The Canada 2011 Census is a detailed enumeration of the Canadian population on May 10, 2011. Statistics Canada, an agency of the Canadian government, conducts a nationwide census every five years. In 2011, it consisted of a mandatory short form census questionnaire and an inaugural National Household Survey (NHS), a voluntary survey which replaced the mandatory long form census questionnaire; this substitution was the focus of much controversy. Completion of the (short form) census is mandatory for all Canadians, and those who do not complete it may face penalties ranging from fines to prison sentences.
The 2011 Census is the fifteenth decennial census and is required by section 8 of the Constitution Act, 1867. As with other decennial censuses, the data was used to adjust federal electoral district boundaries.
As of August 24, 2011, Canada's overall collection response rate was 98.1%, up over a percentage point from 96.5% in the 2006 Census. Ontario and Prince Edward Island each hold the highest response rate at 98.3%, while Nunavut holds the lowest response rate at 92.7%.
In an article in the New York Times in August 2015, journalist Stephen Marche argued that by ending the mandatory long-form census in 2011, the federal government "stripped Canada of its capacity to gather information about itself" in the "age of information." Nearly 500 organizations in Canada, including the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Catholic Council of Bishops protested the decision to replace the long form Census in 2011 with a shorter version.
The original schedule of the short-form questions for the 2011 Census of Population was published in the Canada Gazette, Part I on August 21, 2010. The 2011 Census consisted of the same eight questions that appeared on the 2006 Census short-form questionnaire, with the addition of two questions on language. The federal Minister of Industry Tony Clement's announcement that questions about language would appear on the mandatory short-form census came in response to a lawsuit brought by the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities, which claimed that the voluntary status of the long-form census would impact language-related government services.
In addition to possible questions on activity limitation, various organizations have already called for changes for the upcoming census:
The National Household Survey (NHS) began within four weeks of the May 2011 Census and included approximately 4.5 million households. The information collected by the NHS is intended to replace the data from the previous long-form census questionnaire. This questionnaire will cover most of the same topics as the 2006 Census.
Various industry professionals have indicated that the data collected by the NHS will not be compatible with the data previously collected by the long form questionnaire. Many of the same professionals have indicated that the data gathered by a voluntary survey will not be of the same quality as the previous mandatory long form.[excessive citations]
Ahead of the 2011 Census, the Conservative government announced that the long-form questionnaire would no longer be mandatory. This decision was made by the June 17, 2010 Order in Council, created by the Minister of Industry, defining the questions for the 2011 Census as including only the short-form questions. This was published in the Canada Gazette on June 26, 2010; however, a news release was not issued by Minister of Industry Tony Clement until July 13, 2010. This release stated in part "The government will retain the mandatory short form that will collect basic demographic information. To meet the need for additional information, and to respect the privacy wishes of Canadians, the government has introduced the voluntary National Household Survey." On July 30, 2010, Statistics Canada published a description of the National Household Survey, intended to be sent to about 4.5 million households. Industry minister Tony Clement stated that the change to voluntary forms was made because of privacy-related complaints, though he acknowledged that the decision was made without consulting organizations and governments that work closely with Statistics Canada. Clement had previously said that this change was made on the advice of Statistics Canada.
The move has been criticized by a number of organizations and individuals and has been the subject of some satirical articles. The new voluntary form is judged to be less accurate than the mandatory long form by many industry professionals and the organizations which make use of the data. Ivan Fellegi, the former Chief Statistician of Canada originally appointed in 1985 by the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, said that he would have quit his job if the government had taken this change during his tenure. He claims that those who are most vulnerable (such as the poor, new immigrants, and aboriginals) are least likely to respond to a voluntary form, which weakens information about their demographic. Munir Sheikh, Fellegi's successor as Chief Statistician appointed by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper on February 15, 2008, resigned on July 21, 2010 in protest of the Conservative government's change in policy. In a public letter, Sheikh wrote that he could not legally comment on what advice he had given the government regarding the census, but he did comment against the government's decision, writing:
I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census.
The National Citizens Coalition and the Fraser Institute support the change. The strongly libertarian National Citizens Coalition, which claims a membership of between 40,000 and 45,000, is continuing to campaign against the mandatory long form census.
Groups against the change come from all parts of the political spectrum, and include the Federation of Canadian Municipalities; Atlantic Provinces Economic Council; City of Toronto; National Statistics Council; Canadian Jewish Congress; Evangelical Fellowship of Canada; Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops; Canadian Medical Association; Statistical Society of Canada; the American Statistical Association; Registered Nurses Association of Ontario; Canadian Conference of the Arts; and the governments of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Manitoba.
On July 19, 2010, representatives from several institutions signed a letter expressing their disapproval of the change and their desire to speak to Clement to find another solution. The organizations represented were:
A House of Commons industry committee special hearing on July 27, 2010 heard that during the previous census, out of approximately 12 million forms, 166 complaints were known to be received directly or indirectly. In answer to Clement's claim that those who don't fill out the census risk jail time, Jack Layton, leader of the national New Democratic Party, noted that in the entire history of the census, the government had not prosecuted and jailed a single person for failing to complete the census, and pointed out that the threat could be removed entirely by amending the legislation so that incarceration is no longer a penalty for refusal to complete the census. In response, the government announced plans to introduce legislation to remove the threat of jail time for anyone refusing to fill out any mandatory government surveys. The Statistics Act has not yet been amended to change the penalties. It was last updated in 2005.
Some groups have argued that the decision was motivated by a wish to destroy a useful tool for social advocacy, by making it harder to identify and count disadvantaged groups. However, the Conservative government maintains that its reasoning for the cancellation is that they do not believe it is appropriate to force Canadians to divulge detailed personal information under threat of prosecution.
On October 20, 2010, Statistics Canada predicted that a voluntary long-form would result in a decline of total respondents from 94% to 50%. Consequentially, they expect a "substantial risk of non-response bias" and plan to "[adapt their] data collection and other procedures to mitigate as much as possible against these risks." The response rate also led them to predict an increased risk of sampling errors, because only 16% of the Canadian population would be surveyed, as opposed to 19% under a mandatory long-form similar to the one in 2006. The government announced in August 2010 that it would be spending $30 million on a campaign aimed at increasing the response rate to the voluntary form, but information released by Statistics Canada in December 2010 revealed that half of this money would be required for tasks unrelated to the promotional campaign.
Criticism of the National Household Survey re-emerged in 2013 following the release of the first set of results from the survey.
In September 2014, Liberal MP Ted Hsu introduced private member's bill "Bill C-626, An Act to amend the Statistics Act" with the intention of appointing a Chief Statistician and reinstatement of the long-form census in Canada. Despite wide support as often happens with private bills, this failed (at Second Reading), in February 2015.
The results of short form were released among five census topics on the following dates in 2012:
Farm and farm operator data from the Census of Agriculture was released on May 10, 2012.
The release dates of the five NHS topics occur on the following dates in 2013: