Good data can be hard to come by.
Statistics Canada, charged with gathering personal information on the Canadian public, is faced with a bigger job trying to collect usable, representative data for the 2011 census.
Participation in the short version (10 questions) of the census remains mandatory for all households. But the National Household Survey (NHS), or long-form census, is now voluntary.
“We’re using a (data) collection approach that will send people several reminders, after the initial contact, telling them how it is critical to the community in which (they) live,” said Statistics Canada’s 2011 census manager Marc Hamel.
Census forms will be mailed out on May 3.
In Greater Victoria, 140 temporary employees will work from mid-May to August, following up with residents to encourage them to either mail in their completed survey or answer the questions online. In total, 35,000 people will be hired by Statistics Canada to do the groundwork.
All households will receive the short-form census, while about one in three will receive the NHS.
The availability of accurate, useful data helps municipalities better design services to meet the community’s needs, said Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin.
“(Information on) income levels, family composition, mobility and transportation trends; all this helps us determine what our community needs are for parks, recreation, bike lanes (and) walkability,” he said.
Knowing the breakdown by age in the community, and such characteristics as how many people are working, renting apartments or living in detached homes has been helpful for committee work that Oak Bay Coun. John Herbert has done.
“I think it’s useful for municipal governments and governments at all levels to get a snapshot of who it is they’re governing,” he said.
Federal funding for municipalities is also largely based on population and the demographic makeup of communities, Fortin added. “Ultimately census data is extremely important to municipalities if we want to plan.”
The census strategy for 2011 was a political hot potato last summer when the Conservative government announced it was making the long-form census voluntary – chief statistician Munir Sheikh resigned in protest.
Hamel admitted that giving people the choice whether to complete the more detailed survey risks getting an unrepresentative sample of responses, and thus skew the results. Young males, given their transient nature, and recent immigrants, due to language barriers, tend to be less represented in voluntary surveys.
StatCan is out to ensure as broad a cross-section of Canadians as possible take the time to complete the NHS. One step is making the online option more attractive and simple.
“Initially we’ll mail (an online response) letter out to 60 per cent of households – that will vary region by region,” Hamel said, adding the goal is to have 40 per cent of census forms done online.
Job applications can be made online at www.census2011.gc.ca or call toll-free to 1-866-773-2011. The application deadline is May.