Part C: Methodology of the Census Program in response to objectives and content needs

7. Possible methodological approaches within the Canadian context for 2016

From January to June 2011, Don Royce was retained by Statistics Canada as an advisor to conduct a review of census-taking approaches that exist around the world. His report (Royce 2011) drew on international literature and experiences (see, for example, UNECE [2006] and UNECE [2007]), and described the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Very importantly, his report also presented the necessary conditions for using each approach and assessed in detail whether these conditions are present in Canada or are likely to be present in time for the 2016 Census Program cycle.

Statistics Canada also developed an assessment framework for the 2016 Census Strategy Project (Trépanier 2011). The first step of the assessment was to identify approaches that are feasible for 2016 and others that could be envisioned only for 2021 and beyond. The results of this assessment for 2016 are presented in this section, and are used as a basis for discussion of conclusions for 2016 in Section 9. As the directions for 2016 are transformed into more concrete and detailed options, they should be further assessed on dimensions of relevance, quality, stewardship and risks that are encompassed in the second step of the assessment framework.

As in the report by Royce, this section briefly describes the three general census-taking approaches, namely the traditional census, the census employing existing administrative registers and the census employing continuous measurement, and examines the necessary conditions for implementing each approach. It adds the findings from other studies subsequently conducted by Statistics Canada to the initial assessment by Royce on the state of these conditions in Canada. More details on census-taking approaches around the world with examples from specific countries are available in Royce (2011).

7.1 Traditional census

The traditional census approach collects basic characteristics from all individuals and housing units (full enumeration) at a specific point in time. More detailed characteristics can be collected either from the whole population or on a sample basis. Collection modes may include personal interviews (canvasser approach), self-completed paper questionnaires, telephone (computer-assisted or not) and Internet. Some data might be replaced by administrative data to ease respondent burden and/or improve quality. The traditional census approach is the one used by the Canadian Census Program.

Royce (2011, p. 33 to 36) listed and assessed the following necessary conditions for the traditional census approach. Statistics Canada summarizes this initial assessment and complements it by other information that was gathered through different studies.

There must be a high level of awareness and cooperation by the public to participate in the census.

Royce's conclusion:

Up to 2006, the public cooperation with the Canadian Census Program was excellent. The 2006 Census long-form questionnaire achieved a final response rate of 93.5%. The 2011 Census and NHS response rates must be examined. Several countries have cited declining participation rates in their censuses and surveys.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

Section 4.2 reported a preliminary response rate of 98.1% to the 2011 Census and of 69.3% for the 2011 voluntary NHS. In 2006, the final response rates were 96.5% for the census, 93.5% for the mandatory long-form questionnaire in particular. The mandatory census achieved the same level of cooperation by the public in 2011 as in 2006 but the voluntary NHS did not.

The Census Program is the only large-scale data collection exercise in Canada relying heavily on self-enumeration. While it is difficult to find comparable surveys to the Census Program in Canada, the 2011 response rates are not surprising. Response rates to the mandatory Labour Force Survey are of the order of 90% (Statistics Canada 2011c, p. 22). Response rates for voluntary surveys vary; they can be as low as 55% and are unlikely to surpass 80%. A voluntary survey relying on self-enumeration will almost certainly never achieve the same level of cooperation as a mandatory survey. The results of the 2003 test, by the U.S. Census Bureau, of a voluntary ACS also support this statement (see Section 4.1).

Of concern as well is that cooperation with a voluntary survey may be unevenly spread within the population, leading to non-response bias that may be difficult to fully correct. Further information on this will only become available as the NHS data are processed and analyzed.

There must be a geographic infrastructure for the census, such as a set of maps (if questionnaires are distributed by or completed by enumerators) and/or a list of addresses (if questionnaires are mailed out), that permits the geocoding of all questionnaires to very small geographic areas.

Royce's conclusion:

The necessary geographic infrastructure is in place. Statistics Canada maintains an Address Register (AR) that was used to mail out Internet promotion letters or questionnaires to 79.5% of the private dwellings in 2011.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

The necessary geographic infrastructure is in place and has even allowed collection to be more cost-effective through the use of the AR for the Census Program mail-out. McClean and Charland (2011) reported that the census mail-out went from approximately two-thirds of the private dwellings in 2006 to 79.5% in 2011. An evaluation is being performed to assess the quality of the mailing addresses used for 2011. Work continues to further improve the AR, including targeted field verification and the use of administrative sources.

There must be a stable political and socially secure environment in the country, both to encourage public participation and to provide safe conditions for enumerators.

Royce's conclusion:

The necessary environment is in place.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

The necessary environment is in place. Statistics Canada does not foresee reasons why this would change for 2016.

If self-completion is used, there must be a relatively high level of literacy in the population.

Royce's conclusion:

There is the necessary level of literacy in the population to have made self-completion the primary mode of enumeration in Canada. For population groups where language or literacy barriers exist, the Census Program has adjusted its collection methods, for example, by using the canvasser method or by translating the questionnaire into other ethnic and Aboriginal languages. The questionnaire is also available in braille, audio and signed video.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

Statistics Canada agrees with this conclusion.

The country must have the legal and administrative framework and the resources, both human and financial, to undertake a traditional census.

Royce's conclusion:

Canada has the legal and administrative framework and the resources to undertake a traditional census. There is a constitutional requirement to conduct both the decennial and quinquennial censuses and that requirement is also in the Statistics Act. Statistics Canada is charged with conducting the census and is allocated the financial resources to do so.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

As discussed in Section 5.2.1, the constitutional requirement for a decennial (years ending in '1') Census of Population in Canada dates back to the proclamation of The British North America Act, 1867 (now known as the Constitution Act, 1867). The constitutional requirement for a quinquennial (years ending in '6') census still stems today from the Constitution Act, 1907 and the Constitution Act, 1930 as the population counts for Manitoba and Saskatchewan are still below the limits set by these enactments. The requirement for a nationwide quinquennial census has been part of the Statistics Act since 1970. Subsection 3(c) of the Statistics Act provides that a duty of Statistics Canada is to take the census of population of Canada.

There is an internationally recognized definition of what a census (or Census Program) is (see Section 5.1). The United Nations (2008) issues principles and recommendations for population and housing censuses. In contrast to this international understanding of what a census is and what appears in legislation of other countries (see Section 5.2.2), the Statistics Act is less prescriptive regarding the definition of a census (see Section 5.2.1). It does not specifically define the word 'census' and does not specify which questions are to be included in the census. It states that the census is a census of the population (or census of agriculture) and that the census of population is to be taken in a manner that ensures that counts of the population are provided for each federal electoral district of Canada. Section 21 of the Act provides the power to the Governor in Council to establish the census questions, and these questions can only be mandatory as per section 8 of the Act. The Statistics Act does not preclude the possibility of other questions, mandatory or voluntary, being collected with the census, as long as 1) such questions are authorized by the Minister pursuant to sections 7 and 8 of the Act (an authority which is normally delegated to the Chief Statistician); 2) it is clear that such questions are not census questions; and 3) it is clear which questions are mandatory and which are voluntary.

At this point, all indications are that Canada has the resources to undertake a traditional census approach.

