Yukon Party ruffles feathers over census numbers

The Yukon Party raised a stink about 2016 census numbers this week, suggesting the Yukon could be shortchanged in future federal transfer payments because the census population estimate is lower than the Yukon Bureau of Statistics’ numbers.

The Yukon Party raised a stink about 2016 census numbers this week, suggesting the Yukon could be shortchanged in future federal transfer payments because the census population estimate is lower than the Yukon Bureau of Statistics’ numbers.

But the Bureau of Statistics itself doesn’t seem to share the Yukon Party’s concerns.

The first batch of 2016 census data, released earlier this month, cited Yukon’s population at 35,874. But the Yukon Bureau of Statistics reported that the territory’s population was 37,858 on June 30, 2016 — the census was taken in May.

Population is one of the factors used to calculate the territory’s transfer payment from the federal government. So if the territory’s population were to decline, the transfer payment might also decrease.

The Yukon Party calculated that because there is a difference of about 2,000 people between the census data and the Bureau of Statistics’ estimate, and because the per capita transfer is close to $25,000, using the census numbers could result in an annual loss of more than $50 million in transfer payments.

But there are a couple of flaws in that logic.

First, the territorial transfer is a complicated formula that is not just based on population.

Second, according to Yukon Bureau of Statistics director Bishnu Saha, the territorial transfer is “never based on census numbers.”

Saha said that in every census, some people aren’t counted. Therefore, the census population numbers don’t reflect 100 per cent of the population.

After the census is complete, Statistics Canada conducts a “reverse record check” to estimate the number of people missed, known as the undercoverage.

Once the undercoverage is calculated, Statistics Canada will adjust its demographic estimate accordingly. That will likely happen in late 2018, Saha said.

According to Saha, it’s the revised estimate, not the raw census numbers, that are used to calculate the territorial transfer.

And he said Statistics Canada’s estimate and the Yukon Bureau of Statistics’ own estimate will end up being “very close” — possibly within 10 or 20 people.

Saha said the Bureau of Statistics’ population estimates are based on health care files and other Yukon government administrative records.

Speaking to the News Feb. 16, Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers said the purpose of his party’s criticism was to raise public awareness of the issue.

“This is a problem that needs to be dealt with,” he said, suggesting the Yukon government could issue a call to get people who weren’t counted in the census to identify themselves to the Yukon Bureau of Statistics.

“These types of things may be well underway to being fixed by officials, but they don’t just fix themselves.”

Cathers said the $50-million calculation was meant as an “illustration,” and wasn’t a definitive number.

But Yukon Premier and Finance Minister Sandy Silver told the News his government isn’t “expecting any large changes to the forecasted TFF (transfer payment) based on the census.”

Still, he said he believes the Yukon Party wasn’t “trying to do anything malicious” by raising concerns.

“They’re in the opposition. It’s their job to critique and it’s their job to point things out,” he said. “That’s what Mr. Cathers did. It just so happens that what he pointed out wasn’t necessarily true.”

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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