartment with the long census form and handcuffs!

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            WJM says:

            Maybe not a literal same room, but guess what? you’re now sharing a metaphorical one.

            Just sayin’.

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            Ronald O'Dowd says:


            Thanks for staying in fine form even if you’re no fan of the long form! W has his view which we all respect. Others share his opinion and another group view it differently.

            What should be common to all of us is to express our respective opinions through the ballot box. We urgently need for Canadians to get off their asses and make each vote count. Canada will be the better for it.

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            Aurelia says:


            I worked on the census, years ago, and know exactly what they are talking about…..and not one soul EVER gossiped. They just don’t. If you actually knew the process they go through in the office….the procedures of followup, the care and thoughtfulness….I was amazed at what I saw. Everyone double checking, triple checking security procedures. I am not a fan of many government departments, frankly, if you want to fire entire departments in government, I can point you to some absolutely terrifying ones. Border Services to start with.

            But not StatsCan. They really are the most honourable decent civil servants I have ever had the privilege to work with.

            They are not sloppy, they are absolutely dedicated, precise, considerate decent people.

            For example, there are specific reasons why people who live nearby followup on forms. For example, did you know that many urban and poor people, don’t have phones? Or internet access? So how do you survey them unless you knock on their door? A long distance bureaucrat can’t get to them. And local people, know where to find illegal immigrants and count them without fear of reporting to CIC.

            StatsCan in fact, is one of the few agencies on earth who can accurately count and track homeless people, the disabled, those who speak other languages, and those who aren’t willing to speak to other govt agencies. They are world reknowned. I never believed it until I worked on the census, but then I did.

            I am proud I was a StatsCan employee.

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          Warren says:

          Your Mr. Fellegi:

          Leak of information sparks investigation at Statistics Canada
          418 words
          8 February 1986
          The Globe and Mail
          All material copyright Thomson Canada Limited or its licensors. All rights reserved.
          The Globe and Mail


          Canada’s chief statistician is investigating a rare leak of secret unemployment rate information, an incident that one Liberal MP blames on a publicity-seeking Government.

          Statistics Canada head Ivan Fellegi said the leak, which came the night before opposition politicians and the public were told the latest jobless rate, is “a very serious matter.”

          Confidentiality is needed to protect Statistics Canada from any pressure to change its findings to suit political needs, or from any appearance of such pressure, Mr. Fellegi said in an interview.

          “Obviously we don’t do that (change data),” he said. ”Nevertheless, we want to be quite sure that impression is scotched. Also . . . information is an important commodity and we want to make sure that it’s available at the same time to everybody.”

          Mr. Fellegi said he wants to find out the circumstances of the leak and tighten procedures to avoid another such incident.

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            Jeff P says:


            1. Still no personal data.
            2. Fellegi was the INVESTIGATOR, not the leaker.

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            Loraine Lamontagne says:

            So? Will the confidentiality of a lesser-quality set of data be better protected because it is gathered from a considerably larger group of volunteers than it would be under a mandatory census?

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            WJM says:

            Having trouble with the concept of aggregated data?

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            Jan says:

            How does cancelling the mandatory long form prevent a leak like this?

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            James Bow says:

            Warren, this is also pretty old. If you are trying to draw a parallel between a government department and a wildly successful computer start-up company, you’ve lost me. Statistics Canada has been in the business for decades. I have far more confidence in their ability to keep things private than I do with a company that’s about as old as my first born child.

            If the latest example you can find is four years away from being able to vote, I would argue that your man Chretien did the job right, cleaned out the department, and made Statistics Canada something that you can be proud of.

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        Heather says:

        Agreed, but my concern would be with fixing privacy issues instead of screwing over those who rely on the stats by making the form voluntary.

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        Ronald O'Dowd says:


        Agreed. But one must also note that mandatory shredding has not exactly been universally adopted by the private sector…lazy and incredibly stupid knows no sectoral bounds…

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      Namesake says:

      Re: Further to Heather’s linking this to Delacourt’s article & pt. about the Con’s having a far more detailed database for their own nefarious purposes…

      Here’s another article on that describing “the most detailed electoral data on Canadians ever assembled by a political party.”