Summary

Canada continues to meet the necessary conditions to conduct a traditional census approach. Statistics Canada must consider, however, the implications of collecting information on a voluntary basis rather than a mandatory basis, particularly for estimates for low geographic areas and small population groups, since the former does not achieve the same type of cooperation from the public. This will be further addressed in Section 8.

Statistics Canada will have to determine which questions need to be asked at the time of the census, and to identify among these, as per the provisions in the Statistics Act, which questions are Census of Population questions, and thus mandatory, and which questions are not census questions, which may be either mandatory or voluntary. The appropriate path for approval will have to be followed; census questions will be approved by the Governor in Council as per section 21 of the Act, and non-census questions will be prescribed by the Minister under section 7 and, for those that are voluntary, also under section 8.

7.2 Census employing existing administrative registers

The census approach employing existing administrative registersFootnote 1 relies at a minimum on a population register and a building/dwelling register to produce basic characteristics on all individuals and housing units at a specific reference point in time. More detailed characteristics can be obtained by linking to other existing administrative registers or administrative data sources (e.g., on education and employment) or by conducting surveys, either by complete enumeration or by sample.

Royce (2011, p. 36 to 41) listed and assessed the following necessary conditions for the census approach employing existing administrative registers. Statistics Canada summarizes this initial assessment and complements it by other information that was gathered through different studies.

There must be a legal basis giving the statistical agency the right to access administrative data at the unit level and to use identification numbers to link various administrative data sources together for statistical purposes.

Royce's conclusion:

The legislative framework is incomplete. Section 13 of the Statistics Act gives Statistics Canada the right to access records held in any department or municipal office, corporation, business or organization for the purposes of the Act. However, in practice, Statistics Canada negotiates access to administrative data with each organization on a case-by-case basis. In many instances, other organizations are subject to laws that prohibit or limit the sharing of data under their control.

There is no explicit mention of record linkage in the Statistics Act itself. Statistics Canada has however a Policy on record linkage.

In a situation where administrative registers would be combined with complete enumeration or survey collection, Statistics Canada's Policy on informing survey respondents would require that respondents be notified at the time of survey collection of any planned linkages of their survey responses to other data files, where linkage is for other than internal methodological purposes.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

Despite the existence of section 13 of the Statistics Act, the legislative framework may not be strong enough as illustrated below.

Statistics Canada has a Directive on Record Linkage that took effect on August 31, 2011. Following the spirit of the former Policy on record linkage, its objective is to ensure the effective management of record linkage activity conducted within Statistics Canada so that the analytical benefits of record linkage support the mandate of Statistics Canada while, at the same time, addressing and mitigating the inherent privacy-invasive nature of the activity.

Statistics Canada provided to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) and to the provincial and territorial privacy commissioners the report by Royce. On October 31, 2011, Statistics Canada received a written response from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada that consolidated the views of the OPC and those of provincial and territorial privacy commissioners (Privacy Commissioner of Canada 2011).

The response acknowledged that section 13 of the Statistics Act gives Statistics Canada the right to access records held in any department, municipal office, corporation, business or organization. It also recognized the existence of Statistics Canada's Policy on record linkage and Policy on informing survey respondents as described by Royce. The response included, among others, the following comments:

We consider that further work would have to be done to address all of the privacy issues that would arise if a data-linking project of this magnitude were to be put in place. Issues such as the transparency and the ability of individuals to be able to correct and access their own information must be addressed.

In the event that administrative records were to be regularly used for statistical purposes, notification that personal information may be shared with Statistics Canada for enumeration purposes should occur during the initial collection of personal information — that is during the collection for administrative purposes.

Recently tabled amendments to the British Columbia Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act include authority for the Lieutenant Governor in Council to make regulations in relation to data linking after consultation with the BC Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC). In addition, all data linking initiatives require notice and submission of a privacy impact assessment to the OIPC. If the option of using administrative records for census purposes were to go forward, the OPC would recommend similarly formal regulation of data-linking initiatives.

Statistics Canada also consulted with the Information and Privacy Policy Division (IPPD) in the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS).

On the notification to individuals, IPPD echoed the input from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and confirmed that in the case of a census approach employing existing administrative registers, individuals would have to be notified that their personal information is being shared with Statistics Canada. IPPD added that the requirement to notify would fall to the original collector, i.e., the entity maintaining the administrative register.

On the correction of personal information (in relation to section 11 of the Privacy Regulations and TBS Directive on Privacy Requests and Correction of Personal Information), an individual can request a correction to his/her personal information. In the case of the Census Program or other statistical program, any such change would impact the program's output. IPPD stated that the information would not be required to be corrected at Statistics Canada, as it is not used for administrative purposes, but that this would be considered a refusal to correct personal information and would require Statistics Canada to maintain a file of such refusals.

There must be public understanding and approval of the use of administrative data for statistical purposes and public recognition of the advantages of using data already collected for administrative purposes compared to collecting the data again.

Royce's conclusion:

The public acceptability of a census employing existing administrative registers is largely an unknown quantity, but it could reasonably be expected to be opposed by at least some members of the public.

Such opposition occurred in 2000 to the Longitudinal Labour Force File created by Human Resource Development Canada. Internationally, an example of such opposition was observed in the United Kingdom and led to the repeal of the Identity Cards Act 2006 and the destruction of the National Identity Register.Footnote 2


Statistics Canada's assessment:

Public acceptability remains an unknown quantity. To Statistics Canada's knowledge, no public opinion research has been conducted recently in Canada on this matter.

In her October 31, 2011 written response to Statistics Canada, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada confirmed the importance of such a matter. The response included, among others, the following comments:

The Report [by Royce] rightly states that a necessary condition for these methodologies [using existing administrative records] would be public understanding of the potential advantages of using data already collected for administrative purposes compared to collecting the data again. Certainly, there would also have to be public understanding of the risks—such as data linking and data losses or breaches—which requires the authority's will and ability to clearly communicate this information to the public at large.

There must be a universal personal identification number (PIN) that can be used to link administrative data across sources at the unit level.

Royce's conclusion:

Canada has no universal PIN. The closest to this is the Social Insurance Number (SIN), but it is not universal and its usage is strictly limited by legislation and by the TBS Directive on Social Insurance Number.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

There is no universal PIN in Canada.

The SIN presents both undercoverage and overcoverage issues. On one hand, it is not universal. On the other hand, it appears to have serious overcoverage. In her 2002 September Status Report to Parliament, the Auditor General of Canada reported that there were 27,247,787 usable SINs referring to the population aged 20 and over on the Social Insurance Register compared to a count of 22,228,225 based on the 2001 Census Program.Footnote 3

In her October 31, 2011 written response to Statistics Canada, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada expressed great concerns around the adoption of a PIN. The response included, among others, the following comments:

We are deeply concerned with the idea of adopting a universal (and therefore mandatory) PIN as well as legislation permitting the use of the PIN for linking the CPR [Central Population Register] and other administrative registers for statistical purposes.

Our Office and other privacy commissioners have long been opposed to using the SIN as a common identifier. Successive Privacy Commissioners have warned of the dangers of establishing any system of universal identification, be it a modified SIN or some other number.

