Census and sensitivities

Population Growth

Prime Minister Harper, catering to the sensitivities of  his ever-dwindling base, decided to cripple an instrument in perfect working order, who never gave a peep of distrust before. Soon, the above graphic may well be the only reliable demographic information gathered by Stat Can…

The compulsory long-form census, filled by one fifth of Canadian households, will now be facultative in 2011. Protests by statisticians, demographic experts, economists and researchers in the field have been poo-pooed by our Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers. The resignation of Munir Sheikh, head of Statistics Canada did not even budge them. The King has ruled.

Conservatives and libertarians called defenders of the mandatory long form census “elitists”. It seems that education, efforts, and reaching excellency in any field, is now a capital sin.  Financial, artistic, scientific elite, all the people who works hard and long to obtain results, are now so easily dismissed, especially if they do not espouse the right ideology.

The King Harper government began by accusing the long-form census of threatening citizens with jail term (and fines, but only jail was mentioned at first). A quick check by journalists found out that nobody had ever been imprisoned for refusing to take the long form census.

Also, the growing opposition of a vast part of the population (citizen’s groups, organizations, businesses, university researchers…) had the Conservative Caucus come up with a new gem yesterday. Minister Tony Clements said opposants “got a good deal” with the wealth of reliant information coming from the Census. And that they want “an easy ride”. An easy ride. Let’s see: isn’t a responsible government supposed to collect the best and most accurate information about its population before taking decisions affecting said population?

Without bothering to consulting any expert, (except their own ideological think tanks), Clements affirms that changes to the census will not affect the quality of data collected, even though statisticians warn a voluntary system will not be as accurate. “If they (insert names of a hundred and more names of organizations, businesses, charities, universities) don’t want to use that data, it’s up to them. They can pay for it another way. … You don’t have to rely on the government of Canada.”

They can pay for it…

Tadaaaa! Another victory for those who dream to cripple, then eventually scrap any governing bodies. (Law of the fittest, rings a bell? ) You need accurate info on the population? Got to pay for it from your own pockets! See the 2001 results of Census Canada.

So how will we replace the Census mandatory long-form as a reliable information collection ? Phone surveys? How does cost a phone survey on any particular subject? And who, pray will manage those surveys?

Private companies. Here is an idea of some cost, according to a Phoenix company:

Costs for a 400 persons phone survey (in US$):

For more information, here is another survey costs comparison (from the private sector). Remember that answering the survey is not mandatory…

Survey Type                          Cost per Survey Response* (many attempts needed before getting a valid response!)

Telephone Survey                       $10.00

Mail Survey                                  $56.37  (why this high figure? because there’s no mandatory answering)

Automated Voice Survey         $3.50

The phone survey costs looks cheaper than the mail survey to replace the long-form census. But oops! Are you happy to get all those telemarketers and polls calls home? Me neither.

There is, also a growing concern about the future of phone surveys. The increase in ‘do not call’ refusals, they found that phone surveys with automated random digit dialing are no longer representative of the US population, as land line telephones now skew to older respondents.

Back to the scrapped mandatory long-form census, replaced by private companies’ polls.  Take the 400-persons survey example. For a good 30 minutes (25 000 US $). Now, multiply this number for one fifth on the Canadian population, that would be around 6 millions people, about 1,5 – 2 million households ?  93 750 000 US$ . This is a conservative figure, since I took the smallest number of households, and a very short phone time (not many people wants to spend more than 15 minutes on the phone). If we change idea and take the mail survey (the number of questions is not specified on the price tag) for 1,5 millions households, the results won’t be more reliable.

A mere 400 to 3000 respondents  poll on one specific question cannot reach the reliability of a Canada-wide Census with a lot of correlating data. Since neither poll or survey will be mandatory…

That’s why a Canada wide,  reliable census every 5 years is essential part of governing. It provides a solid base on which public policies – social, cultural, economic – are built . The sensitivities of  a few paranoid citizens about the revealing the number of bedrooms in their homes have no base in reality. Stat Can has always taken measures to protect privacy.  The Statistic Act  requires that the information provided be kept confidential. The National Statistics Council has supported changes to data collection methods that enhance privacy, such as mail-in and on-line option. On the other hand, credit card companies ask for a lot more info, and exchange them gladly over with banks and other businesses…

What does the Harper decision means is that only the richest will be able to afford reliable demographic information.  Oh, you’re a very small business, a volunteer, a charity, a NGO, Centraide? Tough. And if you know the kind of biased questions asked by the polls by political parties, imagine the flood of “surveys” after the access to reliable infos, Stat Can Census, will have been crippled.

Moreover, this whole Census affair shows that the Harper government will be building its actions and politics  not upon reliable and scientific evidence, but upon their own ideological construction of reality. Climate change? Pollution? Criminality? Creationism? A set of beliefs will now reign, unchallenged by science.


4 responses to “Census and sensitivities

  1. It’s time to kick the Harperites off the hill.


  2. Pingback: Le pouding conservateur | Savante folle

  3. Pingback: Vote for the Time Machine! | Echoes of a Sunday artist

  4. Pingback: Votez et voyagez dans le temps! | Savante folle

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