StatsCan eying end of short-form census

The Canadian Press
Jordan Press

OTTAWA—The mandatory long-form census returned this year—a decade after it was last seen.
If things go as planned, the short-form census won’t be seen again a decade from now.
Statistics Canada is working on a plan for the 2026 census that would eliminate the mandatory short-form census that goes to every household and instead use existing government databases to conduct a virtual count of the population.
The plan would save taxpayers millions of dollars and provide the same information used by governments to plan roads, hospitals, schools, and other public services.
Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act paint a detailed picture of what officials hope to have in place by 2026: a digital register of every Canadian that could be updated every five years, if not annually, and a smaller long-form questionnaire.
“This approach to replace the short-form questionnaire will require a complete redesign of the long-form questionnaire,” reads the April report provided to former chief statistician Wayne Smith.
The agency said in a statement that it hasn’t yet determined its approach for the 2021 census, but made no direct reference to the 2026 count.
The statement said the agency “conducts ongoing research activities to determine the most efficient way of collecting census information.”
For decades, Statistics Canada has mobilized a small army of workers—1,400 this year—to mail questionnaires to households, go door-to-door and phone for follow-ups, and read through the millions of returned forms that contain detailed information about the population.
That tradition is costly for taxpayers and burdensome for workers.
Statistics Canada estimates the 2016 census will cost upwards of $700 million, which covers a seven-year period that includes time to prepare, collect, analyze, and distribute results.
Administrative data like tax and income information held by the Canada Revenue Agency, or vehicle registration data from provinces, could provide details faster and cheaper than sending out millions of questionnaires every five years.
This year, Statistics Canada mailed out 16 million short-form questionnaires, with one quarter also receiving the long-form survey.
“Why would you spend $750 million to go and collect information from Canadians, and bothering [them] at the home and using up their time when the government already holds that information, if we just put it together?” Smith asked.
“We can save a very substantial amount of money and avoid disrupting the lives of a lot of Canadians.”