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The Compass - - EDITORIAL - This ed­i­to­rial orig­i­nally ap­peared in The Tele­gram

The news was swift. Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau will re­in­state the manda­tory long-form cen­sus. It was a firm elec­tion prom­ise. But the fact it was an­nounced one day af­ter Trudeau’s swear­ing-in shows how im­por­tant the new gov­ern­ment feels this sur­vey is.

“As we said through­out the elec­tion cam­paign, we are com­mit­ted to mak­ing ev­i­dence-based de­ci­sions on pro­grams and poli­cies and to pro­vid­ing bet­ter and more timely ser­vices to Cana­di­ans,” In­no­va­tion, Sci­ence and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Navdeep Bains said in a news re­lease last Thurs­day.

“With the 2016 Cen­sus of Pop­u­la­tion pro­gram, com­mu­ni­ties will once again have ac­cess to the high-qual­ity data they re­quire to make de­ci­sions that will truly re­flect the needs of their peo­ple, busi­nesses, in­sti­tu­tions and or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

To those who are ran­domly cho­sen to fill it out, the long-form cen­sus is a nui­sance.

When Stephen Harper scrapped it ahead of the 2011 Cen­sus, many ap­plauded the move.

Some ar­gued it was too in­va­sive, even though pri­vacy pro­to­cols were al­ways strictly fol­lowed.

Oth­ers in­sisted there were nu­mer­ous other sources for statis­tics, when in re­al­ity the long­form cen­sus was a cru­cial source of de­mo­graphic data for gov­ern­ments and other in­sti­tu­tions across the coun­try.

The Con­ser­va­tives re­placed it with an op­tional house­hold sur­vey for the 2011 Cen­sus.

It bombed, with com­pli­ance drop­ping from about 95 per cent to 68 per cent.

The ab­sence of in­for­ma­tion left a gap­ing hole for those try­ing to make sound pol­icy de­ci­sions based on re­li­able statis­tics.

In Oc­to­ber, a group of more than 60 pol­icy an­a­lysts and other ex­perts made an elec­tion is­sue out of the con­tro­versy.

“Re­sponse rates (in 2011) plum­meted, and nearly a quar­ter of Cana­dian mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are miss­ing data for 2011,” they wrote in an open let­ter.

“What’s more, the 2011 data can­not be com­pared with those of pre­vi­ous years, and many groups, in­clud­ing abo­rig­i­nal, low-in­come and im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, are poorly rep­re­sented.”

In com­mend­ing Min­is­ter Bain’s an­nounce­ment Thurs­day, one group pointed out that even busi­nesses were left cold by a black hole of mar­ket­ing data.

“Pub­lic and cor­po­rate de­ci­sion-mak­ing must be based on ac­cu­rate and com­pre­hen­sive data, if we are to have a solid grasp on the true na­ture of the is­sues we face as a demo­cratic so­ci­ety,” said Stephen Toope, pres­i­dent of the Fed­er­a­tion for the Hu­man­i­ties and So­cial Sciences. This was never re­ally a mat­ter of cost. It was al­ways a mat­ter of ide­ol­ogy. Af­ter 2016, Cana­di­ans will once again know a lot more about them­selves.

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