The federal government’s poor decision to eliminate the mandatory long-form census in 2010 has had an unintended consequence — it’s helping Manitoba’s NDP enforce another bad bit of government legislation.
Citing privacy complaints, the Conservative government announced that it was ditching the long-form census — one year before the 2011 census was scheduled to take place — in favour of a short-form version and a National Household Survey that was intended to be sent to about 4.5 million households across the country.
The new voluntary form was denounced as less accurate than the mandatory long form by industry professionals and other organizations that use census data to form policy — including provincial governments.
Journalists and groups such as the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy have found that it’s often poor people who fail to answer voluntary surveys, and as such get overlooked in the data.
As a Winnipeg Free Press reporter recently noted on her blog, exact figures now don’t exist on the number of people living in Winnipeg’s downtown. In fact, as reported in yesterday’s Free Press, Statistics Canada suppressed data for two census tracts in Winnipeg because of a lack of data, while a third just made the cut with a residential response rate of 50.7 per cent. Still two others squeaked by with an average response rate of 52 per cent.
How can any of this data be accurate?
This same problem is affecting Statistics Canada data across the country, and has forced the government department to issue a disclaimer on the information, warning journalists not to compare it with the 2006 Census data.
And yet while evidence continues to mount that Canada’s 2011 survey data is all but worthless, Manitoba’s NDP has nonetheless decided to use the information to determine which rural municipalities must amalgamate.
The problem has come to a head for the Town of Gladstone. Using the new short-form census and the voluntary survey, the 2011 data
the federal government collected pinned Gladstone with a population of 879.
That number has become significant in the past several months because the provincial government, under Bill 33, has decided that any municipality under a population of 1,000 must merge with another municipality, in order to reduce the cost of local government.
Affected municipalities initially had to submit merger plans by Dec. 1, though the NDP recently announced that the deadline may be extended if a jurisdiction is dealing with “significant complexities” and the timeline can’t be met. Amalgamations are still scheduled to take effect in time for next fall’s municipal elections.
As we have said on this page before, the NDP government has never given a clear explanation about why municipalities must be forced to amalgamate — even when it may not be in the RMs’ best interests. There was little to no public consultation before the government announced its intentions, and what little chance the public has had to comment on Bill 33 has only prompted minor changes to the legislation, including that the legislation will not apply to the RMs of Victoria Beach and Dunnottar.
So with the community’s future on the line, and in the face of a strident Manitoba government, Town of Gladstone Mayor Eileen Clarke recently took it upon herself to go door to door, to conduct another headcount. Though she was unable to speak with people living in six homes, she still ended up with the number 1,015.
As the Sun reported on Saturday, Clarke said that Gladstone’s council contacted the chief statistician for the province earlier this year and was told that only 52 per cent of Gladstone residents had actually filled in and returned their 2011 census.
“So how did they derive that number?” she asked.
Gladstone has been a big beneficiary of the HyLife Foods plant in Neepawa — the community has a zero vacancy rate in residential homes, the school is filling up and the town is effectively growing as more workers finding jobs at the plant bring their families to the region.
This is a clear example of what happens when corrupted data get used to make government policy — even if it was bad policy to begin with.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 24, 2013