(Canadian Press photo)

(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

Cherry Hill Elementary. Kevin Mills photo.
Cherry Hill Elementary parents heartbroken, angry over mid-year principal swap

PAC president says she doesn’t understand why it’s happening in the middle of a pandemic

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Abbotsford mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby comes home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

This is the fifth school exposure in the district, and the third school. There were three exposures in a row at Hatzic Middle School, followed by this week’s cases. Kevin Mills Photo.
Two more COVID-19 exposures at Mission schools

There have been 5 exposures in 3 schools since Oct. 5

Architectural drawings of the building by JY Architecture. Screenshot from District of Mission council meeting on Nov. 16.
Six-storey, 86-unit development on 2nd Avenue approved by Mission councillors

Project one of the oldest on District of Mission’s books, staff report

Google Maps screenshot taken at 6:07 a.m.
TRAFFIC: Westbound dump-truck crash on Highway 1

Crash occurred around 6:45 a.m., west of 232nd Street in Langley

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

A new ‘soft reporting’ room is opening inside the Ann Davis Transition Society offices on Dec. 1, 2020 which is thought to be the first of its kind in B.C. (Ann Davis Transitional Society/ Facebook)
New ‘trauma-informed’ reporting room opening next week in Chilliwack

It’s a space for reporting domestic violence, sexual assault, or gender-based violence to police

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

The online poster for Joel Goddard, who left his Willoughby home Nov. 10, 2020, has been updated by his family and friends who received word that he’s been found.
Langley man missing since Nov. 10 found alive and safe in Abbotsford

Family of the Willoughby area man had been searching for days. Police find him at Abbotsford Airport

A UBC study recommends an multi-government investment of $381 million to protect 102 species at risk in the Fraser River estuary. (Photo supplied by Yuri Choufour)
102 Fraser River estuary species at risk of extinction, researchers warn

UBC team develops $381-million strategy to combat crisis, boost economy

FILE – A paramedic holds a test tube containing a blood sample during an antibody testing program at the Hollymore Ambulance Hub, in Birmingham, England, on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Pool via AP)
Want to know if you’ve had COVID-19? LifeLabs is offering an antibody test

Test costs $75 and is available in B.C. and Ontario

Most Read