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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Making the census less intrusive

Good news from the Conservative government. They have decided to scrap the mandatory long answer form for the 2011 census. This is only a partial move, since the shorter form will still be mandatory. But at least the government is getting rid of the most intrusive part of the census.

Critics say that by making the long form non-mandatory it will make the census information less reliable. This is an issue because this data is used to assign government services. The truth of the matter is that the census was never good at calculating demand. The only way to truly know the level of demand is to look at market signals through pricing, and government simply can’t do that.

All that the census is, and I say this as someone who once worked for Census Canada, is an intrusion into the privacy of the individual. So I applaud the government for at least taking this small step towards ensuring greater privacy.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 30, 2010 in Census | Permalink


It makes no difference to me. I have neve filled out a census form, long or short, during my adult life. In fact I have never filled out a government information form during my adult life.

Posted by: Tom | 2010-06-30 8:04:45 AM

In fact I have never filled out a government information form during my adult life.
Posted by: Tom | 2010-06-30 8:04:45 AM

So you've never filled out an income tax form?

Posted by: The Stig | 2010-06-30 8:17:23 AM

I agree that is good news, and even better news would be to end making it mandatory.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-06-30 12:06:04 PM

According to the census data, about 5% of Canadians don't get counted by the census (They estimate this using more reliable survey data), but of this its hard to tell how many are refusniks.

I've been trying to get to court over refusing to fill out my census form since 1986. I even had my picture in the PROVINCE (of my tearing up my long form) but nothing happen. However, they have gone after others.... Still don't know whether they're ignoring me on purpose.

Posted by: Paul Geddes | 2010-06-30 12:10:54 PM

So the only way to determine if, say, more low income housing is required in an area is to somehow "look at market signals through pricing," but without just asking the people who live in that area how much money they make and how much they pay for shelter?

The blurb that you link to denies that you can estimate demand for hospital services in a region by knowing the population and demographics of that region. It seems pretty plain to me that you can look at a population, see that it's got a lot of people over 50, and figure that it will have different health care needs than another population with a lot of people under 20. It also seems pretty plain to me that if you look at what services have been used historically in other areas with similar demographics, you ought not to be surprised by what those needs turn out to be.

Why go from "grr! I hate Government Forms!" to denial of the obvious?

Posted by: Eric S. Smith | 2010-07-01 7:18:24 AM

Surprise , the other despots, the liberals have a problem with this change.

Posted by: don b | 2010-07-01 10:46:47 AM


You can make estimates based on demographics but that isn't the same thing as actually knowing the level of demand. If you have two areas with the exact same demographics but one area is less healthy because of social or enviromental reasons, demographics won't help you much to estimate demand.

The government can't know how much 'low income housing' is required. They can make a guess but it is mostly just a guess. A developer knows how much is required because he knows how many low income customers he/she has. There is also the added advantage that if the developer is wrong for some reason that it is easier for the market place to correct the mistake than it is for the government.

Posted by: Hugh MacIntyre | 2010-07-02 6:28:53 AM

The mistake the statistics geeks are making here is he classic error of the technocratic empire.

The map is NOT the terrain. The bureaucrats and the social engineers seize on the "data" as if it were the real thing. When our natural rights are trampled to "fix" whatever they claim is wrong and out tax dollars are pissed away on stupid feel good projects that address only effects and not causes and things continue to get worse, the geeks point out that the data is clear. Sadly the data just doesn't reflect reality, it creates a faux data-reality through bias in the questions asked.

Posted by: peter | 2010-07-05 1:40:18 PM

Wow Peter that's really interesting because I was just reading some Marxist philosophy which said exactly that. The article suggested that a trust in the elites is dangerous, just as you suggested. Also it rallied against the technocracy of the intellectual and pushed for the proletariat to be the real intellectuals.

Good to see that someone here, specifically Peter, is playing devil's advocate by using Marxist dialectic.

Posted by: K. Ng | 2010-07-06 11:57:55 AM

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