HOPE: Why we must restore the mandatory long-form census

Ted Hsu
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As I work to mobilize support for Bill C-626, my private member’s bill to reinstate the mandatory long-form census, I have been asking Canadians how the elimination of the mandatory long-form census has affected their lives and their work. Susan Muma of Hamilton Organizing for Poverty Elimination (HOPE), responded to my request, and wrote about the importance of the mandatory long-form census for addressing inequality in Canada. Please help me. Please share your experience with census data by emailing me at [email protected]

HOPE

What is/was the value of the mandatory long-form census? This form of the census, which was sent to one in five households in Canada had a response rate of 93.5% in 2006, the last year it existed. In comparison, the National Household Survey (NHS) of 2011, which was sent to one in three households, at an increased expense of 22 million, had a response rate of just 68.6%. The mandatory long-form census was cancelled despite the advice of experts and professionals, including statisticians, economists, business people, doctors, lawyers, police officers, faith groups, anti-poverty groups, scholarly societies and advocates for linguistic minorities. Even the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Conference Board of Canada and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce all urged the government to reconsider their decision.

HOPE (Hamilton organizing for Poverty Elimination) is an open and collaborative community group, committed to eliminating poverty by influencing social policy through direct action and advocacy. Our members include people with lived experience, members of local agencies and retired professionals. We began as 25 in 5, linked to the provincial group of the same name. As part of the provincial network we were very aware of the depth of poverty in Ontario and were closely involved with the provincial 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction in urging the Ontario government to initiate its first Poverty Reduction Strategy of 2008.

When the news broke, in 2010, that the government planned to cancel the mandatory long-form census, our group was alarmed. The mandatory long-form census was the most reliable source of data available to inform the creation of social policy, which was evidence-based. This data allowed the Social Planning Council of Hamilton to measure such things as citizenship and immigration status, ethnic origin, religion, place of birth of parents, education, income and housing, child care and support payments, labour market activities and unpaid/household work in our community. The SPRC made this information available to community agencies, which could then form policy and plan programs which are based on accurate data.

HOPE advocates for and works on some of these programs, so we, too, are dependent on reliable census data for our work in the community. It seems to us that the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census is a cynical government ploy to keep people in the dark about the depth of inequality and poverty in Canada. If we don’t have reliable information about the problems that exist in our communities, provinces, and country, we cannot deal with them effectively. This seems to be what the federal government wants. Money spent on social programs will be wasted without the information necessary to make effective policy and program decisions, so, the government can argue, we might as well scrap social programs. And then where will we be?

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