09/13/2011 05:01 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:22 EST

2011 census by Statistics Canada scores high response rates from Canadians

OTTAWA - Canadians heeded the call to fill out the 2011 census in massive numbers, to a collective sigh of relief at Statistics Canada.

The agency says it received the mandatory short form from 98.1 per cent of Canadian households, up a full percentage point from the last census in 2006.

StatsCan hasn't yet analysed the questionnaires to determine how well they were filled out, but statisticians are confident that they'll have good data.

There were initial worries that Canadians would be turned off or confused about the census because the long-form questionnaire had been axed and turned into a voluntary survey.

The highest response rates were in Ontario and Prince Edward Island (98.3) and the lowest in Nunavut (92.7).

"On the confusion side, that was one of the concerns going in. But from these kinds of results, we can see that there was in the end no major issues, people responded to the census in very large numbers," said Marc Hamel, census manager.

The information from the census, with its basic information on such issues as how many people live in a dwelling and what language they speak, will be released beginning in February. The latest population numbers will emerge then.

Another victory for Statistics Canada is how many Canadians filled out their census form online -- 54.4 per cent. The agency was aiming for 40 per cent. Hamel said that puts Canada at the international forefront of digital census collection.

"There's real benefits from that. Usually the responses on the Internet are cleaner, because it's an assisted mode. People will not make the mistake of going to the wrong questions, and it is more efficient in our processing operations," Hamel said.

"It's also probably safer than paper and it's really where we want to take future census collections, so we've demonstrated that Canadians are really ready to respond en masse on the Internet."

The big mystery continues to be the new voluntary National Household Survey.

The Conservatives eliminated the former long-form census last year, saying that it wanted to strike a balance between the need for data and the right of Canadians to refuse to answer personal questions.

The National Household Survey was the substitute, but StatsCan has conceded it does not know what to expect from the public.

Enumerators had been instructed to take in incomplete forms if necessary, and did not follow-up with people who balked at filling out the form.

A long list of organizations, academics and politicians decried the move to a voluntary long-form questionnaire, saying invaluable information about how Canadians work, their education, transportation habits, housing and other themes would be compromised.

Hamel said the information on the response rates would not be available until later in the fall.