      I really think this is Harper’s main reason for doing this: wanting to weaken the quality of the Census as a datamining, vote- & fund-getting tool. Cuz they have the best thing going don’t need it, and this will hobble the opp. when they’ll need it the most (after the vote subsidy gets killed).

      And they really don’t give two hoots about privacy: ‘cuz as others have pointed out on some other sites,

      1) the voluntary long form census is still asking all those impertinent q’s, & StatCan will still be hounding people to provide the answers (only without the most effective tool — a threat of sanctions — to do so); &

      2) most of the data collection the CPC has done for its uber-database has been done w/o people’s explicit consent — it’s added when someone filld out one of the pseudo-surveys on the 10%’rs, e.g.

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    Gerry Calderwood says:

    Srry Warren, on this I agree with jeff P. When groups as diverse as CJC, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, United Way, CMA and so many others all say the samke ting well like Farber said in today’s Star you really got to wonder.

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      Warren says:

      I like and have friends at many of those places, but I disagree.

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    ktron says:

    – Martin says:
    >But it really is important to the country’s back-office infrastructure.

    So it’s really just an employment program?

    – Jeff P says:
    > The data that the census collects is absolutly critical to the development of social and economic programs >across the country. It drives planning in health care, urban development, education, transportation,
    >and a wide range of other policy fields.

    Hmm, reads like a list of all the things that people of all political stripes would say are not functioning properly. If our policies on those issues are developed from long form census data, perhaps it is time to nix that data and get a better read some other way?

    Why does all the “pro long form” rhetoric come up so empty? How about a history of long form data collection charted against the success of our policies developed from it? (and no including pre-existing trends as part of the benefit of data collection)

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      Jeff P says:

      So tell me, how do you find trends without collecting data.

      Just saying

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        ktron says:

        Data collecting is fine, but there is no clear indication that mandatory long-form census is a valid, or even accurate way to do it. The arguments in its favour seem to centre on keeping lots well-paid bees busy: perhaps those people would be better employed on the streets dealing with the issues instead of behind computers developing policy about them?

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          Jeff P says:

          First of all, the study of Statistics is the study of how to use samples to create an accurate picture of an entire population. There are guys with Ph.Ds on how to properly use good data and extrapolate the results to the population. That’s what Stats Canada has been doing for a century now.

          You have not seen one argument from me or anyone else about the need to keep people employed. That just drives by the point. The census tells us where the poor live, how many people speak minority languages, what level of education the population has. Policy developers need sound data to make good decisions. Every good public program you have ever used (EI, CPP, OAS, GIS, Welfare, public transit, garbage collection, urban development) have all started with good sound information on the profile of Canadian communities. Without this basic information we can not develop good policy.

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          Jan says:

          But it’s going to cost more (i.e. more bees) to do it Clement’s way.

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    Greg says:

    StatsCan has a pretty good track record for maintaining privacy. I trust them a lot more than I trust various corporations such as insurance companies, large retailers or credit rating services who sell my information without my permission or knowledge. Can you remember a data breach from StatsCan?

    It isn’t the move itself that bothers me, its the crass political calculation that the mouthbreathers in the CPC will say “Great!”, and the opposition to it will be characterized as pointy-headed academics, “bureaucrats” (whatever those are, apart from being Enemies of the State) or social engineers.
    Agree, not a ballot issue, ever, sadly.

    The Harper Government: Welcome to decision-making in a fact-free zone!

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    JH says:

    Right on WK! How many horror stories have we heard (in NS most recently) about Rev Canada folks looking up personal info on people, exs and enemies. Some silly servants even do it for pay – lady in Auto Que. selling info to Hell’s Angels was also recent story. PLus all you had to do was hear Greg Weston’s personal tale on P&P this week to know this is a good decision.

