Researchers are calling on the federal Liberals to make good on a campaign promise and reinstate the mandatory long-form census as soon as they take office.
“They have to act now. They cannot wait. Time is of the essence,” said Don Kerr, a sociology professor at King’s University College at Western University in London, Ont.
Kerr, who worked at Statistics Canada for 10 years, said it is possible to have the mandatory long-form census in place by May 10, 2016, the official census day.
“The level of expertise at Stats Canada is enormous and if anyone can pull it off, it’s Stats Canada that could pull it off,” Kerr said.
He added, “I would be surprised if they didn’t have contingency plans” to bring the long-form census back.
The mandatory long-form census was replaced with the voluntary National Household Survey (NHS) by the Conservative government in 2010. That led Munir Sheikh, then Statistics Canada’s chief statistician, to very publicly step down. In a letter following his resignation, Sheikh said that on the question of “whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census … it cannot.”
The NHS was seen as a poor substitute for the long-form census, Kerr said. The results were unreliable, particularly when it came to economic data. Poorer Canadians tended to opt out of filling out the voluntary survey, skewing results.
“I think it introduced inefficiency to government. You need good information for good decision-making,” Kerr said.
“It’s really, really crucial we move back” to the long-form census, he said.
This week in an open letter, the presidents of the Canadian Population Society and Quebec’s Association of Demographers called on Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau to act quickly.
“This must be one of the first moves made by the Liberal government of Mr. Trudeau. It would mark a clear break with the previous government and ensure that future social policies can be made on scientific grounds rather than ideological dogmatism,” read the letter, which was also signed by 60 academics and research centre directors.
“The time for action is now as Statistics Canada is on the cusp of launching the 2016 census.”
During the campaign, the Liberal platform said the party would “immediately” restore the long-form census.
“Without accurate and reliable data, Canada’s communities cannot plan ahead,” the platform said. The Liberal’s media relations team did not respond to a request for comment on when the mandatory long-form census would be discussed.
Statistics Canada spokeswoman Nadine Lacroix declined to be interviewed for this story.
Susan McDaniel, a member of the National Statistics Council and a director at the Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy at the University of Lethbridge, said the decision to go back to the long-form census must be done by mid-November.
“It’s a huge undertaking, there’s a lot of preparatory work,” she said. “The window of opportunity for Statistics Canada to gear up and go back and create again the long-form census for 2016 from the National Household Survey is very short.”
In an interview published Thursday, Sheikh told the Globe and Mail going back to the long-form census for next year should be “no problem” and would only involve getting cabinet approval and changing the instructions.
“All they need to do is put on the front page that this is mandatory,” said Sheikh, who didn’t return email messages. “It would take a matter of seconds.”