What do numbers tell us?

The Thunder Bay Regional Hospital is required to have a plan for providing French language service. It does, and the board recently expressed its support.
But is that what we need to serve our future population best?
In Canada, according to the 1996 census, 59.2 percent of the population cited English as their “mother tongue.” French was 23.2 percent, Chinese 3 percent, Italian 2 percent, and German 1.6 percent.
Clearly French is most important, though the numbers don’t seem to warrant official (as opposed to practised) bilingualism as a national policy in 2000.
Chinese and Japanese populations are growing fast on the west coast. Thunder Bay is unique in that it has the largest Finn population outside Finland. It also has substantial groups of Italian and other European immigrants.
And most important, the number of our First Nations people is increasing in the city and hospital.
If we want to prepare for the future, should Ojicree be the second language of choice in the north?
Take the controversy about Christian prayer in schools. Just how unfair is it to people of other faiths? The 1996 census shows that 83.3 percent Canadians profess to be Christian, 1.2 percent are Jewish, 2.9 percent are “other”, and 12.5 percent say “no religion.”
Does this really warrant getting rid of the Lord’s prayer or giving others “equal time?”
Here is something nice for feminists: In 1995, ’96, and ’97, more women earned Bachelors’ and Master’s degrees than men did; and only in doctorates did men outstrip women.
In ’97, 43 percent more women than men received a B.A. in Canada.
And now a guess: by how much do you think crime has risen since ’93? Two percent? Five percent? More?
Surprise: it’s gone down! Total crime code offences have dropped by 10.3 percent between 1993 and ’98 (latest information available). Crimes of violence were down 4.8 percent, homicides dropped 11.9 percent, and sexual assault 26.6 percent.
Only motor vehicle theft and drug offences were up–by 5.8 percent and 25.5 percent respectively.
How much has media coverage of specific events influenced your overall impression?
Canada’s census counts and measures the incomes of “economic families.” Various groupings that call themselves family are compared. Of all the different types, between 1992 and ’97 the largest gains were in “elderly families.” They went up 11.9 percent while most “non-elderly” family types decreased.
That’s more evidence that people live longer. The Big Generation will really swell the ranks of the “elderly” (over 65) in a decade.
In the past five-plus years, Canadians generally are concerned about the funding cuts to our health care and education systems. Yet in 1998, of eight nations compared, Canada ranked fourth in health spending, at 9.2 percent of GDP. We ranked highest on public education spending, at seven percent of GDP.
The other nations compared were the U.S., France, Italy, U.K., Germany, Japan, and Mexico.
Perhaps you, like me, were surprised by some of the above data. The news events that are dramatized to catch our attention paint an impressionistic rather than accurate picture.
I wish StatsCan gathered and distributed more information more often. We need to be well informed of the facts so we can form sound conclusions about their implications and plan for better futures.
Linda Wiens is an educator, consultant, and president of Quetico Centre.

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