The statistical data available for northern Ontario is seriously lacking, according to researchers in Sudbury.

Researchers say a major issue is low participation rates in the north in the National Household Survey.

That's the pared-down, voluntary survey that replaced the long form census.

Low participation means there isn't enough data from which to draw conclusions.

And that, says a Laurentian University's labour studies researcher, has prevented researchers from properly tracking social issues in the north.

Kaili Beck

Kaili Beck works in labour studies at Laurentian University's School of Northern Development. She says a major issue is low participation rates in the north in the National Household Survey — the pared-down, voluntary survey that replaced the long form census. (Kaili Beck)

"They can't always find the same data sets as they have in southern Ontario for northern Ontario," Kaili Beck said.

"To constantly be able to say, I can tell you everything about Windsor, but I can't tell you anything about Sudbury. And Windsor is a smaller community. And that's a problem that's just been increasingly getting worse."

Tomasz Mrozewski agrees.

The government data librarian at Laurentian University — whose job it is to help researchers find statistics — said half the time he can't fill requests because the data isn't there.

"I've not seen tears, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time," he quipped.

Mrozewski said the worst is finding health and labour data, such as who has a doctor or who works part-time.

"Our non-response rates are quite huge," he continued.

"We can't really say whether or not the Caucasian populations are more or less employed than the Aboriginal population, or how immigrants are faring."

National Household Survey concerns

And it gets worse as the communities become more remote.

Tomasz Mrozewski

Tomasz Mrozewski, a data, GIS and government documents Librarian at Laurentian University, says a lack of data means northern Ontario simply doesn't know what its issues are and, without knowing what our issues are, we're blind to do anything about them. (Tomasz Mrozewski)

"I work most with researchers in economics and rural and northern health and those are areas where we really see the gaps in information," Mrozewski said.

The National Household Survey will only encumber the situation.

"It's going to be faulty data. It's not complete. It would be irresponsible as a researcher to use this data to try to say anything meaningful," he said.

Beck added that poor data will affect funding and policy decision making.

"It looks like we don't need help," she said.

"In northern Ontario, it's very hard for us to say, 'oh yeah, we have needs, because people aren't aware of our degrees of poverty."

Both say the current solution is to apply stats from larger centres to the north.