06/19/2015 04:19 EDT | Updated 06/19/2016 05:59 EDT

Canada's 2016 Census To Mirror Controversial Version From 2011

So much for efforts to raise the quality of information in the most critical areas.


OTTAWA - The Conservative government has not added any new questions to the 2016 mandatory short-form census, leaving the process identical to the controversial system it introduced for 2011.

Statistics Canada and other groups had raised the possibility of adding questions to the short-form in order to raise the quality of information in the most critical areas.

The response rate for the mandatory short-form census was 97.1 per cent in 2011, versus 68.6 per cent for the optional National Household Survey introduced by the Conservatives to replace the mandatory long-form census.

Last-minute questions — for instance, on languages spoken at home — were added to the last short-form census after an outcry from minority groups.

After that, Statistics Canada undertook a consultation on the census that included federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as a wide range of other groups.

It identified certain data areas that participants identified as "essential." Basic demographics topped the list, with information about "families and households" deemed essential by 61 per cent of the participants.

Federal departments identified information about aboriginal Canadians and income and earnings as their top needs, after basic demographics.

In 2012, Statistics Canada published a study on different ways that Canada could collect the information it needed. It rejected as too intrusive the possibility of a national register of personal information as exists in some European countries, and deemed the American system of rolling surveys too costly.

But it did raise the possibility of transferring some important questions into the still-mandatory short-form census, as a way of getting the best data in some areas. Putting more mandatory questions into the mix could also help create statistical benchmarks, with which to compare data collected in other surveys.

It's not known whether Statistics Canada officials did eventually propose additional questions for the short-form census. In 2010, it recommended sticking with the mandatory short- and long-form questionnaires, but was overruled by the federal cabinet, which makes the ultimate decisions.

Former chief statistician Munir Sheikh resigned his position after then Industry Minister Tony Clement suggested that bureaucrats had supported the idea of a voluntary survey as a suitable substitute for the mandatory long-form questionnaire.

At the time, the government axed the mandatory long-form census calling the threat of jail times and fines coercive.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has said that if his party forms government, it would bring back the long-form census and enhance the independence of Statistics Canada.