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    JH says:

    PS somehow my comment ended up in the wrong slot – but you get my point I’m sure.

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    jenjen says:

    I work in the epidemiology field and we use the census information all the time. While it may not be an issue at bus stops and Tim Hortons it is absolutely something which is going to harm research in the life sciences, health care policy, social sciences and economics right across the country.

    To claim that this decision is about government wanting to protect privacy is pure hogwash. Governments collect all kinds of information, a lot of it more sensitive than the census, due to the services they deliver. While this makes some uncomfortable it is a part of the 20th century reality – how can the government collect taxes and deliver services without compiling information on Canadians? The real ethical question revolves around the safety and security of administrative databases in governments. The actual physical security from hacking as well as illegitimate and invasive use of the databases at an individual level by different parties including political forces. There is a drastic need for a better framework to govern how data is allowed to be gathered, disseminated and analyzed. This framework needs to incorporate the ability to develop and maintain effective databases and information in a way that can be used to improve the way services are delivered and analyzed through ethically sound practices.

    Warren, in my experience, governments and their bureaucracies have a selective view of privacy when it comes to databases and surveys. When politically embarrassing matters abound (e.g. the poor functioning of a government services) – top civil servants and their political masters speak with moral authority about protecting privacy by restricting data outflows. However when it suits their own purposes they are supportive of more open data policies.

    Make no mistake this change to the methodology of the long form census will harm the validity of data for all kinds of academic research. There is a strange paradox to data policies of government – not just the Harper government and not just the federal government. Since the Chretien years, Canada has sought to expand our research capacity in the area of informatics. We see these efforts through targeted expenditures at CFI, CIHR etc. This was done in an effort to build Canadas research infrastructure up to the base standards of countries like the UK, Australia, Scandinavia, Israel and even the US (see the Open Data Policy of Obama) who are frankly light years ahead of us in these areas. On the other hand, the absolute lack of leadership in Canada towards developing a framework for open access to data with ethical standards at Research Ethics Boards have simply never materialized. Policy decisions such as this one, done largely on a whim without any logic, remind many working in informatics research that Canadian governments operate proudly and defiantly in the information dark age.

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      Warren says:

      Thanks for the very thoughtful response. Much appreciated.

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        Andrew says:

        Most of the data we need is already collected by the government both Federally, Provincially and municipally. Your age, sex and martial status are all on your taxes. If you are collecting any type of grant or subsidy, the government has that information about you as well. If you have a collecting the educational grant or claiming dependents on your income tax, the government knows the age and number of children you have. CRA has more information about you and your family than any other government agency. (And are the most powerful to boot.)

        Your drivers license and the health card are also chuck full of information that the provincial government collects on you.

        Municipal government has your address, the value of your home, the property taxes you pay, your income level (if you are applying for subsidies), which services you access and how much garbage you generate (at least in Toronto).

        If all this information is already circulating and held by governments, then why must it be collected again and again by Statistics Canada? Stats Can should just go over to the CRA and crunch all the numbers.

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          Namesake says:

          so it’s not privacy issue at all — the various gov’ts should just chuck the privacy laws out the window & pool all the data — just about cost and bother? Except that the gov’t’s arguing it is about privacy, and they’re committed to spending $300-M to do more follow-up which will be needed once there’s no threat of sanctions & the long forms are strictly voluntary.

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          WJM says:

          In other words, you would like concerns about census confidentiality to be addressed by having government departments share more of the confidential information they’ve collected about you with one another?

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          Jeff P says:

          It has to be collected again because in order to be statistically relevant youo need to meet standards to ensure that a comprehensive picture of Canada is taken.

          How many of us have ever applied for a government grant (ie, not EI, CPP etc..) Is that really a representative sample?

          The root of all of this is that the Conservatives don’t want us to have the social and economic data we need to continue to build and modernize Canada’s social safety net and public policy framework.

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            Andrew says:

            Its important to know how many toilets are in my house. Is my bathroom part of a future social safety net?

