New Brunswick

Mandatory long-form census causing lots of excitement

The mandatory long-form census, cancelled by the Harper government amidst controversy, is back, reinstated by the Liberals, and people are excited about it.

Mandatory census now in the hands of 1 in 4 Canadian households

The long-form census started arriving in mail boxes on Monday. (CBC)

It's back, it's long, it's full of math, pries into your personal life, and Canadians are loving it.

It's the mandatory long-form census, cancelled by the Harper government amidst controversy, and now reinstated by the Liberals.

Most people will get the short version, but one in four households will be required to spend around 45 minutes filling in the more detailed one.

And they can't wait. So many Canadians logged in to fill out their forms, the servers crashed for almost an hour Monday night.

UNB associate professor Paul Peters is pretty pleased about the return of the mandatory long-form census. (CBC)
"The twitterverse, people are just nerding out," according to Paul Peters, who worked for Statistics Canada before his present job at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

Now he researches factors that affect health, such as poverty and education, and he has access to strictly guarded statistics.

Not enough data from 2011

He said the data from the voluntary census of 2011, provided by the Conservative government, was lousy for small communities, and good data is crucial for government planning.

"Communities that maybe have 100, 200, 300 people, we just couldn't get information so we didn't know how many people were below the poverty line, how many people were unemployed," said Peters. 

That meant while there was data for larger centres, there were just too many gaps in the map to do full studies.

"Getting a picture province-wide for planning purposes is really important," said Peters. "And even for things like physician planning, being able to look 10, 20 years ahead. In 20 years, where are we going to need the physicians? What might the health needs of the population be?"

Fredericton city planner Meredith Gilbert says the 2011 voluntary census didn't get the right demographic mix for planning purposes. (CBC)
Fredericton city planner Meredith Gilbert says the problem with the last census was that it was voluntary.

When that happens, it's often those in the worst socio-economic situations who don't fill them out, leaving planners uncertain what services are needed where.

"We need to be able to understand, at a neighbourhood scale, and across a community, what the demographics are," explained Gilbert.

"How old the people are, which neighbourhood has the most children, seniors, and if the information required is voluntary on the census, as in 2011, we don't always get a complete picture because some of the recording data is so low."

Both Gilbert and Peters say the 2016 data will be much better for the work they do, and are looking forward to crunching all those numbers.

With files from Catherine Harrop