A fortiori, we do not think that the possible benefits of introducing a universal and compulsory PIN for the purpose of gathering reliable statistical data on Canadians would outstrip the very real risks to privacy.

IPPD added that the creation of a unique identifier would require an Act of Parliament and much consultation with the Canadian public. It is a large endeavour and may raise issues related to sections 7 (Life, liberty and security of person) and 8 (Search or seizure) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as the risks and injury to an individual would increase in case of a privacy breach.

The country must have a well-developed set of register systems that fulfil administrative needs but that also contain data covering the most important subject areas for the statistical system. At a minimum there must be a population register, a business register, and a building/dwelling register. The coverage of the registers and the quality of the data contained within them must be sufficiently high to be useful for statistical purposes.

Royce's conclusion:

Canada does not have a population register. Although there are a number of administrative databases, none is sufficiently comprehensive for the Census Program purposes, nor are there common identifiers that would permit them to be linked to create a more comprehensive database.

Statistics Canada has an Address Register. It is used for mail-out of census questionnaires but is not a true building/dwelling register.

Statistics Canada has a Business Register and it is generally of high quality. It was primarily designed for conducting business surveys.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

Population register

Canada does not have a population register. The OPC and provincial and territorial privacy commissioners do not support the creation of a population register.

In her October 31, 2011 written response to Statistics Canada, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada made the following comments, among others:

Creating a CPR [Central Population Register] raises the very real possibility that the state will create or have access to massive databases containing information on each and every Canadian, detailing some of the most personal aspects of their lives, without their knowledge or consent. A de facto citizen profile would be created.

The Report [by Royce] also indicates that the creation of a possible CPR would not be cost-effective when compared to the existing 2011 Census/National Household Survey program. A CPR would need to provide additional offsetting savings and/or benefits to the government, such as security enhancement, fraud prevention and administrative efficiencies.

Such 'added-value' components to the CPR only compound our concerns as this entails an elaborate national identity system, with vast interlinked databases, complex information-sharing protocols and a vast amount of policies and procedures to tackle system management, and privacy and security challenges.

Moreover, it certainly leads the way towards Canadians losing control over their personal information: control over what information others have about us, control over how they use that information, control over our ability to influence events and decisions that affect our lives. The potential for over-collection, for ever-expanding new purposes, for malicious misuse and for hacking is very real indeed.

Simply put, the creation of a CPR is an option that we cannot support.

Dwelling register

Statistics Canada does have an Address Register (AR). McClean and Charland (2011) did a preliminary assessment of the state of the AR as a nationwide dwelling register.

The AR was originally created as a frame of location-based addresses to serve as a coverage improvement tool for the Census Program. It was used as such in the 1991, 1996 and 2001 cycles. It then became a source of mailing addresses for the 2006 and 2011 cycles. The percentage of private dwellings to which the questionnaires (and letters in 2011) were mailed to went from 66% in 2006 to 79.5% in 2011.

Challenges would have to be overcome to transform the AR into a real nationwide dwelling register. Private dwellings with civic style addresses (which allow unique identification on the ground and direct coding to the National Geographic Database) represent approximately 96% of all private dwellings in Canada, but there are important variations across provinces and territories. For example, in Newfoundland and Labrador the rate is 64% and in Saskatchewan it is 79%.

Canada Post Corporation also uses mailing addresses (other than post office boxes) that sometimes differ from the civic style location addresses. This increases the difficulty in reliably identifying new addresses and may result in overcoverage when the AR is updated with administrative sources between census programs. Administrative sources tend to have mailing addresses and there exists no file that links the location addresses to the mailing addresses.

Adopting standard and civic style addressing across Canada, numbering all apartments, better identifying collective dwellings, implementing a process to be better informed of new dwellings and demolished ones are changes that will favour the move towards a true nationwide dwelling register.

There must be incentives, such as a legal requirement, for the population to register and to inform the register authorities of changes of address. There must also be a reliable way to assign the units included in the registers (e.g., persons, businesses, dwellings) to a detailed geographic level (geocoding) in order to produce small area detail.

Royce's conclusion:

Canada has no population register and no universal legal requirement for Canadian residents to register changes of addresses with the government. After each Census Program, all addresses on the AR are geocoded to the small area level.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

Canada has no population register and no universal legal requirement for Canadian residents to register changes of addresses with the government.

The AR has the capability to perform block-faceFootnote 4 geocoding that allows the dwelling to be associated to the statistical and administrative geographic hierarchies of the National Geographic Database. Block-face geocoding is easy with civic style addresses. Other addresses rely on the Census Program block coding every five years or a targeted field verification activity, known as listing, in between Census Program cycles.

Dates of changes or events (e.g., change of address, change of employers, births and deaths) must be reliably recorded with minimal delay in recording the event.

Royce's conclusion:

Records of births and deaths of persons are generally reliable and are provided to Statistics Canada. Immigration records are comprehensive, although some of the associated information (e.g., address in Canada, date of entry) may be imprecise. There is no legal requirement for persons leaving the country to report their departure, nor is there a requirement to report internal migration.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

As Royce noted, not all basic movements of the population (births, deaths, international and internal migration) are well recorded.

The records of births and deaths of persons (natural growth) are very reliable. The process is improving as the National Routing System (NRS) has begun to accelerate the transfer of vital information of births and deaths from the provinces and territories to Statistics Canada. Currently, seven provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Ontario and QuebecFootnote 5) have signed onto the NRS. Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are expected to join in 2012, leaving the territories yet to commit to a timetable. For small areas, the geocoding of births and deaths may not be accurate as the information is assigned to where the event occurred and not to the place of residence of the parents or of the deceased.

Not all components of international migration are accurately recorded. The Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) database of permanent residents (landed immigrants) is good but has poor accuracy for the addresses, and only has records of immigrant landings since 1980. The CIC database on non-permanent residents (NPRs) has additional issues. Emigration is not recorded.

As for internal migration, there is no process to formally record changes of addresses. Changes of addresses will be recorded in certain administrative programs, such as taxation and benefit programs, and drivers' licences, but there is no single and universal point of recording changes of addresses in Canada.

Summary

Canada does not meet the necessary conditions to conduct a census employing existing administrative registers. Two key registers for this approach—the population and dwelling registers—do not exist in Canada. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the provincial and territorial privacy commissioners have clearly indicated that they will not support the creation of a population register in Canada. To become a true nationwide dwelling register, Statistics Canada's Address Register would have to overcome challenges that would require discussion, and eventual action, outside of Statistics Canada.

Nor does Canada have a universal personal identification number that would facilitate the linking of different administrative sources. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the provincial and territorial privacy commissioners have expressed great concerns around the adoption of a PIN, as it represents a real risk to privacy, and have confirmed again their long-standing position against the use of the SIN as a common identifier. The Information and Privacy Policy Division of TBS added that the creation of a unique identifier would require an Act of Parliament and would constitute a large endeavour, as it may raise issues related to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Finally, any form of census approach that would involve massive linkage of administrative sources, even without the existence of a population register and a PIN, would be subject to great privacy scrutiny. Issues such as transparency and the ability of individuals to be able to correct and access their own information would have to be examined carefully by both OPC and IPPD. The OPC would likely recommend more formal regulations around such a data-linking initiative.