            You apply for various government grants by virtue of filing your taxes, i.e. gst rebates, child tax credits, the list goes on and on. If you read your notice of assessment it will state what you qualify for, etc.

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            jenjen says:

            A lot of the information collected with health card numbers and tax filer information is a lot different than the stuff captured by long form census. They will ask information not captured in a lot of these databases.
            As per why databases have not been better merged together. In my view its got to do with with the issue of custody/ownership of data. In the US the Obama gov’t have stated that administrative data is not ‘owned’ by a specific department or anybody regardless of where the custodial management is. This means that gov’t departments cant fight each other over turf battles, rather common data policies much be pursued and there is a greater willingness for inter-departmental cooperation. In Canada, government departments are custodians of data. This has the effect of making government departments sovereign over the data. In other words they are able to restrict access not just to the academic community without real explanations but they frequently deny inter governmental access by other departments. For example departments of justices and community services are loath to share data with ministries of health, and vice versa, to conduct studies or program evaluations of overlaping services.

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    Scott Tribe says:

    I don’t necessarily want to fight an election over this.. or force one. I want the decision to be reversed however – be it by this government belatedly realizing what a dumb mistake it is.. or a future Liberal government. I’m arguing about that from a genealogy/historical point of view, not a partisan one (tho I admit it delights me to see some of Harper’s targeted voters organizations in the CJC and the Christian Evangelicals giving him heat over this as well).

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      Warren says:

      It is always a pleasure to hear from my friend Mr. Tribe. One of the more thoughtful commenters in Canada!

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        Scott Tribe says:

        Stop it.. you’re making me blush.

        Seriously though, here is an article opposing the mandatory removal from a genealogist’s point of view. It won’t change your mind, probably, but I thought you’d be interested in that perspective.


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    Namesake says:

    I can certainly defer to your instincts that this isn’t a winnable issue to call an election on (any more than, ugh, a Green Shift), but the Libs are absolutely right to be fundamentally opposed to it & be committed to overturning it ASAP.

    There are tons of reasons this long form data is crucial, not only to form the baseline for how to weight StatCan’s (& various other sources) other surveys, but also for use in marketing, campaigning, fundraising, & on & on… some of which are touched on in the sources I linked before:


    … as well as for emergency & disaster planning (like H1N1); & social planning & even religious purposes (where to build a new church). Hell, even those at ground zero of ReformaTory territory — the municipality of Red Deer & the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada


    are opposed to it for those reasons.

    I don’t think it was Clement’s decision, at all, BTW: he’s just wearing it — having to sing for his supper, for a change, for all the pork he got in his riding. And it’s only starting to dawn on them that the more effective strategy is not the alleged privacy issue — which the gov’t’s Privacy Commission has actually had only about 3 complaints over the past 10 years on — but the libertarian issue: it’s being mandatory, punishable by prison for not doing one’s civic duty.

    They’re starting to get some traction on that (see the rabid comments boards on the mass media sites). But as usual it’s overkill, & they’re total Harpercrites on it.

    Overkill, cuz as some pointed out in Power&Politics the other day, there are other mechanisms to enforce or encourage compliance besides threats of jail (which, it seems for all the Con. spokesman on the panel knew, _no one_ in the govt’s memory has actually been subjected to): there are less draconian sticks – fines; and there are carrots which have never been used: tax credits, for those who bitch about being too busy to be bothered with filling out the long form. Which might pay for itself, given the hundreds of millions StatCan expends on harassing those who blow them off.

    Hypocritical, because 1) the short form that _everyone_ has to fill out is still mandatory (punishable by fine); & 2) Farmers still face a long-form mandatory agricultural census, cuz, gee, they need the data for policy. http://www.cbc.ca/politics/story/2010/07/15/clement-census.html

    I could go on, obviously, but as someone said about this on an earlier thread here, the Libs should definitely make this part of their larger narrative about this gov’t being hostile to openness & intelligent evidence based policy — as well as to the progressive causes of equality & social justice etc.

