The Longform Census: Our Generation’s Avro Arrow
Though you’ve never seen it in one of the Canadian Heritage Moments, Statscan is the world leader in data collection, and the Canadian Census, specifically, is the gold standard in census-taking. Canada perfected the census, and statisticians in every country around the world have modeled theirs after ours. It may be a bit geeky for a nation known for hockey, lumberjacks and taking Vimy Ridge, but it’s the truth.
I remember learning about our international status as the top census-takers in university. I did a double-major in political science, specialty public opinion and economics, specialty in statistics. Every day of my degree was spent listening to professors worship at the alter of the Canadian Census. Most international academics and researchers will tell you that the early inception, detail, and professionalism of the Canadian Census has been one of our least-known national treasures.
It makes me think back to the Avro Arrow – a program that perhaps was similarly unknown to the public despite its huge benefits to our country – and was thus expendable to the government of the day. An easy sliver cut out of a budget that was in fact a great amputation to our nation’s future.
David Eaves in the Globe and Dan Arnold in the National Post make excellent arguments about the social, economic and democratic benefits of the census. Please, I beg you, if you’ve ever boarded a plane or driven over a bridge and thought, “I wonder what would happen if an engineer made one slight miscalculation in building this airplane/bridge that I’m on” then you should take a look at their op-eds.
But I’m going to make two more additional points. Firstly, that ending the mandatory long survey, once implemented, can never be undone. Unless we are absolutely sure, through a national consensus (zing!), that we are comfortable letting this data go forever – as there is no chance to re-collect information from this moment in Canadian history – then we simply cannot gamble it all away.
And finally, it is important to realize that once the longform census is no longer representative of the Canadian population, Google Execs will reliably know more about our country and its people than does our own government.
So in conclusion, what do I think of the Government’s plan to gut the census? Not worth the risk.