The Census “Compromise”

There isn’t a great deal more to say about the great census debate than has been said in different fora in different ways. It all comes down to whether Canadians should have the policy that affects their daily lives determined on the basis of reliable data capable of tracking long-term trends (or developments about which much fuss may be made, but that have no longevity) or not. At the Law Commission of Ontario, we can say that law reform agencies are as reliant on the rich core of data produced by the census as are many other organizations. Being able to trust in the veracity of the data is crucial to our work. So what to say about the reasons for eliminating the mandatory long-form census? And about the one question that seems to have been deleted for the purpose of the new voluntary survey?

No one is making much of removing the threat of jail, although having a fine may be just fine, as long as there is some way to make it clear that people are obliged to complete the form and it is not left to the goodness of their hearts. Without the mandatory nature, it is difficult to say that the data are reliably a portrait of Canadian society and of long-term trends.

Then comes the issue of how to address the issue of intrusiveness. The replacement for the 2011 long-form census is to be the voluntary “National Household Survey” (available on Statistics Canada’s website) – with an explanation that “[i]nformation previously collected by the mandatory long-form census questionnaire will be collected as part of the new voluntary National Household Survey” – including the infamous “how many bedrooms” question.

How readily, however, have those seeking a compromise jumped on the question of “unpaid work”, one that encapsulates in certain respects the important developments in the relationship between women’s engagement with the paid workforce and more traditional expectations about women’s domestic role. This shift has been one of the major sociological shifts in Canada and elsewhere over the past quarter century or so. One might even think that once again women draw the short straw in the long census, so easily is this question dispensed with! Yet it showed in the 2006 census the extent to which women were responsible not only for housework and child care, but the increasingly significant care of seniors (for the example of just one table created by Stats Canada, see that covering Canada as a whole). Although this tracks an emerging demographic that will have a big impact on women’s capacity to engage with the marketplace, and expectations about how we organize society around the increasing number of older adults, it will be the last we learn about the impact, since the voluntary survey for 2011 does not include a question about unpaid work.


  1. Comment from Chantal
    Time: July 31, 2010, 8:20 pm

    The irony is, who would have thought the Liberals would put themselves in the position of being FOR anything relating to mandatory disclosure to the state of so many individual facts about your personal, unique situation in life, under threat of fine and jail? The only thing more surprising about this is that the Conservatives are against it (the state using their power over individuals to get the information they want in such an institutionalized way), and want to voluntarily give up some of the governments power in this case.
    Even Jack Layton and the NDP are uncomfortable with this, as he suggested a compromise would be to remove the threat of jail time in this situation. But isn’t that all Harper and the Conservatives were trying to do in the first place?
    So the NDP and the Conservatives are against jail time, and the Liberals are for fines and jail time and mandatory disclosure.
    It’s either very ironic, or Harper has once again manipulated things, and tricked the Liberals into defaulting themselves into this postion.

    I know the information provided by a mandatory census is valuable to all sorts of people and groups and levels of government. I’m sure there are many things that are valuable in this world that all sorts of people and groups and levels of government want, but how exactly are these groups going to obtain these things? Voluntarily? How about if that doesn’t work?

    But maybe this is different because it’s neccesary for the good of so many different groups and people. The good of the group trumps the rights of the individual.

    Well I’m sorry but if I’m in a group I know whether I feel comfortable or not, and if I don’t feel comfortable in a certain situation and the good of the group argument comes up, in retrospect I question what boudaries were broken or do I have any rights in this situation.

    I’m asking the statisticians and economists and politicians to keep their unwanted, uncomfortable questions off of me thank you.