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Less data available without long-form census, AG confirms

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Hume, Jessica
Publication Date: 
6 May 2014



Statistics Canada knows less about average Canadian households than it did before the long-form census was ended, according to the auditor general's spring report.

But Michael Ferguson still gave Statistics Canada an overall passing grade, concluding the quality of data adheres to international standards.

The new, voluntary national household survey replaced the old, mandatory long-form census in 2011.

About three million households filled out the voluntary survey that year.

"We found that (Statistics Canada's) assessment of the coherence of data from the national household survey determined that this change reduced the comparability of this data to that from the 2006 census long-form questionnaire," Ferguson wrote in his report.

Officials at the office of the auditor general said users of the survey data are now cautioned about how they use it "because of the lower response rate."

Ferguson's report also pointed to holes in the survey of employment, payrolls and hours. He said data sets from this survey aren't broken down in a way that are helpful to users.

For example, job vacancies are aggregated by province only, not by municipality.

More broadly, Ferguson suggested Statistics Canada "better understand and address the needs of users outside the federal government, in particular the need for data on small geographic areas and subpopulations."

"We have identified that users have been asking for more information about employment data at more local levels," Ferguson told reporters. "So what we've said is that Statistics Canada needs to do a better job of understanding those types of needs and figuring out if there are ways that it can address those needs.

"That's certainly the thing their users are demanding."

Treasury Board president Tony Clement, in addressing the report with reporters Tuesday, focussed on the fact Ferguson gave the survey data passing grade.

"Ferguson confirmed that Statistics Canada is able to ensure the quality of its programs, it's able to efficiently use its resources and effectively identify and implement its priorities."

Clement appeared to reject the notion the national household survey is offering a lesser amount of statistical information.

"There are some times when (Statistics Canada) has to explore innovative methods in order to produce information, let's say with small populations as an example," he said. "It's a question of finding the right statistical evaluation methods."

The NDP took the report as affirmation of "mismanagement and lack of planning" under the Stephen Harper government.

Malcolm Allen blamed the feds for the "shortsighted elimination of the long-form census" and said the lack of proper jobs data, for instance, can lead to further abuses of the temporary foreign workers' program -- importing workers to areas where they might not actually be needed.

- reprinted from Sun News

Entered Date: 
7 May 2014
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