Canada has highest foreign-born residents ratio in G8, StatsCan says

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Slated to be introduced in 2015, the new "expression of interest system" will give employers a key role in selecting future Canadians through job offers.

Canada is home to 6.8 million foreign-born residents —one-fifth of the country's population and the highest ratio in the G8, new data from Statistics Canada's controversial National Household Survey (NHS) shows.

It also says aboriginal populations surged by 20 per cent between 2006 and 2011, and that two-thirds of Canadians are affiliated with a Christian religion, including 12.7 million Roman Catholics.

But the survey, which replaced the mandatory long-form census cancelled by the Harper Conservatives in 2010, is rife with warnings that the data may not be as accurate, given its voluntary nature.

The data released Wednesday is the first of three reports from the NHS, with the other two set for release in June and August.

The first part of the NHS was conducted in May 2011, and gives a glimpse of Canada's cultural makeup.

It covers:

Aboriginal peoples.

Immigration.

Citizenship.

Place of birth.

Language.

Ethnic origin.

Visible minorities.

Religion.

The long-form survey was eliminated after the Conservative government cited concerns about personal freedoms in 2010. Anyone not filling out the survey could have faced fines or jail time.

The 2011 NHS collected social and economic information that communities need to plan services such as child care, schooling, family services, housing, roads and public transportation, and skills training for employment, Statistics Canada says.

Statistics Canada says that in its initial planning, it assumed a response rate for a mandatory 2011 long-form census of 94 per cent, identical to the 2006 census.

For the NHS, 4.5 million households received questionnaires. The final response rate was 68.6 per cent, or about three million people, and the agency says that's similar to rates on other voluntary surveys conducted by Statistics Canada.

Statistics Canada says social and economic data from the NHS will be used by communities to plan services such as child care, schooling, family services, housing, roads and public transportation, and skills training for employment.

On immigration, for example, the new data will show where newcomers to Canada came from, what languages they speak and where they settled.

In the last census, immigration was increasingly from Asia, rather than Europe.

The other two parts of the survey will be released on June 26 (covering labour, education, place of work, commuting to work, mobility and migration and language of work) and Aug. 14 (providing data on income, earnings, housing and shelter costs).