Long-form census critical for planning emergency services and affordable housing needs

Ted Hsu
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I recently reached out to the City Manager’s Office at the City of Toronto to try to get a better understanding of how they use census data. Toronto is the most populous city in the country, and my hope was that the city would be able to give me insight into the importance of the census for municipalities.

I will be publishing some of the ways that the City of Toronto uses census data leading up to the second hour of debate for my private member’s bill, Bill C-626, which seeks to reinstate the mandatory long-form census. If you would like to share your experience with using census data, please email me at [email protected].


The City of Toronto relies upon the data generated by Statistics Canada as part of the core data sets that guide the City’s program planning for a variety of services and supports, in order to maximize its resource allocations to meet the changing needs of Torontonians. One of the main impacts of the shift to the NHS is the ability to examine trends over time. A change in statistical collection methodology precludes direct statistical comparison of data gathered before and after the change. Previously, Statistics Canada’s adherence to the same statistical collection methodology for 35 years has allowed for accurate data comparison and invaluable trend analysis.

While some areas in the City continue to use and report on NHS data, release of such data comes with cautionary notations. The City of Toronto is continuing in its exploration on the use of NHS data, while using alternative sources where necessary and available.

Social Services

The City of Toronto helps residents access a range of social services, including healthcare, housing, childcare and others. Toronto Employment and Social Services assesses eligibility for Emergency Social Services assistance, using data regarding income from the former long-form census as the assessment tool. For Emergency Planning, the Office for Emergency Management previously used information from the long-form census to identify areas of the City where residents are more likely to have difficulty accessing and using the Emergency Social Services that the City offers during emergencies. This data is now located within the NHS, and the City is still assessing the quality of this new voluntary data.

The Affordable Housing Office uses data from the NHS to help establish a picture of housing supply and affordability including current and future needs and solutions in Toronto.

The shift to a voluntary census data collection model presents challenges for the City of Toronto’s place-based service delivery planning and community investment mechanisms across a range of services areas.