Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011
Much of Canada’s social fabric could collapse because the federal government canceled the mandatory long-form census, says Canada’s chief statistician emeritus.
Ivan Fellegi gave the stern warning in Charlottetown yesterday as the keynote speaker at the annual Symons Lecture on the state of Canadian confederation.
Fellegi spent much of his time discussing the implications he sees from the federal government’s decision in the summer of 2010 to make the long-form census a voluntary survey before this year’s census.
“There isn’t a country in the world that has a voluntary census,” he said. “None, so we are breaking a completely new path.”
Based on what he saw through his years at Statistics Canada, low income people, aboriginals, immigrants, the elderly, people living alone and people with high-end incomes were less likely to fill out a voluntary information form, Fellegi said. That skews the data.
“It’s no longer representative [of the population]. It only represents those who are more likely to respond.”
Fellegi warned of the impending trouble he sees if something is not done to objectify the census once again.
Difficulties will arise because there will no reliable data on issues ranging from inflation, unemployment, aboriginal education and the integration of new immigrants to Canada, he said.
“Much of our social fabric would indeed collapse, disintegrate, if the various players had to suspect the provider of this information about its objectivity.”
Fellegi recommended Statistics Canada be allowed to continue the mandatory long-form census so data collected from Canadians will be objective enough for comparison. He called for Statistics Canada to be free from government interference, either as a parliamentary agent or a crown corporation.
The floor was opened for questions following the lecture. One audience member asked for Fellegi’s opinion of the federal government’s forthcoming omnibus tough-on-crime legislation.”
“Let me just say that the evidence certainly doesn’t point in an increase of crime,” Fellegi said. “Overall, there is a decrease in the crime wave, which is quite, quite clear.”
Sami Khedhiri is an associate professor in the mathematics and statistics department at UPEI. He found Fellegi’s lecture interesting and was surprised to learn how much control the industry minister has over Statistics Canada.
“I thought it would have more autonomy based on the information that it gathers,” he said, referring to how Statistics Canada data is used to form government policy.
Khedhiri agrees with Fellegi that a mandatory long-form census is necessary. The federal government should, in the future, bring it back. Still, there will be a problem with the hole in the data that has been created. Khedhihi said he hopes the federal government will bring it back sooner than later.
“You don’t have the raw data to talk, so you need to make statistical adjustments. That’s exactly what we try to avoid in applied statistics.”
Fellegi emigrated from Hungary to Ottawa, Ont. in 1956 and studied mathematics at Carleton University. That paved the way for a long career as Canada’s chief statistician, from 1985 to 2008.
He also authored guiding census principles, which were adopted by the United Nations members around the world, on conducting censuses.
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