7.3 Census employing continuous measurement

The census approach employing continuous measurement collects characteristics from individuals and housing units, where part or all of the collection is performed on a continuous basis. It involves a form of rotating sample. Collection modes may vary, including face-to-face interviews (canvasser approach), telephone (computer-assisted or not) and mail. Some data might be replaced by administrative data to ease respondent burden and/or improve quality.

The United States and France are the two notable examples of this approach. The United States continues to conduct its traditional decennial census for collecting basic characteristics of population and housing units. The more detailed characteristics are collected on a continuous basis through the American Community Survey (ACS) [U.S. Census Bureau 2009]. The survey consists of a sample of more than 250,000 households each month. The ACS data must be pooled over one-, three- and five-year periods to produce estimates for different levels of geography.

France has not kept any form of traditional census and conducts what is called a rolling census (Godinot 2005). For communes (municipalities) with less than 10,000 residents, a complete census is conducted once every five years on a rotating basis. For communes with a population of 10,000 persons or more, an 8% sample of addresses is surveyed each year, for a total of 40% of addresses surveyed over five years. The data are pooled over five years for all geographic areas. The 'legal population' for each geographic area is established annually, with a reference date of January 1 of the middle year of the latest five-year period. For example, the first set of estimates based on the 2004 to 2008 collection had a reference date of January 1, 2006.

Royce (2011, p. 41 to 46) listed and assessed the following necessary conditions for the census approach employing continuous measurement. Statistics Canada summarizes this initial assessment and complements it by other information that was gathered through different studies.

It generally requires a multi-year program of comprehensive planning, development and testing to implement.

Royce's conclusion:

The United States took 18 years (from 1993 to 2010 inclusive) from the research proposal stage to the first publication of five-year estimates. The development of the rolling census in France took 12 years (1997 to 2008 inclusive) from the initial proposal stage to the first full production of results.

To produce small area Census Program data in the same timeframe as a traditional 2016 Census Program, a continuous sample survey would have to start full-scale data collection in early 2012, in order to accumulate sufficient sample by 2016.

At this time, no development or testing of a continuous survey to replace all or part of the Census Program has been conducted, nor does Statistics Canada appear to have made any assessment of the amount of resources to do so.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

To release small area estimates based on five years of data where the middle point is 2016, data collection would have to be run from 2014 to 2018. This means that the first small area estimates would be released two years (2019) later than a traditional 2016 Census Program (2017). This could seriously impact some uses and users; such impacts would have to be investigated thoroughly.

To start releasing small area estimates in 2017 as would a traditional 2016 Census Program, a continuous survey would have to gather data from 2012 to 2016. The middle point of the reference period would be 2014. This could have legislative implications since the Canadian legislation requires that censuses be conducted in years ending in '1' and '6' (see Section 5.2.1).

Statistics Canada does not have funding to begin planning and designing a form of continuous measurement. This could start only when both financial and human resources are made available to do so. Resources currently allocated to the Census Program are dedicated to the 2011 cycle. Based on this, as well as the U.S. and French experience, the development and implementation of a continuous measurement approach could meet neither a 2017 nor a 2019 start date for the release of small area data.

It requires the agreement of census stakeholders and policy makers to move from a once-every 5- or 10-year snapshot to an annually updated multi-year approach.

Royce's conclusion:

There does not appear to have been any broad stakeholder consultation in Canada on a continuous measurement approach to collecting Census Program data. Both the United States and France have found that a substantial amount of support to users is required to interpret the data.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

Discussions held with the U.S. Census Bureau and the Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques (INSEE) in France have confirmed the importance of user consultation and the amount of user support needed once the estimates start being published.

INSEE confirmed to Statistics Canada that they conducted a multi-year discussion with different stakeholders before implementing the rolling census (Howatson-Leo and Trépanier 2011). In the late 1990s, the idea of a rolling census was being discussed in scientific forums. A legislative review was conducted and led to the adoption in 2002 of the Loi relative à la démocratie de proximité that paved the way to move to a rolling census. An advisory committee was formed to provide technical methodology advice to INSEE. Various consultations were held, including the involvement of their Conseil national de l'information statistique (CNIS). Considerable efforts were made to explain the new method, to seek advice and to manage the change efficiently.

Statistics Canada has not consulted broadly on this topic, although a question was asked on this topic during the discussion of the summer and fall of 2011 (see Section 6.1). Users were asked "How important is it that data represent a point-in-time estimate, i.e., a snapshot? An alternative would be a rolling estimate." A definition of a rolling estimate was provided. Overall, among those uses identified as having a Census Program information requirement, the majority (61%) of them were identified as having an essential or a strong need for a point-in-time estimate. The analysis of feedback to this question is limited given the limited information that could be provided to the users on the nature of a rolling estimate, so this result should be interpreted with caution. It indicates, however, that more information and consultation would be needed for the user community to find this change acceptable.

A geographic infrastructure (address list or maps) is required, but unlike the traditional census, the infrastructure must be continuously updated rather than being updated once just before the census.

Royce's conclusion:

Statistics Canada has an Address Register (as indicated in Section 7.1) and also an area frame for the current Labour Force Survey.

Continuous updating of the AR is a long-term goal, and significant progress has been made in the past few years to develop and use administrative sources and targeted field verification activity, with the eventual goal of supporting the ongoing household survey program, as well as the Census Program. However, a major source of updates to the AR remains the results of the Census Program itself.

Alternatively, area sampling methods similar to those used in the current Labour Force Survey could be used. However, this would result in a less efficient sample.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

Statistics Canada is in the midst of its Household Survey Strategy (HSS) Project. One of the goals of the project is to use the AR not only for the Census Program but also as a frame for other social and household surveys. Many improvements have been made and continue to be made to the AR. Since the 2006 Census Program, the AR has been updated on a quarterly basis with more and more administrative sources and with targeted field verification activity, known as listing. As a result, the AR coverage is very good in population centres. The 2011 Census Program took advantage of this by mailing out letters or questionnaires to 79.5% of the private dwellings.

Surveys can use these parts of the AR as a list frame. However, some parts of the country are not as well covered by the AR and an area frame to complement the AR is still needed. Part of the HSS is the development of a generalized sampling strategy and system for household surveys that will respond to the increasing strengths of the AR while adjusting for its remaining weaknesses. The strategy is being developed while major surveys like the Labour Force Survey and the General Social Survey are being redesigned. The goal is to serve the needs of most household surveys.

The infrastructure being developed under the HSS Project may be ready by fiscal year 2015-2016. If any form of continuous survey were envisioned for the Census Program, it would be necessary to investigate how it can be integrated into the HSS Project infrastructure. Considering the current HSS timeline and the extra planning, development and testing associated with the integration of a new continuous survey, this could not occur in time for the 2016 Census Program cycle.

Several years of data collection are required before the first data for smaller areas can be made available.

