The 2016 Census of Population: The long-form questionnaire must become mandatory again

Québec, December 10 – The Institut de la statistique du Québec fears that the National Household Survey (NHS) will continue to replace the mandatory long-form questionnaire for the 2016 Census of Population. The federal government has still not made known its decision on the subject, which it was slated to do this fall. In light of the problems that surrounded the release of the results of the survey, which is voluntary, and the significant decline in the quality of the statistical information made available since then by Statistics Canada, the federal government must reconsider its 2010 decision.

The federal government’s decision to abandon the mandatory long-form questionnaire for the 2011 Census was made public on June 26, 2010, without any prior consultation. The Institut de la statistique du Québec spoke out against that decision on several occasions. It also expressed serious reservations about the capacity of the NHS to provide information that would meet user needs and the quality standards required in this area.

Since then, the Institut’s objections have unfortunately proved true. The voluntary nature of the NHS has generated much greater variability in response rates. This has caused a significant reduction in the reliability of the data for fine geographical levels or concerning smaller population groups, for example, immigrants, people with low incomes and people working in a particular employment sector.

The detrimental consequences of the federal government’s decision concerns us all. Not only did the decision fail to reduce the costs of the 2011 Census, but it also caused a loss of information for the governments of the provinces and territories. These governments must therefore bear the significant costs of obtaining, by other means, part of that information, which is nonetheless necessary to their decision making, or, worse still, do without it. In addition, quality statistical information enables researchers and the population in general to have reliable data, in a context of open government.

The quality of the statistical information must be irreproachable since it serves as a basis for choosing government priorities, and developing policies and the resulting public programs. Ultimately, the federal government’s decision undermines the sound management of public funds, the tens of billions of dollars that come from taxpayers.

All this brings to mind the words of Premier Lomer Gouin, when, on December 9, 1912, he himself tabled the bill authorizing the creation of the first Québec statistics office: “It is a matter of having more comprehensive statistics on everything that concerns us”.

The Institut de la statistique du Québec therefore believes that the many problems noted in the release of the NHS data demonstrated the inadequacy of that solution. Hence, the Institut reaffirms the need for the federal government to restore the mandatory long-form census for the 2016 Census of Population.

The Institut de la statistique du Québec produces, analyses and disseminates official, objective and quality statistical information on various aspects of Québec society. It is the statistical coordinator for Québec and the relevance of its work makes it a strategic ally for decision makers and all those wishing to learn more about Québec.


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