Some data users disappointed after Edmonton pauses municipal census again

Elisse Moreno, a real estate agent with ReMax, said her business, TruHome, uses federal and municipal census data. (Tracey Jazmin - image credit)
Elisse Moreno, a real estate agent with ReMax, said her business, TruHome, uses federal and municipal census data. (Tracey Jazmin - image credit)

Edmonton's municipal census has been shelved again, disappointing some stakeholders who appreciated the neighbourhood-level information it collected.

City councillors voted on Monday to approve a recommendation from council's executive committee that the census policy be paused. The last municipal census was conducted in 2019. It was discontinued that same year for financial reasons.

"This is a fair way to make sure we're not putting budgetary pressures on ourselves," Coun. Erin Rutherford said at an executive committee meeting last week.

Pausing, rather than repealing the census, would make it easier to reinstate it in the future and give councillors time to speak with data-seeking groups, Rutherford said.

Some fans of the municipal census say they understand the city's budgetary constraints but hope the census returns in the future as it gives useful, neighbourhood-level information about Edmonton's population.

How the data is used

A number of organizations, including Edmonton's public and Catholic school divisions and Edmonton Police Service, have used municipal census data to plan for the future.

The Edmonton Social Planning Council has used the data in reports that measure community health, said executive director Susan Morrissey.

She said she is disappointed the local census isn't returning soon.

"If you want to make good decisions, the more information you have about both your constituents and their needs is very, very important," Morrissey said.

She said the council's researchers have already been affected by the lack of a municipal census, not pursuing certain topics if the data is no longer available and trying to collect information from other agencies, like Edmonton's Food Bank.

Age data useful for real estate agents

Elisse Moreno, a real estate agent with TruHome ReMax, said she has mined local census data for demographic insights, like the number of children or seniors living in a particular Edmonton neighbourhood.

Moreno said federal census data is also helpful, but only available every five years. The municipal census has historically been conducted more frequently, typically every two to three years.

Tracey Jazmin
Tracey Jazmin

According to a city report, local census data from 2019 has been viewed nearly 60,000 times and used across city departments, but the federal census is thought to be more statistically valid.

Each Edmonton municipal census has a projected cost of about $4.7 million, the report said.

Moreno said she understands the pros and cons of conducting a local census, from a budget perspective, but hopes the city revisits it.

"I do think there's going to be a lot of shift in terms of our population size in the next five years and it would be really great to get a pulse with that before five years is up," she said.

Other cities don't conduct counts

Sandeep Agrawal, a professor and director at the University of Alberta's School of Urban and Regional Planning, said most Canadian cities don't conduct censuses and he was surprised to learn Edmonton had one when he moved here from Toronto a decade ago.

He said neighbourhood-level data is useful for urban planners.

City of Edmonton
City of Edmonton

Last year, and his colleagues used municipal census data, in conjunction with other datasets, to study greenhouse gas emissions in Edmonton neighbourhoods.

Agrawal said he was disappointed to hear of the census pause, but federal data can be more useful, allowing researchers to compare jurisdictions.

"The most recent federal census data that we have is from just last year, so it's going to be pretty up-to-date for the next little while at least," he said.

Matthew Gusul, executive director of M.A.P.S (Mapping and Planning Support) Alberta Capital Region, said in a perfect world, the next municipal census would be conducted in 2023 or 2024, before the next federal one.

Gusul said local census data is useful for the non-profit, which helps create maps for local groups, but there's a lot of overlap between local and federal census data.

"From our perspective, it kind of makes sense as a place to look for a budgetary cut," he said.