Royce's conclusion:

As noted above, using a continuous survey to produce small area data in a timeframe equivalent to a traditional 2016 Census Program would require that the continuous survey begin collecting data by 2012. Such a start date is not possible, and at this point, Statistics Canada does not appear to have formally assessed what a feasible start date could be.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

As noted above, Statistics Canada has not yet started any comprehensive planning, development and testing of using a form of continuous measurement.

To release estimates based on five years of data where the middle point is 2016, data collection would have to be run from 2014 to 2018. The releases would start only in 2019, two years later than the traditional census approach.

It requires substantial annual funding rather than funding clustered in a one- or two-year period around census year.

Royce's conclusion:

The current Census Program funding model in Canada is based on supplementary funding, with a peak in the collection year. Funding is under the control of the federal government, and could presumably be allocated in a different manner, but at the present time no funding of any kind appears to have been allocated for the development of a continuous measurement approach.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

Statistics Canada currently has resources for the 2011 Census Program cycle. This funding will cease with fiscal year 2014-2015. The current funding does not provide the flexibility to start planning, consulting and developing some form of continuous measurement survey as a partial or total substitute to the 2016 Census Program.

Normally, the first discussion around the funding of the 2016 cycle would occur in 2012 and would result in development funding for fiscal years 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. The second discussion would occur in 2014 and would secure funding for fiscal years 2015-2016 to 2019-2020.

It is very difficult to estimate how much a census employing continuous measurement would cost, but once implemented, it is unlikely to cost less than the current Census Program approach.

As mentioned earlier, the United States and France took respectively 18 and 12 years from the research proposal stage to the first publication of five-year estimates, 5 of which were for the collection of data. Based on the U.S. and France experiences, it is estimated that planning, developing and testing would take between 5 to 10 years in Canada. This would require additional funding, as Statistics Canada would have to conduct this in parallel to the traditional Census Program to fulfil the constitutional and legislative requirements described in Section 5.2.1.

Once in place, there would be ongoing costs for the survey. In France, such costs are 54 million euros annually, or 270 million euros over five years, which is approximately 400 million Canadian dollars. However, while France surveys all of its small communes over five years, it only surveys 40% of the population in its large communes, even to derive population counts. The population of France is twice the size of Canada's but the territory is about 20 times smaller. The sparser Canadian landscape will impact collection activities and costs.

Because it is more complex, both in terms of its operations and the resulting data, it requires a high level of professional staff to maintain it and users with the ability to interpret the data.

Royce's conclusion:

In principle, Statistics Canada has the professional capacity to undertake the development of a large-scale continuous sample survey. However, an important part of this capacity is allocated to the 2011 Census Program cycle. Under current conditions, it appears unlikely that these employees could begin development work on a continuous sample survey approach before 2012 or 2013, when work on the 2011 cycle is completed.


Statistics Canada's assessment:

Same as above. Resources would not be available until 2012 to start work on a different methodology.

Summary

Canada does not meet the necessary conditions for the conduct of a census employing continuous measurement for 2016. France and the United States have confirmed to Statistics Canada the importance of prior and extensive discussions with census stakeholders and policy makers. Results from the discussion undertaken in the summer and fall of 2011 are very preliminary and limited, but they indicate that users are not ready at the moment to move away from point-in-time estimates.

A large-scale continuous survey to partially or totally replace the traditional Census Program would require a significant level of resources up front to allow for proper planning, development and testing before its actual implementation. This would be in addition to the funding needed in the interim to conduct a traditional Census Program.

7.4 Conclusions

Statistics Canada considered three methodology approaches for the 2016 Census Program.

Canada does not meet the necessary conditions for a census employing existing administrative registers. Key to this approach is the existence of a population register and a personal identification number to uniquely identify individuals. Neither a population register nor a personal identification number exist in Canada, and they are unlikely to exist in the short or medium term. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the provincial and territorial privacy commissioners have clearly expressed great concerns for the creation of a population register and a personal identification number in Canada.

Canada does not meet the necessary conditions for a census employing continuous measurement. At the moment, Census Program data users value their current point-in-time estimates and a wide consultation with them would be needed to explain the approach and assess whether the resulting information would fit their needs. Resources, in addition to the current Census Program funding, would be needed to allow careful planning, development and testing before implementation.

The only viable approach for 2016 is a traditional Census Program.

8. Content determination framework for 2016

Extensive consultation with users has always been a key activity performed at the start of each Census Program cycle, typically beginning four years before Census Day. As a result, the content of the Census Program has evolved based on changes in Canadian society and the attendant data needs and priorities of the government. For each round of Census Program planning, the competing requirements of time series integrity versus changing priorities and emerging needs are balanced to determine changes to the questionnaire(s). Content decisions must also take into consideration the much broader issues of respondent burden, privacy, quality and cost. Statistical organizations are held accountable to data users, decision makers and the public to demonstrate that they have done so.

A goal of the discussions undertaken in the summer and fall of 2011 (see Section 6.1) was to determine whether criteria could be identified that would distinguish among uses of Census Program topics and whether these criteria could be used to build a content determination framework. A web-based tool was used to structure the feedback, using the seven dimensions described under Step 1 in Table 6.

A more thorough analysis of this structured feedback revealed that relative priorities of different topics could be identified through the information collected using this type of consultation questionnaire instrument. This analysis, along with a review of international practices, provided the quantity and quality of information needed to develop a more structured and transparent framework for determining content in the future. While developing this framework for determining content, and as Statistics Canada came to the conclusion that the only feasible approach for 2016 was a form of traditional census (see Section 7), it was possible to establish what the high-level design characteristics of the next Census Program could be.

The proposed framework for the 2016 Census Program and beyond builds on experience in previous Canadian Census Programs (Statistics Canada 2008b, p. 8), the United Nations (UN) principles of census-taking (United Nations 2008), and approaches developed in other countries, in particular, the United Kingdom (Office for National Statistics 2006). It reflects the views on 2016 Census content criteria presented in the National Statistics Council's Seeking Solutions document.Footnote 6 The intent is to have a process that is transparent to data users and all Canadians, and takes into account the Canadian context.

Chapter VI of United Nations (2008) states that the topics to be selected should be based upon a balanced consideration of:

  • the needs of the broad range of data users in the country
  • achievement of the maximum degree of international comparability, both within regions and on a worldwide basis
  • the probable willingness and ability of the public to give adequate information on the topics
  • the total national resources available for conducting the census.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE 2006, p. 8) of which Canada is a member, suggests the following criteria:

  • The topic carries a strong and clearly defined user need.
  • There are no other means than the census to collect data on the topic.
  • Data on the topic are required for small population groups and/or at detailed geographical levels.
  • The topic is of major national importance and relevant at the local level.
  • Data on the topic are expected to be used in multivariate analyses with other census topics.
  • The content does not differ drastically from previous censuses and where appropriate a new or modified topic can still provide comparison with previous censuses.

As well, the UNECE notes when a topic should not be included in a census:

  • It is sensitive or potentially intrusive, or requires lengthy explanations or instructions to ensure an accurate answer.
  • It imposes an excessive burden on respondents, or seeks information not readily known or that people are unlikely to remember accurately.
  • It enquires about opinions or attitudes.
  • It is likely to present major coding problems or extensive processing or significantly add to the overall cost of the census.

