Former Chief Statistician, MPs urge Harper to bring back long-form census

“It is absolutely mindboggling to see a government turn its back on data and that is what surprises me the most,” said data expert Murtaza Haider. 

MP Ted Hsu proposes to amend Bill C-626

The NDP are standing beside the Liberals in an effort to bring back the long-form census that was axed by Harper in 2010.

“Eliminating the long-form census was a prime piece of the Conservatives’ anti-evidence, anti-facts policy agenda,” said NDP MP Kennedy Stewart. 

The NDP put forward a Bill to reinstate the mandatory long-form census in 2011 and now they will support Liberal MP, Ted Hsu’s proposal to do the same.

Hsu’s proposal to amend the Statistics Act – would make the long-form census a required questionnaire every five years. 

For data expert, Murtaza Haider, bringing back the long-form census is the only way Canada can compete globally—not to mention the National Household Survey that replaced the census cost Canadians an additional 22 million.

“There is not a single statistician on the planet that would agree with the Conservative government – not a single statistician. This is something so clearly against the very principal of good data,” said Haider, a Ryerson University professor.

Tomorrow, MPs will debate a private member’s bill to bring back the long-form census.

“We’ll be supporting Mr. Hsu’s effort...but we also need a new champion for science and evidence in Ottawa to prevent the government from cutting the census in the future,” said Stewart, MP for Burnaby B.C.

The census was a mandatory questionnaire and so in the past, 20 percent of Canadians were reached and 99 percent of families filled in the form.

The National Household Survey is voluntary and reaches nearly 35 percent of Canadians because there is a higher non-response rate and Statistics Canada needs a fair sample, according to Haider, and this is why it costs so much more. 

Former Chief Statistician, Munir Sheikh, supports the Bill to bring back the long-form census and he said it's “the only realistic and practical option,” to gather information.

“Having left my job, I’ve spoken and written countless times that this was a bad decision,” Sheikh said of the Conservatives cutting the census in 2010.

“I made a reference to that in my resignation statement," said Sheikh.

"To spend over 650 million dollars on something worthless - I don’t think that is a reasonable thing to do,” said Sheikh. 

Sheikh said he would like to take the private member's bill one step further and allow Statistics Canada to act as its own independent entity.

“The government cannot interfere in the working of revenue – why not take an opportunity to do the same with statistics? You don’t want a government to interfere with statistics,” said the former Chief Statistician. 

Professor Haider said the reason experts are concerned about the quality of data collected the from the National Household Survey is that they compared that data with information collected from Canada Revenue Agency and there are significant inconsistencies.

"For the same neighbourhoods, we get the data from Canadian Revenue on incomes and when we compared the data with the National Household Survey data, we found significant and huge discrepancies,” said Haider. 

The census is at the very core of evidence-based decision-making, according to Katie Gibbs of Evidence for Democracy. 

“I think the loss of the mandatory long-form census has been the most egregious – it’s such an important tool to help the government make decisions,” said Gibbs.

She described replacing the census with the National Household Survey as a “bizarre situation.”

“What we were doing worked really well and now Canadians pay more for far worse information,” said Gibbs.

“So many of the policy decisions that are made, like where to build new schools – all of that requires good data in order to make good decisions and long form census is used to provide that data.”

Gibbs—who is also a biologist, said there has been a trend over the past few years of cuts and elimination of many systems in place to gather information such as scientific labs and this is “one piece in a larger trend.”

“There’s a lot at stake and Canadians should try to reach out to Conservative MPs and ask them to vote not along the party lines but of the best interest of Canadians,” said professor Haider.

The first reading of the Bill is scheduled for tomorrow and the decision will be put to a vote in Spring, 2015. 

Here is Hsu's open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking him to consider his proposal:

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