The Conservative government’s decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census is going to cost the Yukon more than $1.5 million, says the territory’s head statistician.
Gathering information about Yukoners will be offloaded onto the territorial government when the national census becomes voluntary, said director Greg Finnegan.
The fear is that people won’t fill out the form if given the choice, he said.
So the territorial government will have to scramble to get the information it needs to carry out research.
“Our office does 20 to 30 research projects a year,” said Finnegan.
“If we don’t have confidence in the data from the national household survey, then we’ll have to replicate the quality of that data and I’ve estimated that cost at $1.5 million.
“It also means this department doesn’t do, those other 20 research projects it’s supposed to do that year.”
Canada’s long-form census, distributed in conjunction with the regular census every five years, collects data regularly used by the government. The 40-page-survey asks people about their work, ethnicity, education and home life.
“We get requests pretty much every day from people looking for information coming from the long-form census,” said Finnegan, explaining data is given out to nonprofit groups, First Nation governments and municipalities.
That data eventually dictates nuts-and-bolts decision-making for the territory.
The number of doctors and teachers allocated to a certain region of the Yukon is based on long-form census statistics, said Finnegan.
First Nation groups also use the data to know how many of their members are still living in the Yukon and where exactly they’re located.
Even prospective businesses turn to the statistics bureau before they consider putting down roots in the territory, said Finnegan.
“Someone looking to open a manufacturing plant in the Yukon wants to know how many people live here that have skills in specific labour areas like welding and carpentry,” said Finnegan.
“The census will give you a breakdown of professions and what kind of jobs people have.”
It would be a “big mistake” to get rid of the long-form census, said Yukon’s Liberal MP Larry Bagnell.
“When you have a small jurisdiction like the Yukon you have a smaller stats department and you depend more on these kinds of statistics.”
Premier Dennis Fentie needs to stand up and say what a critical piece of legislation this is, said Yukon NDP Leader Elizabeth Hanson.
“It’s not just $1.5 million dollars that it will cost the Yukon – it needs to be multiplied by many millions because the whole basis of our relationship with the federal government comes from comparable levels of taxation across the North.”
It’s also ironic, she added, that this week the territory announced the International Circumpolar Statistics conference is happening in Whitehorse this fall.
“Where do they think all this data discussed at the conference will come from? Of course, it’s Stats Canada,” said Hanson.
In the Yukon, about 35 per cent of the population is required to fill out the long-form survey.
That number is higher than the rest of Canada where only 20 per cent of people fill out the form. The difference comes from the territory’s higher percentage of First Nation people, all of whom are required to fill out the long-form census, said Finnegan.
People won’t feel as obligated to send in the census if it were made voluntary. Already, the Yukon has the highest rate of nonreturns of these forms in the country, said Finnegan who wouldn’t say exactly how many Yukoners didn’t fill out the long-form census in 2006. And this is even with the threat of jail time.
Finnegan points to the US government’s decision in 2002 to switch to a voluntary census form. In a year’s time, the government had already decided it would go back to the mandatory form when it realized people weren’t mailing it back.
There are certain groups in particular, like immigrants, aboriginal and low-income people that shy away from filling out the long-form census. A voluntary form would mean these people would be underrepresented in census data, said Finnegan.
traditionally been a challenge with First Nation people when it comes to filling out government forms,” he said.
“Whether it be because of a history of disrespect or cultural conflict between Canada and the First Nation people, First Nation
people aren’t wanting to jump up and fill out the survey.”
However, the Yukon First Nation Statistics Agency doesn’t think dropping the mandatory national household survey will have an adverse affect on First Nation people.
“If the proposed replacement for the long-form census is conducted at the same time as the 2011 census there may be little to no data lost by moving from mandatory to voluntary participation in our communities,” said statistician Gabriel Stetkiewicz in a news release Thursday.
“However, without having the details as to the timing and methodology to be used for the NHS, it is impossible to determine whether or not there will be a problem with data continuity for our First Nations.”
Around Canada, academics, policymakers, business people and educators have heavily criticized the Conservatives for their decision to abolish the long-form survey.
Wednesday, Munir Sheikh, head of Statistics Canada, quit his job in frustration, stating in his resignation letter that a voluntary form would never work here in Canada.
“With Dr. Sheikh’s resignation, Statistics Canada and indeed the nation’s statistical system has lost the committed services of a man of integrity and honour,” said National Statistics Council chair Ian McKinnon, in a statement Thursday.
McKinnon declined to comment further on the issue, saying he didn’t want his personal comments to reflect that of the council.
Yukon College president and National Statistics Council board member Terry Weninger also refused comment.
Contact Vivian Belik at