Something more effective

Ken Boessenkool, a former advisor to Stephen Harper, and economist Jack Mintz take up the census debate in search of something somehow better.

Recently, the U.S. dropped its every-five-year long-form census in favour of annual surveys to provide up-to-date information for policy analysis. European governments are using various databases to improve analysis without requiring long census forms that are collected only once every five or 10 years.

For all these reasons, the debate over the mandatory long-form census is overdue and seeking a replacement is timely. If anything, the government should create a task force to look at new ways of collecting information that would serve Canadians better and provide more data for evidence-based public policy.

As has been noted, moving to the sort of system used in some European countries would raise other concerns about the privacy of citizens. As for the United States, it has indeed replaced its decennial (once every ten years) long-form census with an ongoing “American Community Survey.” Here is a copy of the 2010 ACS. You’ll perhaps notice that it includes 48 area of inquiry, including some of the same questions Messrs Bossenkool and Mintz lament as needlessly invasive in the Canadian context. The ACS is also mandatory. Those who willfully neglect to participate are potentially subject to a fine of as much as $5,000 (ten times the maximum for not filling out the census in Canada).