Elimination of long-form census will hurt the North


The census is the backbone of information gathering in Canada. It tells us who we are as a country and at the community level. It is how we know whether we are making progress at improving the well-being of Canadians.

The federal government, without consulting anyone, has cancelled the mandatory long form and will replace it with a voluntary National Household Survey for the 2011 census.

This decision will impact northern people, businesses, governments and organizations. It may jeopardize the North receiving its share of program money from the federal government. The long form questionnaire gathers additional social, economic and cultural data from 20 percent of Canadian households.

The census is the framework for other smaller surveys. For example, the Aboriginal Peoples Survey uses the long form results to determine its sample.

There’s good reason why the change is being so strongly opposed. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Council on Social Development, genealogists, planners, academics, and others know the value of good information.

The national Inuit leader, Mary Simon, says this “ill-conceived cabinet decision” will make it harder for Inuit “to close the gaps in health, education, and economic conditions among our people and communities and other Canadians.”

The long form is not onerous. It takes approximately 20 minutes to complete –less time than our tax return. Northerners historically are very willing to share information because they understand that information is important for good decisions.

The federal government is undermining the good information we now have about income, education, mother tongue and home language use and about the diversity of our communities. The low response rate expected for a voluntary survey will not be overcome by distributing more of the new survey.

Statistics Canada is obsessed with protecting confidentiality and anonymity. Our privacy is not threatened by disclosing how many bedrooms we have in our houses or how long it takes us to commute to work.

In return, policy makers know how much and where low cost suitable housing is needed and can make informed decisions about roads and transit.

The Harper government wants less government and to reduce the expectations of Canadians. It seems to believe it can make problems disappear if they are not measured – problems like the 13-year gap in life expectancy between Inuit and other Canadians.

That is foolish ideology not sound decision making.

Aggie Brockman

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