The proposed content determination framework is a three-step process. It is iterative, meaning that each step is not executed in isolation of the other two steps and that it may need to be repeated, at least partially, as information on other steps is gathered. It begins with consulting external stakeholders on their uses of the data and the related information needs, including the requirements for relevance (topics/variables and frequency) and quality (accuracy, interpretability, coherence).

The second step is the assessment of the Canadian context which encompasses respondent burden and societal privacy concerns. Depending on the issues raised at this stage, there may be a need to go back to the first step to see how these concerns might be addressed in light of the information needs. During this step and also in the next one, the balance of topics, i.e., the number of questions on a given topic as compared with other topics and in the context of total respondent burden, starts to be considered.

The third and final step is the assessment of the Census Program content requirements in the context of Statistics Canada considerations. They include costs, operational factors, safeguards against loss of Census Program data quality and safeguards against loss of efficiency and/or quality in other Statistics Canada programs. This requires consultation with stakeholders internal to Statistics Canada. Again, there may be a need to go back to the first two steps to see how concerns raised might be addressed in light of the information needs.

The table below summarizes the dimensions considered at each step of the process. Details of each step follow.

8.1 Step 1 – Census Program information needs: establishing relevance and quality requirements via a consultation on uses

The first step in planning any Census Program has always been to consult users about their information needs. The consultation process proposed for the 2016 cycle and beyond builds on previous Census Program consultation processes (Statistics Canada 2008b, p. 8) but includes a framework in order to provide more structure to it. It incorporates the recommendations of the National Statistics Council (2010) and the transparency and structure of the Office for National Statistics' approach in the United Kingdom for their 2011 Census (Office for National Statistics 2006).

The role of users will be to describe their Census Program data needs to Statistics Canada in terms of the seven dimensions under Step 1 in Table 6. The requirements will then be evaluated to establish the priority ranking of each topic and question to determine whether the Census Program is the appropriate instrument for a particular topic/question.

Each topic and each question will first be classified and then ranked from highest to lowest priority on each of the seven dimensions shown above in Step 1.

In terms of the strength of user need, 10 different levels of priority have been identified, as shown in Table 7. In general, statutory and regulatory uses, being tied to law, will be highest priority. Uses related to resource allocation and service delivery will also be high priority because of the direct impact on government spending and financial decisions. Planning, development, monitoring, evaluation and performance reports related to programs or policies will be medium priority, as they measure accountability and inform Canadians about efficiency and effectiveness of government programs. The remaining uses, such as research, will be considered lower priority. Those information needs which serve a purpose which is national in scope will have the highest priority. Given the national role of the federal government, its uses will be assigned a higher priority than other government and non-government uses.

Thus, the highest priority will be given to federal government uses for which there is an explicit or implicit statutory or regulatory requirement. Explicit means that the legislation/regulation mentions the census specifically, while implicit signifies that the Census Program, meaning the census and/or NHS, is the traditional source of information, although it is not explicitly noted in the legislation or regulation. This approach reflects one of the recommendations put forward by the National Statistics Council and referred to earlier.

In terms of the size of the population of interest, a higher priority will be assigned to uses that require data for small geographic areas or small groups of interest. This constitutes one of the essential features of a Census Program (see Section 5.1) and is consistent with the UNECE criteria and the National Statistics Council recommendations referred to earlier. It recognizes that data needs for larger geographic areas/population groups can be collected through sample surveys while it is difficult to do so for smaller geographic areas or population groups. As a result, needs for data by dissemination area or by census tract will be higher priority than those at the census metropolitan area (CMA) level, which in turn would be higher than those at the provincial/territorial level. Likewise, needs for smaller populations of interest such as recent immigrants, would be higher priority than those for larger groups such as the employed population.

With respect to the suitability of alternative sources, those topics for which no alternative sources exist will be highest priority while those for which alternative sources are readily available will be lowest. Again, this is consistent with the UNECE criteria and the National Statistics Council recommendations.

Multivariate analysis is the ability to examine the interrelationships among the different variables, for example, age, education, income and immigrant status. This type of analysis is possible using Census Program data because all variables derived from the questions are available for each individual, household and dwelling, with a common reference point (e.g., Census Day). It is a significant strength when used to examine complex relationships among variables. Those uses for which there is a requirement for multivariate analysis or cross-classification of data will be higher priority than those for which a one-dimensional profile is needed. This is another of the UNECE criteria.

In terms of the need for data to be comparable across Canada and the need for data to be comparable over time (continuity over time), i.e., for trend analysis, for each of these two dimensions, highest priority will be assigned to uses for which comparability is essential and lowest priority to those for which there is no need. These are based on the UNECE criteria of including topics of national importance (comparable across the country) and that will provide comparison with previous Census Programs.

Finally, as these dimensions are to help determine the content of the 2016 Census Program, the highest priority for frequency of outputs, will be topics which are needed every five years, i.e., to be collected in 2016, followed by those which are needed every ten years, i.e., not before 2021. Those which are needed only one time or more frequently than every five years would be lowest priority as the Census Program is likely not the appropriate collection instrument.

Once each topic and each question is classified and ranked from highest to lowest priority on each of the seven dimensions, the information for a topic/question will be synthesized to give an overall high, medium, low information need priority to the topic/question. Of these seven dimensions, the ones which will be most important are strength of user need, followed by size of population of interest and suitability of alternative sources.

The above list of topics and questions will be further classified into topics and questions that require a higher or lower level of precision and a higher or lower level of detail. For those topics and questions that have been asked in the past, the recent split between full enumeration and sample-based collection will be an important aspect to consider.

The ultimate output of Step 1 will be a preliminary list of topics and variables which could be divided into up to three possible groups:

  • Full enumeration – To be asked of 100% of the population because they have a high information need priority and they require a very high level of precision at the very smallest sized population of interest (geographic levels)
  • Sample – To be asked of a sample of the population because they have either a high or medium information need priority and they require a lesser degree of precision
  • Not to be collected in the Census Program – They have the lowest information need priority or may be more suitable for collection through other statistical programs.

8.2 Step 2 – Canadian context: addressing public acceptability with respect to respondent burden and societal privacy concerns

The second step is to assess the public acceptability of each question and each topic in terms of two dimensions: respondent burden and societal privacy concerns. This step will be undertaken in consultation with the National Statistics Council, and federal and provincial/territorial privacy commissioners. Information from subject matter and methodology areas within Statistics Canada will also inform this discussion.

Respondent burden is defined as the perceived difficulty, dissonance or intrusion that individuals associate with a question/topic they are being asked to answer. A number of factors can contribute to respondent burden. Among others are the nature/sensitivity of the question sometimes stated as privacy concerns, the question wording and answer categories, its position in the questionnaire, the fact that the question refers to data already provided to government, or provided previously in the questionnaire itself, and the lack of understanding of why the question is being asked.

The consequences of respondent burden are that the respondent will not answer the question, will answer it poorly or will answer it accurately but with some level of difficulty and/or some level of annoyance. Although there is no universally-agreed-to single measure of respondent burden, indicators of respondent burden include, among others, previous levels of non-response and imputation to the question/topic, the time to answer it, the number of times respondents quit once they reach that question/topic and later return, and negative comments provided. The comparison of such indicators across Census Program questions and topics is important to assess the relative burden.

