OTTAWA - The federal government's decision to axe the long-form census has left parts of the Conservative heartland in western and rural Canada without some of the newest data on how its population is changing.

Statistics Canada released the first results Wednesday from the 2011 voluntary National Household Survey, the replacement for the long census. The data covered such topics as religion, visible minorities, aboriginals and immigration.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government in 2010 eliminated the mandatory long-form census, citing concerns over personal freedoms.

It boosted the number of households set to receive the new National Household Survey, but the response rate of 68 per cent fell well below the 94 per cent anticipated by Statistics Canada for a mandatory long-form census.

Certain types of Canadians — aboriginals or the poor, for example — are less likely to respond when given the choice, introducing a potential bias in the numbers.

The agency said it achieved a high quality of results at a national level for a voluntary survey. But it cautioned that the numbers were less reliable when zeroing in on areas with fewer than 25,000 people.

Because of low response rates, Statistics Canada chose to withhold all data on a quarter of Canadian municipalities, or 1,128, compared with the 200 that were suppressed after the 2006 long-form census. Most of those are in rural and First Nations communities.

"The estimates for such areas have such a high level of error that they should not be released under most circumstances," the agency said.

Saskatchewan had the worst results, with information not published on 43 per cent, or more than 500, of its communities. The Conservatives hold all but one of the seats in that province, and have traditionally found support in Canada's rural areas.

Some of the towns and cities excluded across the country include Bonavista, Nfld., Pictou, N.S., Sackville, N.B., Dauphin, Man., Vulcan, Alta., and Tofino, B.C.

"By not having one quarter of municipalities as part of that database, I think there's information that's missing, both for the federal government as well as for the provincial," said Karen Leibovici, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

"Canadians live and breathe at the local level. Even if the long-form data wasn't used to make a decision, it informed a decision," said Peggy Taillon, CEO of the Canadian Council on Social Development.

"If it was a decision on where to put the next family health team, or fire station, you would look at a number of data to make that decision and one of the greater inputs would always be the long-form."

Both the NDP and Liberals have called on Harper to bring back the long-form census for 2016, saying the decision to eliminate it was an example of a Conservative disdain for hard evidence.

"It boggles my mind in the data-driven 21st century that we would have a government that would choose to know less about its citizens, and about its needs and about getting good data about what people are struggling with," said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

Harper defended the census decision, and congratulated Statistics Canada for its work.

"Obviously, going forward we will look for ways to improve things, but always in a way that respects and balances the need for public data with the privacy rights of Canadians," Harper said in the House of Commons.

Marty Baroni, assistant administrator in Biggar, Sask., said he wasn't immediately concerned his town wouldn't be getting the latest data release — it mostly relied on the short-form census population count.

But he noted that a growing Filipino community in his riding would likely not have been properly reflected.

Canada's Filipino and Chinese populations are two groups that could be facing data flaws. Statistics Canada conceded that information in the NHS about people who emigrated to Canada from the Philippines between 2006 and 2011 didn't jibe with the numbers gathered by the Citizenship and Immigration Department.

The Chinese Canadian National Council also raised concerns about the data, saying there appeared to be an undercounting when compared with immigration data.

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  • The Survey

    CP — Statistics Canada released the first tranche of results Wednesday from the 2011 voluntary National Household Survey, which replaced the cancelled mandatory long-form census. The survey, which replaced the mandatory long-form census cancelled by the Harper Conservatives in 2010, is filled with warnings that the data may not be as accurate, given the survey's voluntary nature. HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Nation Of Immigrants

    Canada was home to an estimated 6,775,800 immigrants in 2011, comprising 20.6 per cent of the population — more than ever before and the highest proportion of all G8 countries.

  • Aboriginal Population Growth

    Canada's aboriginal population grew by 20.1 per cent — 232,385 people — between 2006 and 2011, compared with 5.2 per cent for non-aboriginal people. 1,400,685 people identified themselves as aboriginal in 2011, representing 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population. Aboriginal Peoples accounted for 3.8 per cent of the population in 2006, 3.3 per cent in 2001 and 2.8 per cent in 1996.

  • Foster Care

    Almost half (48.1 per cent) of all children aged 14 and under in foster care in Canada in 2011 were aboriginal children.

