Monday, July 19, 2010

Why the long form census is needed

I want to add my little bit's worth to the census debate.

While there's a one in five chance that one would get the long form census -- it's just dropped off at every fifth household -- it so happens that I or my parents got the long form nearly every time over the last thirty years.   This was the case with me in 2006.   Did I find it intrusive?   Actually, no more intrusive than filling out an income tax return, quite frankly.   We allow the government to invade our privacy briefly to get a tax refund or to determine what we owe at the end of the year.   It's one of the prices of citizenship.

So is the case with the census form.    And in a time of very short revenues, I find it unbelieveable that the feds would actually want to get rid of a lucrative source of money that doesn't rely on something that everyone pays out of pocket (taxes or user fees).   Countless businesses, social services organizations, the media, even churches, use the data mine to plot out all sorts of strategies.   The government doesn't hand this out for free, they put a pretty price on it.   You think that companies like fast food chains or home improvement big boxes pick their locations by chance?

Another big customer is the provinces.   For the big ticket items -- health, education and welfare -- they need reliable data.   Making some of the key information "voluntary" erodes the value of the data, and therefore renders it unreliable.    It's also one of the reasons why I brisk at the "census revolts" that some engage in where some refuse to fill in the forms out of principle.   Either they don't like government at all, or they believe that because they are "sovereign" (e.g. the approach taken by some native groups) they owe it no regard.

If one form is left unfilled, that could be the difference between another few thousand per student transfer to school boards.   Or what pushes a province over the threshold to get another Member of Parliament.

And as for the line "I don't want the state in my bedroom" or "how many bedrooms I have, no one needs to know" -- well, actually, no one is asking what one does in bed, just how many are in it.   Urban sprawl tends to be supported (I think, anyway) by those who think it's wrong to intrude on one's personal life yet see no contradiction in intruding on what's left of our rural areas which are going to be needed to feed a growing population.

If farmers have to fill in a version of the long form (and I believe they still do) then why not the rest of us?   It's about an hour of our time.   One hour that sets priorities for the public and private sectors for the next five years.   It's no problem with me.

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Anonymous said...

You have disregarded the legality of the census form.

Will it pass a court challenge? My bet is no.

I don't believe a high number like 1 in 5 is necessary for accurate data.Nor do I believe a voluntary rather than compulsary census form will differ that greatly in data either. If it did the statiticians could see it and fix it accordingly.

As it is now some 20,000 Canadians filled out that they are Jedi Knights (as a religion).That would make 100,000 nationwide!

Some 180,000 Canadians defied the rules and did not fill it out. Should they be jailed, fined?

May the force be with you.....

Liberal Justice said...

They're not getting rid of the form or the data it produces, they no longer making it mandatory.

Skinny Dipper said...

If you don't count yourself in, you don't exist. If the Conservative Tea-Baggers do not want Census Canada to know what their religion is, then the results will be skewed in favour of other people.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. Here is some satire. Funny and sad a the same time.