The average response burden imposed on Canadians is also an aspect to examine. Questions asked to a sample of the population result in a lower average burden than if the same questions were asked on a full enumeration basis. Respondent burden can also be examined over Census Program cycles.Footnote 7

Societal privacy concerns refer to how privacy guardians in Canada, namely the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and its provincial and territorial counterparts, assess the privacy intrusiveness associated with questions and topics.

Step 2 will rank topics/questions from the most to the least burdensome and privacy intrusive topics/questions. The most burdensome and privacy intrusive topics and questions could dictate a need to revisit the priorities identified in Step 1 to determine whether there is a less burdensome or less intrusive way to collect the information (including the possibility of using administrative data) or could dictate that the data have to be collected on a voluntary basis rather than a mandatory basis.

Another aspect that will need to be considered is the balance of topics, i.e., the number of questions on a given topic as compared with other topics in the context of total respondent burden and size of each block of content. Decisions should take into account the priority of information needs assigned as a result of Step 1.

The ultimate output of Steps 1 and 2 will be a refined list of topics and variables that could be divided into four possible blocks:

  • Mandatory full enumeration – Topics/variables labelled for 'full enumeration' in Step 1 for which there are no major indications of burden or privacy intrusiveness
  • Mandatory sample – Topics/variables labelled for 'full enumeration' in Step 1 for which there are major indications of burden but no major indications of privacy intrusiveness, and topics/variables labelled for 'sample' in Step 1 for which there are no major indications of privacy intrusiveness
  • Voluntary sample – Topics/variables labelled for 'full enumeration' or 'sample' in Step 1 for which there are major indications of burden and privacy intrusiveness
  • Not to be collected in the Census Program – Technically the same topics/variables as in Step 1.

This division into mandatory and voluntary is consistent with the criteria in Statistics Canada's Determination of Mandatory and Voluntary Surveys Guidelines (Statistics Canada 1997) which balance the need for the information, e.g., to fulfil statutory or regulatory requirements, against the sensitivity of the information, keeping in mind that an adequate response rate must be attained to provide reliable information to meet the objective(s) of the survey.

In other words, topics/variables first identified as requiring 'full enumeration' in Step 1 could be moved at this point to the 'mandatory sample' if there is a very strong indication of response burden or further moved to the 'voluntary sample' if there is in addition a very strong sense of privacy intrusiveness. This should occur in rare circumstances only as topics/variables first identified as requiring 'full enumeration' in Step 1 refer to high priority information data needs that require a very high level of precision at the very smallest sized population of interest (geographic levels). Using the same logic, topics/variables first identified as requiring 'sample' could be assigned to the 'mandatory sample' group if there is no strong sense of privacy intrusiveness. If there is, they could be moved to the 'voluntary sample.'

It is important to note that on one hand, the lowest information need priority topics/variables that were classified as 'not to be collected in the Census Program' as a result of Step 1 will not be 'promoted' as a result of Step 2. Low burden and privacy intrusiveness with a topic or variable are not sufficient to justify adding that topic or variable to the questionnaire(s); there must first be a demonstrated high or medium priority information requirement. On the other hand, it is unlikely (but not impossible) that topics/variables that had high and medium information need priorities in Step 1 fall to the 'not to be collected in the Census Program' category because of burden and sense of privacy intrusiveness. These should be only the most extreme cases and closely examined. The examination could reveal that such topics/variables are more suitable for collection through other statistical programs.

8.3 Step 3 – Statistics Canada considerations

There are four additional dimensions to be considered in determining which topics/variables should be collected in 2016 and whether the questions should be mandatory or voluntary. These are: costs, operational factors, safeguards against loss of Census Program data quality and safeguards against loss of efficiency and/or quality in other Statistics Canada programs.

In terms of costs, Statistics Canada must consider whether collecting the information significantly increases the length of the questionnaire or the costs of processing it. Further, Statistics Canada must consider the cost and data quality trade-offs between collecting data on a voluntary versus mandatory basis. As reported earlier in Section 4.1, analysis of the test conducted on the American Community Survey (ACS) in 2003 to assess the impact of making it voluntary has estimated that to preserve the same data quality from a voluntary ACS, the costs would increase by 48% (Griffin 2011).

Operational factors that may dictate certain information to be collected include, for example, names, telephone numbers and addresses to ensure that quality data are collected in an efficient manner. Other questions may also be asked for coding purposes. For example, if it is decided that industry coding is a Census Program variable, the name of employer might be needed to assist the detailed industry coding unless another way to obtain the information is found. These questions would not normally be identified in an external user consultation.

Safeguards against loss of Census Program data quality refer primarily to topics and questions that may be relatively more burdensome and/or privacy intrusive. While burden and privacy considerations might weigh in favour of asking such questions on a voluntary basis, non-response rates should also be analyzed to identify differential non-response patterns, i.e., groups that are less likely to participate. These burdensome and privacy intrusive topics/questions that show differential non-response patterns and for which there are indications that they could be used to mitigate non-response bias for other questions collected on a voluntary basis could be collected on a mandatory basis.

Information collected in the Census Program is needed to provide safeguards against loss of efficiency and/or quality in other Statistics Canada programs. Examples of such needs were presented in Section 6.3 of this report.

It is not determined at this point how the four dimensions described above would interact and influence the moving of topics/variables from one block to another. No attempt is made in this report to describe it in detail. It is anticipated that some topics/variables could be moved to the blocks 'mandatory full enumeration' and 'mandatory sample' because they greatly improve the quality and efficiency of the Census Program or of other Statistics Canada programs while keeping costs, response burden and societal privacy concerns within acceptable limits. The overall balance of topics would be looked at again in this step.

It is important to repeat finally that although the three steps above were presented sequentially, the whole process will in fact be iterative. Changes made in Step 2 could require a repetition of Step 1. Similarly with Step 3, it could be needed to go back to Steps 1 and 2.

8.4 Conclusions

The content determination process used for 2016 and beyond should build on previous Census Program processes and:

  • be open and transparent for stakeholders and data users, as well as for the Canadian public
  • demonstrate evidence-based decision making in reaching content determination conclusions.

