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Simcoe County to join chorus calling on government to save long-form census

Posted August 10, 2010

A report to Simcoe County's Human Services committee this morning warns that the Conservative government's plan to eliminate the long-form census beginning in 2011 will have lasting negative impacts on "municipal service planning."

In June, the Harper government, by an Order in Council, eliminated the long-form census questionnaire for the 2011 census, replacing it with a voluntary survey. Since then, the Conservatives have come under intense pressure from across the country to reinstate it - at this post, the government had not changed its mind.

The long-form census, conducted by Statistics Canada, gathers detailed information on housing, income, employment, migration, and other social, economic and health demography. The short-form census counts mainly age and gender of household members.

"By changing the process of collecting this data, the government makes it difficult to engage in any outcomes-based planning using census data, since the baseline reference points (for example, 2006 data) will not be comparable to the new 2011 data. Thus it will be difficult to measure the longer-term impacts of federal programs such as the Affordable Housing Program or the Social Housing Renovation and Retrofit Program or changes to the Employment Insurance program. The impact will be the same on numerous provincial and municipal programs," according to the County's staff report.

"The elimination of the long-form census questionnaire is of concern for several reasons that are very pertinent to the County of Simcoe. The current long-form census questionnaire offers a reliable and proven source of information about Canadians and in Simcoe County there are practical benefits for municipal service planning.

There are several examples of utilization of census data within the Social Services Division, including work with community networks. During the Early Learning Program planning over the past year, demographic data was used in conjunction with school board data in order to make the best possible decisions on the implementation of full-day kindergarten. The Child Youth and Family Services Coalition of Simcoe County relies on up-to-date demographic information, through the Data Consortium, in order to collectively plan services and to successfully apply for funding from alternate sources. The Best Start Network has for several years used comprehensive demographic data in program planning. Service planning across Children and Community Services, Ontario Works and Social Housing is conducted with full regard to emerging trends as pinpointed through the use of census data. The Social Housing Needs Assessment is an example of an internal Division planning document that would not have been as fulsome if staff had not been able to use comprehensive data on housing types and income levels.

The County's representation of 16 member municipalities and two cities means there is additional responsibility in ensuring that consistent information is available for County-wide planning that takes into account the unique urban/rural mix. Should the long-form only be done in a voluntary capacity, there will be inconsistent results for reliability and population representation spread across the county. The ability to track trends over time using consistent benchmarks will disappear. This issue is even further magnified when considering the potential decrease of reliable data on the aboriginal and francophone communities, vulnerable populations, and when tracking growth trends. This change in census practise will result in new challenges regarding decision making with regards to future policy and program delivery."

While Human Services will deal with the recommendation this morning, Simcoe County council does not meet again until August 24.

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