Census 2011

Data will always be key to proper planning

PAULA TERRY-LANCASTER

One of this year’s election issues is the decision that the federal government took last year, without any kind of consultation, to scrap the mandatory long-form census for the first time since its inception 35 years ago.

Instead, a voluntary national household survey will be issued to a third of Canadian households, who may or may not choose to complete and return them.

This will likely have a significant impact on municipalities across the country, and Barrie is no exception.

So opposed was the former head of Statistics Canada, Munir Sheik, that he resigned as a sole result of this decision last July. Another former chief statistician, Ivan Fellegi, says that, if these changes had been proposed during his tenure, he’d have done the same thing.

The government has cited ‘Canadians’ privacy issues’ as the reason for the change. However, any personal information underlying the census is only released 92 years after its collection.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario, as well as citizens’ groups, business federations, professional associations and public and private sector unions, have all vociferously opposed the changes. They feel that the weakened, less accurate data will compromise their ability to make sturdy policy decisions.

They need good and accurate information to provide well-targeted services, eliminate waste and spend taxpayers’ money most effectively.

Because census data is used to determine a lot of program funding and delivery, any community that is rapidly growing like Barrie has the most need for an up-to-date and fully comprehensive set of data to ensure it gets the fair share of services and public spending it deserves.

The data is also used by businesses looking both for markets and for good places to establish themselves, with adequate numbers of potential employees. So if key data is not required to be reported, it weakens the census overall and could harm Barrie’s chances of attracting and keeping good jobs.

This city needs accurate and comprehensive reporting from all its wards and neighbourhoods to determine spending across a whole range of areas, from road construction to social programs. Without it, there could be a significant negative impact on Barrie’s ability to conduct a reliable and accurate analysis of municipal issues.

The city’s strategy and economic development department, as well as the planning department, both use data provided by StatsCan, along with other resources, for their planning and development purposes.

If a statistically sound percentage of households do indeed provide responses to the new national household survey questionnaire, the data may be viable enough for projection and planning purposes.

A voluntary curfew may be effective in keeping teenagers compliantly at home instead of out partying on a Saturday night.

But, by definition, the word ‘voluntary’ is opposite in meaning to ‘mandatory’.

And when it comes to municipal spending on things we need as opposed to things we don’t, guesswork will never be an adequate substitute for careful planning based on measurable, quantifiable data.

Paula Terry-Lancaster is the owner of Write First Time, a freelance writing consultancy based in Barrie. She writes for national, local and Internetbased newspapers.