Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Census: the Long and Short of It

Harper has reduced the long census from 63 to 8 because he claims that the rest of the questions are overly intrusive on our individual right to privacy.  Lets have a look at the new census and then the questions that have been left out.  Please be aware that I have paraphrased them to keep this post as short as possible.

Step A:
1. Phone number
2. Address

Step B:
1. How many people including yourself live in your house?
2. What are their names?

Step C: Is there anyone who you're not sure should be included?

Step D:
1. Are you a farmer?
2. If so, do you run your farm?

Step E:
For each person in step B provide the following information:
1. Name
2. Sex
3. Age and birthday
4. Marital status
5. Are you in a common law relationship?
6. What is your relationship to person 1
7. First language

Step F: Do you want this information released in 92 years?

So this tells us... how many people there are in the country, average number of people per household, if they're farmers, and the barest demographic information.  In this format the census is of little value to the government.

Now lets look at the "intrusive" questions that have been shifted to the voluntary census:
(As the voluntary census has not yet been published I will be using the questions that have been removed from the 2006 long census form).  The numbers and section are taken from 2006 census

Step E:
Activities of Daily Living:
7. Is there anyone living in your home with a disability?
8. Does it affect them at home, at work/school, and/or otherwise?

Sociocultural Information:
9. Province/Country of birth
10. Citizenship
11. Did this person immigrate to Canada
12. When did they immigrate
13. Fluency in French or English
14. Fluency in other languages
15. Languages spoken at home
16. What is your first language (same as question 7 in the new census)
17. What's your family's ethnic origin
18. Are you an Aboriginal person?
19. What is your "race"?
20. Are you a member of an Indian band/First Nation?
21. Do you have Indian status?
22. The following questions only apply to people aged 15 or older

23. Where did you live a year ago?
24. 5 years ago?

Place of Birth of Parents:
25. Where were your parents born?

26. Have you completed high school?
27. Have you completed an apprenticeship?
28. Do you have a college diploma
29. Do you have a university diploma
30. What's the field of study that you're most educated in?
31. Where did you receive that education?
32. Are you currently in school?

Household Activities:
33. Last week how much time did you spend on unpaid housework, unpaid childcare, unpaid senior care?

Labour Market Activities:
34. How much time did you spend last week in paid employment.
35. Are you temporarily absent from work (vacation, illness, temporary layoff)
36. Are you starting a new job in the next month?
37. Have you been looking for a job?
38. If a job were available could you fill it?
39. When were you last employed for pay.
40. Who did you work for?
41. What kind of business was it?
42. What's your job title?
43. What's your job description?
44. Are you paid, working for a family business without pay, or self employed.
45. If self employed, are you incorporated?
46. Where did you work?
47. How did you get to work?
48. Languages spoken at work?
49. How many weeks did you work last year?
50. Do you work full time or part time?

51. Can we use your tax information to complete this part?
If not,
52. How much did you make last year and from what sources?
53. Can we release this information in 92 years?

Step F: Home Information
H1. Who pays the bills?
H2. Do you own or rent?
H3. How big is your house?
H4. When was it built?
H5. Does it need repairs?
H6. How much are the utilities for your home?
H7. If you rent, how much is your rent?
H8. If you own, how much are your taxes, mortgage payments, or condo fees?

Whew, a lot of questions yes!  But which of them infringe on your rights?
Disability is needed to provide services to those who need them

Sociocultural Information is needed to know where to provide government services in foreign languages, Immigrant services, Aboriginal services.  The race questions can be used to compare different groups and determine if there are disparities that need to be addressed.  Basically this lets the government know where they need to apply resources to guarantee your Charter rights.

Mobility: lets the government know about the flow of population.

Birthplace of Parents: Used to compare the difference between 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc generations of Canadians

Education: Do education programs need to be modified, what skills does the population have, what skills does the government need to look for in immigrants

Household activities: Is there a gendered division of labour.

