Technology & Science

Shorter census harms health care, journal says

The Canadian Medical Association Journal says the federal government's decision to eliminate the long census form will negatively affect how health information is gathered.

The federal government's decision to eliminate the long census form in 2011 will negatively affect how health information is gathered and acted on, says an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The editorial, published Thursday, says the reduction in the amount and type of information collected about Canadians via the census will impede how health programs are planned and executed.


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The federal government announced on June 28 that it was eliminating the long census form and replacing it with a voluntary National Household Survey, which will be sent to one-third of households along with the mandatory short-form census, which includes eight questions. 

"Information from the long-form census frequently guides program planning and evaluation for federal departments as well as other levels of government," reads the editorial, signed by Paul Hebert, the journal's editor-in-chief and Marsha Cohen, CMAJ's associate editor of research.

"It provides accurate and reliable data on social trends and issues, including the determinants of health, such as the relationships among income, gender, education, region, work and other factors that influence access to care and health outcomes."

The CMAJ's position is that the elimination of the long census will cause regional institutions to "lose the only accurate information about the populations they serve."

It also fears that with the survey's new voluntary status, aboriginal communities, poorer neighbourhoods, new immigrants and very wealthy households will have lower response rates than those of middle-class Canadians, yielding biased data that will be largely unusable.

But Federal Industry Ministry Tony Clement said in a written statement Tuesday that the short-form census, which is still mandatory, will provide a sufficient demographic picture of the country.

"The government does not think it is necessary for Canadians to provide Statistics Canada with the number of bedrooms in their home, or what time of day they leave for work or how long it takes them to get there," Clement said. "The government does not believe it is appropriate to force Canadians to divulge detailed personal information under threat of prosecution."