Ottawa, January 7, 2015
The Honourable James Moore
Minister of Industry
235 Queen Street
Dear Minister Moore,
I would like, on behalf of the CHA, to express its strong concern over the revised, shortened format of the Census of Canada, and offer its support for the current private member’s bill, an Act to amend the Statistics Act (C-626), which would restore the long-form census. The CHA, founded in 1922, is a bilingual not-for-profit and charitable association devoted to fostering the scholarly study and communication of history in Canada. With more than 1,000 members, it is the largest of its kind in the country. We join other organizations dedicated to high standards of research, information gathering and archiving in urging all parliamentarians to take a second look at the previous legislated decision to abandon the long-form census, and then, subsequently, to review the new practice of facilitating an opt-out clause for respondents. In the light of strong evidence that the recent changes to our national Census have deprived Canadians of a key research tool necessary to understand both our history and current social and economic issues, we believe that a return to the traditional, long-form, mandatory census is essential.
The Census has been a rich source of information for historical investigation, providing researchers with the statistical data to understand the contours and complexities of Canadian society in the past: in order to understand the lives of previous generations of Canadians, we need the kind of detailed data made available by the long-form Census. The long-form Census also allows provides researchers examining contemporary society with the tools necessary to make informed decisions relating to economic and social planning, and the aggregate data it generates can help us address structural inequalities and imbalances in Canadian society. The CHA previously voiced our concerns and dismay over the replacement of the long-form Census with the voluntary National Household Survey (NHS), see http://www.cha-shc.ca/english/advocacy/scrapping-of-the-mandatory-long-census-form-chas-response.html#sthash.4KZhxDXA.dpbs, pointing out that the Census has been an absolutely critical tool for historical research, one of the most important sources of comprehensive historical data available to us.
We have the opportunity now to revisit these issues in light of new evidence that the shorter form and new process have impoverished, and will continue to harm information gathering and historical research in Canada. The response rate for the 2011 NHS has fallen significantly compared to the last mandatory long-form census in 2006, from 95% to 68.6%, leaving us with less reliable and detailed data. If Bill C-626 is passed, our ability to understand the changing social patterns and needs of Canadian society will be significantly enhanced, and future historians will also have the information necessary to study our current society in depth and with some certainty.
We also strongly urge a reconsideration of the opt-out clause or ‘informed consent question’, which was, according to the 2005 Act to amend the Statistics Act (SC 2005 c.31), to be reviewed by a designated committee of the House of Commons, the Senate, or both, no later than two years before the taking of the third census of population in 2016. In the new process, all respondents must check a box in order to have their information made available to historians in 92 years. We now know how detrimental this is to accurate information gathering: the response rate in 2006 was a mere 56%, a figure which will render this data highly questionable, if not valueless. The CHA recommends the removal of informed consent question from the Census form. Again, the CHA has been opposing this measure since the very beginning, see http://www.cha-shc.ca/english/advocacy/bill-s-13-2003.html#sthash.cgyc8han.dpbs.
This is an issue of national importance and we urge all historians, genealogists and archivists to voice their concerns to their members of parliament and to other interested stakeholders. The strength, reliability and excellence of our knowledge of the past rest on sound and detailed sources such as the long-form Census. We owe it to future generations to provide them with the most accurate, reliable and fulsome picture of the past that is possible.
The Canadian Historical Association
cc. Tom Mulcair
Minister Moore's Response - February 3, 2015
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