11/05/2014 12:03 EST | Updated 01/05/2015 05:59 EST

Long-Form Census: Ted Hsu's Bill To Bring Back Questionnaire Set For Debate

OTTAWA - The Commons will debate a private member's bill to bring back the long-form census, the mandatory questionnaire axed by the Conservative government in 2010.

Liberal MP Ted Hsu's proposal would amend the Statistics Act to make the long-form census a permanent feature of the census process every five years.

Hsu's bill leaves the definition of long-form census open to any "new sources of data or data collection practices" that might pop up in the future, and allows the chief statistician to decide on the percentage of households that would need to fill it out.

Hsu, a former physicist who also worked in the financial sector, said reliable data is critical for government decision-making, such as where to build sewer systems, plan bus routes or initiate immigrant services.

"If we want to make smart decisions about how to spend taxpayers' dollars, we need to have good information to do that," said Hsu.

The private member's bill would also change the way the chief statistician is appointed, requiring the government to first consult a selection committee.

The Conservatives replaced the mandatory long-form with the voluntary National Household Survey, a change that was widely panned by voices as diverse as religious groups and provincial governments.

At the time, the government argued the long-form census was unnecessarily intrusive, noting the threat of fines and jail time for those who didn't complete the forms.

When the results of the 2011 survey were released, data on more than 1,000 Canadian communities was withheld because of lower response rates.

There were also fears of bias in some of the data if certain demographics were less likely to fill out the voluntary forms, such as members of aboriginal communities and low-income individuals.

Critics have also decried the fact that the information collected in 2011 can't be directly compared to that of 2006, which was gathered under the mandatory regime.

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