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    just an idea says:

    I never dared be radical when young
    For fear it would make me conservative when old.
    ~Robert Frost

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    Sean Cummings says:

    ” Just as I don?t trust Facebook to protect private data, I don?t trust sloppy bureaucracies, either.”

    Damned straight.

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      smelter rat says:

      Oh please. Your privacy will be violated 10x over by the private sector before it will be by any civil servant.

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    MBDawg says:

    Agreed 100% Warren. And I gotta say, it’s always fun to see you go against the Liberal grain. And I’ve gotta say it’s also pretty funny that the one line of attack that the Liberals have been able to make stick is so friggin’ irrelevant.

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    wilson says:

    Similar to your post at 9:25, was living in small town Saskatchewan, the census worker (from the community) showed my partially filled form to my neighbor. Even the Credit Union bank teller knew I had refused to fill out portions of the long form. Not surprisingly, the census police gave up on me too.

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    Garry S says:

    Long time reader of your blog Warren but first time commenter….I could not agree more with you on this one. The long census form is way too instrusive. For those who haven’t yet read the long-census form, I encourage them to actually go and read the long-census from 2006 and reach their own conclusions instead of basing their decisions simply on what they are hearing from the mainstream media and special interest groups. The 2006 form can be found here:


    Can anyone on earth please justify why the government needs to know how I spend my spare time?

    I was also reading an Ottawa Citizen piece on the issue where the author cited several organizations which were against the decision. Two of which were “The Canadian Marketing Association” and “The Canadian Association for Business Economics”. So in effect, what these people want, is for the government to subsidize their data collection. If the long census is all about program delivery, then how come the data gets used by the private sector? I’m not anti-business (heck I’ve only ever voted Conservative in my life) but I am anti-invasive questioning by Statscan.

    To those who say the government collects a lot more detailed information on taxes, driver’s license, etc. etc., I agree with you. But I’m going to have to resort what our mother’s said, and say that ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’. For all the problems in Canada such as rural doctor shortages, this information doesn’t seem to have done anything to have SOLVED the problem.

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      Namesake says:

      re: why StatCan collects data on time use: if this is more than a rhetorical q & you’re actually interested, you can peruse some of its Time Use publications & data sets at:


      …like an aggregate Cndn-level summary chart from the most recent (2005) General Social Survey on Time Use at:


      Besides being very useful for biz. planning & marketing as well as political purposes (how many & what types of people in what regions spend how much time at movies, restaurants, reading, etc.), the data is useful for ID’ng societal needs & trends, like work-life balance (incl. whether we lose a fifth of our day commuting to work); whether people are getting enuff sleep (which has huge health & biz productivity consq’s & costs); ‘the sandwich generation’ caring for both their kids & their elderly parents; how much unpaid work there is — both in the home & in the comm’y — & whether it’s being shared equally by the sexes or if some are more generous or getting shafted more; whether the kids are even being cared for with any Q time anymore; whether there’s any or much exercise & continuous learning going on or if we’re all couch potatoes; & much more.

      Although the General Social Surveys cover this every 5 years or so, they have tiny sample sets compared to the 20% Census data which improve the weightings.

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        Garry S says:

        Namesake, you failed to adequately explain why the government needs to be giving this information to businesses for planning and marketing. Your are right that it is useful for them, but giving them all tax breaks would also be useful too. Releasing our individual tax return data would be of use to them too.

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          Namesake says:

          Actually, they don’t _give_ it away — at least, not at the more micro-level that’d be useful: they _sell_ it, to try to recover part of the costs of the data collection they do for the public good.

          But they & the CRA _do_ release income tax return data, BTW — not at the indiv. level, of course [see various comments in this thread about privacy laws], but at the aggregate level, which social researchers like me can find useful to track people’s (declared) charitable donations,


          …but also for RRSP contributions to see how well people have provided for their own old age, etc. & others might find useful for other purposes to track the various items that appear on tax returns, like training & biz expenses etc.