As long as the Census Program in Canada remains a traditional one,Footnote 8 the process should include three main steps that could require multiple iterations:

  • Step 1: A consultation with external stakeholders on their uses of the data to determine relevance, timeliness and quality requirements. The requirements will be prioritized, based on the dimensions outlined in Table 6, and could result in a division of the content into three groups:

    1. To be asked on a full enumeration basis – It represents a high information need priority and requires a very high level of precision at the very smallest sized population of interest (geographic levels)
    2. To be asked on a sample basis – It has either a high or medium information need priority and requires a lesser degree of precision
    3. Not to be collected in the Census Program – It has the lowest information need priority or may be more suitable for collection through other statistical programs.
  • Step 2: A discussion with internal stakeholders to assess if the proposed content would likely generate excessive response burden, and with external advisory bodies such as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the NSC to determine whether the proposed content raises serious societal privacy concerns. The balance of topics will also be looked at in this step. This could result in four possible blocks:

    1. Mandatory full enumeration – Topics/variables labelled for 'full enumeration' in Step 1 for which there are no major indications of burden and privacy intrusiveness
    2. Mandatory sample – Topics/variables labelled for 'full enumeration' in Step 1 for which there are major indications of burden (but no major indication of privacy intrusiveness) and topics/variables labelled for 'sample' in Step 1 for which there are no major indications of privacy intrusiveness
    3. Voluntary sample – Topics/variables labelled for 'full enumeration' or 'sample' in Step 1 for which there are major indications of burden and privacy intrusiveness
    4. Not to be collected in the Census Program.
  • Step 3: A discussion with internal stakeholders to assess Statistics Canada considerations such as those related to costs, operational factors, safeguards against loss of Census Program data quality and safeguards against loss of efficiency and/or quality in other Statistics Canada programs. The balance of topics will also be looked at in this step. This could result in some further changes to the content assigned to each block in Step 2.

Finally, the discussion approach and the online questionnaire tool used to gather feedback in the 2016 Census Strategy Project, with further refinements, will be used in future consultations to engage more broadly on information needs at the topic and variable level.

9. Conclusions

Following every Census Program cycle, Statistics Canada reviews its collection and processing methods as part of its evaluation and quality assurance processes. Changes introduced in the 2011 Census Program initiated an even broader and in-depth review. In particular, during the summer of 2010 there was a heightened debate on issues of privacy and the relevance of the information collected as part of the Census Program. At the same time, there have been questions regarding the extent to which a voluntary National Household Survey (NHS) can produce results of sufficient data quality to meet users' requirements. The quality of the NHS results will not be fully known until the data have been processed and evaluated. The results are scheduled to be released in 2013.

Feasible approach for the 2016 Census Program

The 2016 Census Strategy Project examined various methodological approaches that are used around the world for conducting a census to see what alternatives exist, if any, for the Canadian Census Program in 2016 and beyond.

This report examined the three major types of methodology approaches used internationally for conducting a census: the traditional census approach, the census approach employing existing administrative registers and the census approach employing continuous measurement. Drawing on work conducted by Royce (2011), Statistics Canada assessed whether the necessary conditions for using each approach were likely to be present in time for the 2016 Census Program. The results of this assessment indicate that of the three approaches examined, the traditional census is the only viable methodology for the 2016 Census Program.Footnote 9

More specifically, the necessary conditions for the conduct of a traditional census approach are expected to continue to exist in Canada for 2016. The degree of public cooperation with the census (mandatory) is still at high levels. While the response to the NHS is comparable to Statistics Canada's other voluntary household surveys, further study will be required once the assessment of the quality of the NHS results is completed to determine the extent to which the NHS was able to deliver estimates of sufficient data quality for lower geographic areas and small population groups.

Canada does not meet the necessary conditions of a census approach employing existing administrative registers. Although this approach is being used by an increasing number of countries, two keys to this approach are the existence of a population register and a number that uniquely identifies individuals. Neither exists in Canada nor are they likely to exist in the short or medium term. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the provincial and territorial privacy commissioners have clearly expressed great concerns for the creation of a population register and a personal identification number in Canada.

Adoption of a census approach employing continuous measurement is also not feasible for the coming Census Program. To replace all or part of the 2016 Census Program, such a methodology would have to be in place by 2012. France and the United States have confirmed to Statistics Canada the importance of prior and extensive discussions with census stakeholders and policy makers. No funding has been allocated for consultation, development and testing for a continuous measurement survey at this point.

Moving forward, the balance between relevance, quality, respondent burden and privacy will need to be examined as part of the content determination process for the Census Program. For 2016, external stakeholders will be consulted on their uses of the data to determine relevance (including timeliness) and quality requirements. In particular, priorities would be assigned based on the strength of user need. The consultation findings would be examined in light of respondent burden, societal privacy concerns and other considerations, such as costs, that Statistics Canada must take into account. Results of this assessment could be the division of the content into questions to be asked on a full enumeration basis, questions not to be collected in the 2016 Census Program and, potentially, those questions to be asked on a sample basis. The 2016 Census content will continue to be prescribed by the Governor in Council.

Continue to improve the census operations

As is customary following a Census Program cycle, Statistics Canada is presently reviewing all of its operations and will incorporate improvements and efficiencies whenever possible. Three examples follow:

  1. The Address Register has enabled the 2011 Census Program to successfully mail out letters and forms to close to 80% of the private dwellings in Canada. Work continues to further improve the coverage of the Address Register for the 2016 Census Program, including targeted field verification and the use of administrative data sources. Statistics Canada is working with external stakeholders on how to best manage regional varieties of addresses. In addition, it will work with Canada Post Corporation to optimise the use of civic style addresses to expand the mail-out methodology for the 2016 Census Program.
  2. The Internet has become the primary mode of collection for the Census Program, as almost 80%Footnote 10 of Canadian households currently have access to the Internet. In 2011, almost 54% of Canadian households completed their 2011 Census questionnaire on the Internet, a significant increase from 18% in the 2006 Census. As well, about 64% of all NHS respondents chose to complete the NHS online.Footnote 11 With Internet now the primary mode of collection, Statistics Canada is examining the opportunities this offers for activities such as questionnaire design and data processing.
  3. While the census approach employing existing administrative registers is not currently feasible in Canada, the use of administrative data within a traditional Census Program can nevertheless reduce respondent burden and improve quality. Statistics Canada has for a number of Census Program cycles used administrative data for the Address Register, for quality assessment and as a substitute for questions (i.e., income). Statistics Canada will continue to examine the potential for using new and existing sources of administrative data for the 2016 Census Program.

Beyond the 2016 Census Program

This report traced among others the evolution of the Canadian Census Program since 1871, and how content, methods and quality assurance practices have adapted to changes in society. It is anticipated that future cycles will also experience change and would benefit from the tradition of the Census Program five-year cycle to evaluate and test new methodologies and technologies. These often come to complete fruition only in later cycles, as was the case in 2011 when Internet, after two cycles of testing and progressive implementation, surpassed paper as the primary mode of collection. The 2011 Census Program also saw the transformation of the mandatory long form to the voluntary National Household Survey.

This report concludes that the traditional census approach is the only viable approach for 2016. Research on alternative methodologies should continue on a long-term horizon, beyond the next Census Program cycle. Research to date has indicated that unless there are significant changes to the Canadian context, many of the issues surrounding the alternative approaches will remain for 2021 and beyond. For example, the discussion of a population register and a personal identification number has raised great concerns from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and her provincial and territorial counterparts. There has also been no demonstrated support by Census Program stakeholders for the census approach employing continuous measurement. As well, the development timelines and costs for census approaches other than the traditional one are considered to be quite significant.

If changes are envisioned for 2021 or even later cycles, it is thus important that research continues. A key element of this research will include increased use of administrative data in the Census Program and the Population Estimates Program to reduce respondent burden and/or improve quality and efficiency. This will involve examining the potential for expanding the use of existing administrative data files and exploring partnerships to use additional ones, in accordance with privacy-related policies and directives.

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