(Canadian Press photo)

Even as long-form census data returns, Statcan readies for day without it

Wednesday’s release is expected to show immigrants making up a larger share of the population

As a political brawl played out on Parliament Hill seven years ago over the cancellation of the long-form census, Statistics Canada quietly kept the mandatory survey on life support, waiting for the day it might again come in handy.

The fruits of that foresight will become apparent Wednesday when the agency delivers the latest tranche of data from the 2016 census — and the first details from that resurrected mandatory long-form questionnaire after a 10-year hiatus.

It’s the latest layer on the paint-by-numbers population portrait Statistics Canada began unveiling earlier this year: a population boom out West and a spike in the number of households; a historically high number of seniors; children living at home longer; and more generations than ever living under a single Canadian roof, among other flourishes of fact.

Wednesday’s release is expected to show immigrants making up a larger share of the population, with more and more of them settling in western Canada, along with additional insight into how they, their children and their grandchildren are doing at making ends meet.

The census will also provide details on Indigenous Peoples, whose numbers are growing faster and skewing younger than the non-Indigenous population. Their numbers are expected to be close to 1.7 million with about one-quarter expected to be under age 15, said Doug Norris, chief demographer at Environics Analytics.

After the previous Conservative government cancelled the long-form census in 2010, Wayne Smith, then the country’s chief statistician, was among the senior managers who had agency workers quietly prepare a mandatory survey that would be ready for a government change of heart — or a change of government.

It’s not clear whether the agency will make any comparative use of 2011’s national household survey, a voluntary substitute that was quickly panned due to problems with data quality. Instead, Statistics Canada is expected to focus on comparing the latest numbers to their 2006 counterparts — a sign the agency would rather forget what Smith called a difficult period that produced a blip in census history.

That blip, however, continues to have ripple effects on the long-form questionnaire.

When the previous Conservative government cancelled the mandatory survey in 2010, citing privacy concerns, Statistics Canada invested in efforts to create a statistical register of the population from government holdings, known as administrative data. Michael Wolfson, a former assistant chief statistician, said the national household survey gave the agency ”the raison d’etre to for a much stronger push into developing administrative data sources.”

Agency officials had previously been uneasy about the concept, fearing a leak of details would result in a “privacy Armageddon,” Smith said. But the Conservatives were nonetheless keen on creating the digital register.

So census officials mined government information holdings like birth certificates, immigration records, driver’s licences and tax files with greater zeal to build profiles of almost every Canadian, plug any data gaps in the voluntary survey, and potentially replace large swaths of the questionnaire.

This year, for example, the income data in the census came entirely from tax return information held by the Canada Revenue Agency, eliminating one question on the long-form survey.

In an August report, Statistics Canada said it had used CRA’s administrative data, federal immigration and citizenship records — along with details from provinces and territories — to create national, provincial and territorial population counts it says are comparable to the 2011 results. Only in cities and small towns did the model fall short.

The agency hopes to use parts of statistical register in time for the 2021 census and potentially replace the short-form questionnaire beginning in 2026.

Eventually, the figures could be updated in real-time rather than updating population counts every five years.

“You can have the equivalent to census data for a large number of variables every year, or even continuously for that matter,” said Smith, who oversaw some of the work before resigning last year as chief statistician.

That could free up resources to focus surveys on items captured in the census that aren’t available in any administrative source, such as ethnicity, visible minority status and Aboriginal identity — all questions the statistics office will answer this week, said Michael Haan, an associate professor in the school of sociology at Western University in London, Ont.

Other countries that created statistical registers have sent out shorter questionnaires annually on many of those topics, Haan said.

“You won’t have to fill out lots of information on your household composition because we can get that from other data sources,” he said. “But those files will be supplemented by a shorter survey about the things that don’t exist on administrative files.”

— Follow @jpress on Twitter

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Artist Mike Dangeli gives his son, Hayetsk, a shoulder ride on Oct. 4. (Mike Dangeli/Instagram)
Skeena Voices | ‘The culture and the art saved my life’

Terrace-based artist shares stories of the journey that brought him here

The City of Terrace now requires masks at all indoor City facilities. (File Photo)
Masks to be required in all indoor City of Terrace facilities

Requirement comes as B.C. sees increase in COVID-19 cases

Northern Health saw 14 cases in one day earlier this week, the highest in one day since the beginning of the pandemic. (Image courtesy CDC)
Northern Health sees highest number of new COVID-19 cases in one day

Oct. 27 saw the highest number of new cases in the Health Authority since the start of the pandemic

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

CBSA. (Black Press Media File)
4 sentenced in B.C. steroid smuggling, distribution ring that spilled into U.S.

Canadian Border Services Agency announced the results of a lengthy investigation it called ‘Project Trajectory’

Most Read