          I haven’t used it for quite some time, but Rev. Can. has tons ‘ stats on indiv. taxfilers & their GST purchases at


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            Garry S says:

            But why can’t the private sector just collect the data itself? Why does it fall on the government to do it? Does the government need the data for itself for some reason? What I am failing to understand is, if the government is solely doing this to sell to others then why can’t they just do it themselves. If the government is doing it because it “needs” the data, then I have questions as to why.

            You mentioned above about couch potatoes for example. So it is a generally aceepted fact that people are becoming more obese. What good has the data done us thus far? People are only getting more obese according to every study I read. Perhaps we should reconsider the utility of the data collection if we are not actually doing anything useful with it. Knowing people are obese for the sake of knowing they are obese seems kind of pointless to me.

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            Namesake says:

            Well, as I said, it doesn’t _just_ collect this info. for biz, but for public policy purposes.

            To track things like the education & literacy of our populace; to answer Q’s like what is the value of a HS, trade school, college or uni. education; whether there is a systematic wage gap by occ. b/w M/F’s & races; whether & how quickly immigrants’ economic & occ. fortunes improve etc. etc.

            But the fact that the gov’ts do so little with it is the govt’s fault, not the data collectors’ fault! It’s like when CEOs & Boards ignore their own accountants & efficiency experts advice & keep running their biz. into the ground: blame & replace the management, don’t stop collecting & analysing the data properly!

            Now, StatCan has analyzed lots of stuff & put results in its flagship periodical Canadian Social Trends: its topics are listed here:
            That journal & many of its other holdings can be used as learning resources both by teachers & students: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/edu/index-eng.htm

            But the Harper gov’t has been systematically gutting StatCan’s analytic capacity (& other agencies, like EnviroCan; as well as independent think tanks it used to fund, like CPRN (the Canadian Policy Research Network)): disgusting / forcing the senior people out & not replacing them, in the deliberate effort to keep the whole country barefoot & pregnant, as it were, or in a see / hear / speak no evil situation. They’ve also been phasing out a lot of the most useful additional surveys they’ve been doing; see http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/commentary/statistics-canadas-senseless-census-decision on that.

            But StatCan doesn’t just have a mandate to inform gov’t & social policy. As a gov’t agency, it has a number of constituencies, including helping businesses & trying to advance the economy as a whole. It tracks tons of things for diff. sectors of the economy, incl. farming, transport, tourism, construction, housing…. on and on … as well as the biggies we’re all familiar with, like the Labour Force Survey to track un/employment, and they also track wages, and inflation; they also compile the Public Accounts to track total gov’t expenditures on health care and so on, from all 3 levels of govt.

            They do all this & more so that both gov’t & biz’s & consumers & workers can make intelligent decisions. And _they_ do it because they’re big enuff & so well trained & good at it that it’s much more efficient & much less bother to everyone involved to do so, given the economy of scale, than if every rinky dink association tried to do their own surveys for all those basic indicators; and because they can get way better & faster access, cooperation, & data from all the parties (govt, biz, NGOs, & indiv.) than if non-gov. agencies were trying to do polls or issue Freedom of Info. requests to try to unearth & compile all that stuff.

            Poke around the site: http://www.statcan.gc.ca and learn who they are & what they do & why. They’re not the bad guys: they’re truly the public service.

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    Doug says:

    Leaving the technical details of the value of the data to people who know what they are talking about, I wonder if this issue doesn’t show – again – that the Conservatives’ top-down governance approach makes them vulnerable. Surprise policy changes followed by the uproar of interested parties is becoming a pattern for these folks. I believe it raises a question of competence and perhaps a more fruitful avenue of attack for the opposition parties than fighting specifically for the mandatory long-form.

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    Johnny Tuna says:

    For what it is worth, which may not be much, I think this is a huge deal. My spouse uses census data for academic research. As has been stated above, we simply need census data in order to create policies that will be effective. Ultimately it is needed in the future for others to have a sense of what is happening in our country.

