Much Ado About Nothing

Only in Canada can a national crisis erupt over something as mundane as the census, but that’s precisely what has happened.

Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement has decided that in 2011, the long form of the census will be option, on the basis that the questions asked are extremely intrusive.

I’ve read the census form.  He’s right.

Not only is it intrusive, but the questions collect data which, to be blunt, is totally pointless on a national scale.

Here are the questions that are going to appear on the short form:

Person X: Name, age, marital status, gender, relationship to “Person 1”, First learned language (and still spoken), and whether consent is given to release the information in 92 years for genealogical research.

The short form is mandatory for all recipients, and very general in nature.  It counts the number of people, where they live, and what language they speak.  All information that would fall well within the “need to know” category.

Here, on the other hand, is the information requested on the (thankfully) voluntary Long Form for 2011:

All the information on the short form, plus:

  • any disabilities (mental or physical)
  • if disabilities impact amount of activity or work a person can do
  • Birthplace
  • Citizenship
  • If the person was ever a landed immigrant, and when they became one
  • Knowledge of English and/or French
  • Other known languages
  • Other languages spoken regularly
  • Ancestors’ ethnic origin
  • Race
  • Registered or Treaty “Status Indian”, and what band/nation they’re a member of
  • Religious belief
  • Where they lived one and 5 years ago
  • Parents’ birth place
  • Educational  (including trades known), highest level of certification and where it was granted
  • Continuing education
  • Hours spent at work and hours spent unemployed/on vacation
  • Job changes
  • Whether or not the person looked for work
  • Could they have worked
  • Were they sick
  • When they last worked, for who, the industry, their job, what they did, and where the work got done
  • How they were paid (commission, salary, tips, etc)
  • Self employed corporation or farm
  • How they got to work, and if they traveled alone or in a group
  • When they left home, how long it took to get to work.
  • What language they spoke at work
  • How many weeks they worked in the year
  • If they worked full or part time
  • If they paid for child care, and how much they paid
  • If they paid child support
  • How much they earned (either by allowing StatsCan to look at their tax return or provide the information on the census form)
  • Where their income came from
  • Sources of government income
  • Sources of other income (investments, dividends, etc)
  • How much tax they paid
  • Who pays for their home, and if their home is a condominium
  • How many rooms, and how many are bedrooms
  • When their home was built, if it needs repairs, and if the repairs are major or minor.
  • How much is paid for electricity, heat, water/service, rent (if applicable), subsidization status, mortgage, property taxes, expected sale price, condo fees.

Scanning through the questions on the long form, there are some I think are reasonable, and some that I think, quite frankly, are none of the government’s business.

That said, I am sure there are Canadians who really have no problem disclosing that information; and as such, they can freely choose to do so. 

Critics of the change say that removing the mandatory nature of the long form will introduce bias into the survey, but they forget that bias already exists in the results, as the full population is not sampled – and never was.  Additionally, the data they are requesting is being collected in the same way as a market research firm collects information – voluntarily.  When contacted by a market research firm, the person can choose not to participate.  The same for the census. 

The point is that the data will be valid, and the sample size of Canadians willing to disclose this information will be sufficiently large that StatsCan will get decent information anyway. 

So the whole census debate boils down to the title of a Shakespeare play:

Much Ado About Nothing.

About Steven Britton

Steve is a freelance programmer, partial billionaire, dad, Recovering Atheist, Conservative, and occasionally prolific blogger.