Labour Market Activities: What areas of employment are growing and shrinking.  How many people are employed and where?

Income: Disparity between rich and poor/ where are more resources needed to combat poverty

Housing: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. are going to ask you this anyway.  Does the government need to spend money to repair/build homes.  eg. The home renovation tax credit.

None of these questions are overly intrusive to the individual and they clearly can provide a great wealth of important information to the government, advocacy groups, businesses, universities, etc. Even if they were considered intrusive, that intrusion is justified by the fact that government agencies need this information to operate effectively.  Without it they would have to operate on gut feelings and existing assumptions and prejudices about the needs groups, areas, peoples, etc.

Basically, government decisions would have more to do with last night's dinner, than a factual reality.

So this actually makes a lot of sense for Harper to do.  He has openly stated that his goal is to move the country more to the right.  Harper governs with an ideology, and information can get in the way of making it a reality.  By making such information less available to the public, businesses, and opposition parties, he makes it harder and more expensive to counter his own point of view.

In short, he has created this controversy to consolidate his power and get a majority government.  His government claims that he made the change to avoid a similar controversy as in the US.  Tony Clement claims that he received 160 000 complaints about the census in 2006, if this is true (and it's not clear that it is), it would mean that only 6.25% of respondents complained; which inversely means that 93.75% of respondents had no problem with doing their civic duty.

Good to know that the only minority that counts is the one that doesn't want to count minorities.

The simple fact that no one can reasonably deny is this: democracies need information to serve their people, if this goes through then we all be poorer for it.


  1. Ok.

    What's an "Indian"?

    100 Indian (sorry Metis)

    Beyond that, how do you arbitrarily discriminate between 99% and 1%? And because you can't, what's the point of the question.

    Mobility questions? Too bad the census wasn't a year ago, Alberta would be getting a crap-load of money from Ottawa (woooo hooo... that was funny.. I didn't know the census was supposed to be a comedic endeavor).

    Our society will function just fine without the long census. Most of the questions are of questionable relevence other than to allow for academics and beaurocrats to embark on expensive and pointless efforts at spending tax dollars.


    Color me unimpressed.
    What is "disabled"? I'm fat. Therefore disabled? I am lazy, and I tell everyone I have firbromyalgia, but, the reality is, I've never been diagnosed. I have asthma. I have gout. Again - arbitrary descriptions that continue to expand with "progressive thought" are virtually meaningless.

    Am I on vacation? Seriously?

    Who pays the bills in my home?

  2. Oh.


    I AM a minority, according to my census response.

    I'm an African Canadian.. as are all human beings.

  3. Well I took the time to summarize these questions on the presumption that most casual readers would have a basic understanding of what disabled means.


    As for what an 'Indian' is I'm surprised that a lawyer doesn't understand that this is defined by statute, which is how you can be of Aboriginal decent without being a status Indian.

    As for your comment on vacation: they want to know if you're employed and are using a single week as a point of reference for the sake of uniformity. Vacation is saying that you didn't work last week but are employed.

    Who pays the bills in your home? Maybe it doesn't work this way in your house, but maybe your wife contributes or if you're like many immigrant families in Toronto maybe there are multiple families living in one home.

    The question may not apply to you but surprise, surprise, the population of Canada doesn't solely exist in your home.

    It doesn't ask if you're African Canadian: it asks if you're Black, which you're not. Arguing that all humans come from Africa is a way of denying the racism faced by black people, and inhibits efforts to remedy discrimination.

  4. Excellent point about reality getting in the way of Harper's ideology.

    You could play privileged-white-dude bingo with Harvie's comments.

    Denying the validity of people who claim aboriginal identity.

    Denying that disability even exists.

    Thereby denying the difficulties faced by people with disabilities.

    Denying that black Canadians have historically different experiences and cultural identities than Canadians of European ancestry.

    Thereby denying the fact that people experience racism in their daily lives.

    Appropriating African identity.