    Clement is being completely insincere here. When confronted about how this is a tea party issue the G&M reports: “Mr. Clement dismisses the comparison. ‘I didn?t know about the larger trends. I have no idea what the Tea Party stands for or what they are saying.’? Either he is lying or he is so uninformed as to be negligent. You cannot be ignorant of a major political movement in the USA, where earlier this year the murder of a census worker was (erroneously, but still quite publicly) linked to it. I think he was clearly lying. And why? because it is the same motivation and the same movement he is appealing to, only in Canada, and an explicit recognition of that would be political poison. It is a terrible decision and I think Mr. Kinsella is way out on the wrong end of it. The G&M now has a link to Warren’s position.

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    Steven says:

    Good! There should be no census at all. All this does is permit those “social engineers” to mess up society and rent seekers to loot taxpayers. We don’t need governement to collect data in order to run our lives from the craddle to the grave, we can manage our lives ourselves.

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    Blair Shumlich says:

    Killing the census actually kills a couple of my potential M.A. proposals while weakening all the rest. Ouch. Oh well, LSAT in October!

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    Rick T. says:

    I usually do not agree with you, but on this one your bang on. It is none of their business. There will be no election fought over this issue.

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    Fritz says:

    There’s been no real expectation of personal privacy in this country for over ten years. Banks, insurance companies, credit agencies, and governments know much more about us than could ever be revealed in the long form census.
    I think this could be a sleeper issue; much like prorogation; that could grow much as that issue did as a backlash to government overreach.
    A quick look at the comments here show that your opinion is running about 10-1 against you on your own blog where generally 70%-80% support your view.
    I agree with the commenter above that compared filling out this form to jury duty; an often unpleasant task that it is our duty as a citizen to undertake.
    I wonder how long it will be before we see the facebook page that will become the center of the opposition; just like in the prorogation debate.

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    evagrius says:

    Yes. I definitely trust private industry to be so much more careful about my privacy than the gov. They don’t phone me trying to sell me things. They don’t track the use of my debit/credit card purchases. They don’t track my computer usage. They don’t “google view” my street or make satellite shots of my neighborhood.

    Yes. They’re very protective of my privacy.

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    Dana Phillip Doiron says:

    Absolutely agree that the long-form is not THE election issue but it is an irritant that some of us will remember as yet another example of libertarian ideology overwhelming good public policy. Social programs, economic strategy and government service delivery — not to mention the myriad non-governmental users of Statistics Canada data — rely on reasonably accurate projections based on reasonably accurate collection of data.

    I resent the value of years of collecting statistical data being undermined by an ill-considered decision that is likely to be reversed in the future.

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    BlindboyGrunt says:

    Hahaha…the left is completely nuts! So Harper won’t have the most intimate details of our lives in his government databases. You would think Canadians would be happy about that. Instead they’re reacting as if cable companies were introducing reverse billing. Who cares if there’s no long form census. Honestly do these people really think this is somehow going to stop their precious social programs? They all make up their own statistics to bolster their arguments anyway. Good riddance. And score one for freedom…imagine a ‘free’ country where you can be fined $500 or spend 6 months in jail for not revealing everything to your government masters. And when the penalty is removed, the country is in a lather. Man, Hitler would have had it easy here!

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    chick hodgkinson says:

    I stopped doing the census. Why? Because I was told, repeatedly by Statistics Canada that my census information would be kept confidential, and would not be shared with anyone, could not be shared with anyone, outside of Statistics Canada, by law. But as of June 2005 when the Statistics Act (Bill S-18) was amended, with unanimous support in the House, but not the Senate, it is now the law (supposedly) that my information has to be released to the public. At least up to the 2006 census. Therefore the Government of Canada, Statistics Canada, have deliberately leaked, or will leak, all of these hundreds of millions of personal census forms. I feel like I was retroactively lied to. Do you think I will be able to retroactively yank my forms back?

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    chick hodgkinson says:

    May I amend my first post by saying hundreds of millions of personal census entries (counting all the people for each census), but only(!) tens of millions of actual census forms.

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