Monday, July 12, 2010

ACMLA Letter to Tony Clement concerning the 2011 decision to cancel the mandatory Long-Form Questionnaire

(with permission from Andrew Nicholson, president ACMLA)


The Honorable Tony Clement, MP Minister of Industry House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6

Dear Minister Clement

As President of the Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives (ACMLA) (http://www.acmla.org/), I am writing to you to express the surprise and disappointment of our membership in the Government’s decision to cancel the mandatory Long-Form Questionnaire for the 2011 Census. The information gathered from the Long-Form census has contributed greatly to the education and research activities of Canadians over many decades. Its replacement by a voluntary National Household Survey raises many concerns from our membership.

We are an active Association with over 70 members from across Canada who play a pivotal role as geographical information providers and educators. We find the information provided by the Long-Form census is vital for providing a greater understanding of Canada and its diverse regions to our users. For example, determining accurate levels of income or immigration patterns is possible with data collected from the Long-Form Census questionnaire. Moreover, as geographical information professionals, we map and visualize the data, and provide mapping/visualization capabilities to our researchers so they are able to analyze the data for research purposes. The results and impact of such research are then carried forward into other public and private endeavours for the benefit of all Canadians.

Part of the value of the Long-Form Census was its mandatory requirement that 20% of the population complete it. While this may have seemed an onerous task for a few participants, most gladly participated knowing that everyone else selected in the 20% sample is equally obligated to fill out the Long-Form as part of their civic duty. Moreover, the value and long term benefit for the whole population, including educators and policy makers, has been immense. Replacing the mandatory Long-Form with a voluntary National Household Survey form just raises more issues especially concerning the validity and value of the data collected. For example, will many people take the time to voluntarily fill in a 50+ question form? If there is a low participation rate, how can anyone really rely on the data as being an accurate snapshot of the Canadian population? Though it has also been argued that the Long-Form is intrusive and raises issues of confidentially, this is completely untrue as Statistics Canada has been meticulous in anonymizing census data to protect the confidentially of all participants. This has worked very well in the past for both Census participants and the users of Census data.

As geographic information professionals and providers/curators of geospatial information, we are also concerned by the lack of information pertaining to the future dissemination of Census and National Household Survey data at smaller geographic levels such as Census Tracts and Dissemination Areas. On Statistics Canada’s website, it states that the National Household Survey “will conduct and release the results of this survey applying the same methods and standards used for all of its surveys”. Most of Statistics Canada’s other survey data is only available at a provincial or Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) at best. This will not be acceptable for users who rely on such data at a neighbourhood level to conduct research or make important decisions and recommendations. Mapping employment numbers at a provincial or CMA level will be especially limiting for educational and research purposes.

The mandatory Long-Form questionnaire has been a cornerstone of census data collection for decades and its value should not be discounted. The rich datasets that have been produced have been vital components in almost every area and activity of Canadian society. The decision to abolish it and replace it with a voluntary survey has simply not been well thought out and will only hinder decision-makers at all levels of government, not to mention the research and innovation pursuits of our students and academics.
We respectfully recommend that you reconsider this decision and implement the mandatory Census Long-Form Questionnaire in time for the 2011 Census.

Sincerely,
Andrew Nicholson, President, ACMLA
GIS/Data Librarian
Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre
University of Toronto Mississauga
3359 Mississauga Road North
Mississauga, Ontario
CANADA
L5L 1C6
Phone:(905)828-3886
andrew.nicholson@utoronto.ca

18 comments:

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