  • Aboriginal Children

    Aboriginal children aged 14 and under made up 28 per cent of Canada's total aboriginal population, while their non-aboriginal counterparts represented 16.5 per cent of all non-aboriginals.

  • Native Tongue

    Only 17.2 per cent of aboriginals reported being able to conduct a conversation in an aboriginal language, compared with 21 per cent in the 2006 census.

  • Foreign-Born

    About 1,162,900 foreign-born people immigrated to Canada between 2006 and 2011, making up 17.2 per cent of the foreign-born population and 3.5 per cent of Canada's total population.

  • Ethnic Origins

    More than 200 different ethnic origins were reported in the 2011 survey, with 13 of them representing more than a million people each.

  • Visible Minorities

    Nearly 6,264,800 people identified themselves as a visible minority, representing 19.1 per cent of the population. 65 per cent of them were born outside Canada.

  • Predominant Groups

    South Asians, Chinese and blacks accounted for 61.3 per cent of the visible minority population, followed by Filipinos, Latin Americans, Arabs, Southeast Asians, West Asians, Koreans and Japanese.

  • Religion

    More than 22.1 million people — two-thirds of Canadians — said they were affiliated with a Christian religion, including 12.7 million Roman Catholics, the largest single group.

  • No Religion

    7.8 million people, 23.9 per cent of the population, reported having no religious affiliation.

  • Slightly more than one million people, or 3.2 per cent of the population, identified themselves as Muslim, while Hindus represented 1.5 per cent, Sikhs 1.4 per cent, Buddhists 1.1 per cent and Jews one per cent.

  • NEXT: Highlights Of 2011 Census

  • Highlights Of The 2011 Census

    Here are some highlights from the 2011 Canadian Census. With files from <em>The Canadian Press</em>. (AFP/Getty Images)

  • 33,476,688 People

    As of May 2011, 33,476,688 people were enumerated in Canada, nearly twice as many as in 1961 and 10 times the number in 1861. (Alamy)

  • Population Growth Speeds Up

    Canada's population grew by 5.9 per cent between 2006 and 2011, up slightly from 5.4 per cent during the previous five years. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jtbradford/" target="_hplink">Flickr: jtbradford</a>)

  • Go West

    For the first time, more people in Canada live west of Ontario (30.7 per cent) than in Quebec and Atlantic Canada combined (30.6 per cent). (Flickr: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/derekgavey/" target="_hplink">derekGavey</a>)

  • We're Number One

    Canada's population growth between 2006 and 2011 was the highest among G8 countries. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/33498942@N04/" target="_hplink">Flickr: WarmSleepy</a>)

  • Exceptions To The Rule

    Every province and most territories saw their population increase between 2006 and 2011; the rate of growth increased everywhere except in Ontario, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. (AP)

  • Ontario Falters

    The growth rate in Ontario declined to 5.7 per cent, its lowest level since the early 1980s. (Alamy)

  • Saskatchewan Out Of The Red

    Population growth in Saskatchewan hit 6.7 per cent, compared with a negative growth rate of 1.1 per cent between 2001 and 2006; the province welcomed more than 28,000 immigrants during the latest census period, nearly three times the number of the previous five-year period. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/justaprairieboy/" target="_hplink">Flickr: Just a Prairie Boy</a>)

  • Yukon And Manitoba Take Off

    The rate of growth in both Yukon (11.6 per cent) and Manitoba (5.2 per cent) has doubled since 2006. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/us_mission_canada/" target="_hplink">Flickr: US Mission Canada</a>)

  • The East Is Growing Too

    The rate of growth in Prince Edward Island (3.2 per cent), New Brunswick (2.9 per cent) and Newfoundland and Labrador (1.8 per cent) has increased substantially between 2006 and 2011. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jw1697/" target="_hplink">Flickr JaimeW</a>)

  • Cities Rule..

    Nearly seven of every 10 Canadians lived in one of Canada's 33 main urban centres in 2011. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/markwoodbury" target="_hplink">Flickr mark.woodbury</a>)

  • .. Except Not In Ontario..

    The rate of population growth in almost all census metropolitan areas located in Ontario slowed between 2006 and 2011. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/husseinabdallah/" target="_hplink">Flickr abdallahh</a>)

  • Maybe Because Everyone Moved To Alberta

    Of the 15 Canadian communities with the highest rates of growth, 10 were located in Alberta. (AFP/Getty Images)