Nova Scotia

Confusion over census could lead to lost payments

Provincial officials are warning that confusion over this year's census could cost Nova Scotia federal transfer payments used for health and education.

Provincial officials are warning that confusion over this year's census could cost Nova Scotia federal transfer payments used for health and education.

Statistics Canada says last year's decision by the Harper government to make the long-form census optional has led some people to think the entire census process is optional.

The short-form census being delivered in Nova Scotia this week is mandatory under Canadian law.

The province's finance minister said population numbers generated by the census are used to decide how much federal money each province receives for key programs.

"We need to encourage folks to fill out the census forms because it's good for them and their family and their community," said Graham Steele.

Statistics Canada says a major public information program is now underway to remind people that the census is not optional.

"We have a really good procedure in place in order to explain the mandatory nature of the census," said regional director Guy Oddo.

The 2011 short-form census consists of basic questions on gender, date of birth and language.

Under the Statistics Act, it is mandatory for Canadians to fill out the census, with the threat of fines for non-responders. If a respondent's completed form is not received by the beginning of June, an enumerator will visit the household to get the questionnaire.

Steele says the whole debate over making the long-form census optional is regrettable because it is causing this kind of confusion now.

Voluntary survey

This is the first time the census won't have a mandatory long-form questionnaire.

The Harper government cut the mandatory long-form census last year, and replaced it with a voluntary National Household Survey, which comes out approximately four weeks after the mandatory census.

The Tories argued they were striking a balance between the need for reliable data and the right of Canadians to refuse to divulge personal information.

Hundreds of organizations and municipalities, and some provinces, decried the move.

Officials in Ottawa have tried to make filling out the census as easy as possible. It can be completed online or on paper. It is available in English and French, as well as 20 ethnic languages, 11 aboriginal languages, Braille, audio and signed video.

The data collected is used by governments, businesses, associations and community organizations to plan services such as schools, daycare, police services and fire protection.

Census data is collected every five years. The results of the 2011 survey will be released next year.

now