Eliminating the long-form census means local politicians know less about all the people they’re supposed to be working for

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.

Demographics and Urban Planning

City Planning uses the Census and the NHS to prepare demographic profiles for each City Ward, to inform the Councillors and the public as to the demographic composition of the Ward where they live and work and how it compares to the City as a whole. With the discontinuation of the long-form census in 2011, the differences in the response rates between the NHS and the Census made it necessary to create separate profiles for each Ward, so that the results of the NHS were not compared to nor confused with the results of the 2011 census or prior censuses. The census profiles contain information on population by age, households and dwelling types, families, and language groups. The NHS profiles contain information on household tenure and period of construction; immigration, mobility, ethnic origin and visible minorities; education and labour force; income and shelter costs. Given the shift to the NHS, there are some limitations to the data in the Ward profiles, which you can read here.

The results of the 2011 Census and the 2011 NHS are used in preparing demographic profiles of areas within the City of Toronto to estimate the demand for community services and facilities. The varying response rates of the NHS reported by Statistics Canada by Census Tract across the City and for key variables such as household income significantly increase the likelihood that populations in need of social assistance and public supports are not fully identified.