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Overview of the Census of Population
Chapter 4 – Consultation, testing and content approval


Before each census, Statistics Canada asks data users and interested parties across Canada for their views on the type and extent of information that should be available through the census database. The goal is to ensure that Statistics Canada takes account of emerging social and economic issues and, where appropriate, uses the census and postcensal surveys to shed light on them. In addition to the consultation process, the census questions undergo an extensive testing process.

Consultation and testing up to June 2010 included references to questions previously collected by the long-form census questionnaire. In June 2010, the government instructed Statistics Canada to conduct the 2011 Census using the short-form only, and to introduce a new National Household Survey (NHS) as a replacement for the long-form. The National Household Survey (NHS) included the changes presented in the 2011 Census Content Consultation Guide, Catalogue no. 92-138-G, and discussed during the census consultation period and during ongoing consultation.


Statistics Canada recognizes the importance of consultation, and encourages ongoing dialogue with data users. Consultation for the 2011 Census began in the spring of 2007. Three primary strategies were used during the consultation process to obtain feedback from data users and stakeholders for the 2011 Census content: in-person consultations, communications campaigns and the Internet. These strategies yielded over 1,200 content-related comments. More than 150 organizations and private citizens conveyed ideas and suggestions for the 2011 Census. A report presenting the consultation results was subsequently posted on the Statistics Canada website.

From April to November 2007, Statistics Canada met with over 360 people during more than 50 in-person consultations. The majority of the participants were data users. Meetings were held with federal, provincial and territorial governments, municipalities and regions, non-profit organizations, community groups, academia, private industry (which included licensed distributors and the media), advisory committees and the general public. Sessions were also organized with Statistics Canada subject matter divisions, regional offices and working groups. While the comments and suggestions expressed during these consultations were recorded, participants were encouraged to provide written submissions prior to the November 30, 2007 deadline.

The findings generated during the content consultation period can be found in the 2011 Census Content Consultation Report, Catalogue no. 92-137-X, posted on the Statistics Canada website on July 24, 2008.


Once new or revised questions were identified, all changes to their wording, placement and instructions were tested.

Discussion groups and one-on-one cognitive interviews were used to find out how the questions and instructions would be interpreted. From October 2007 to June 2008, three rounds of testing took place in selected cities across Canada. Seventeen focus groups were held and almost 400 people participated in one-on-one cognitive interviews. Feedback from these participants helped formulate the questions that would be asked in the 2008 Content Test.

2008 Census Test of content

The 2008 Content Test was conducted in May and June 2008. A sample of approximately 26,000 dwellings was selected from across the 10 provinces. The sample excluded the territories, Indian reserves, military bases, collective dwellings, and citizens abroad or on ships.

Half of the selected households received control versions that contained the content of the 2006 Census of Population short (Form 2A) and long (Form 2B) questionnaires. These questionnaires were used as controls. The other households received alternate versions of the short- and long-form questionnaires incorporating the proposed content modifications.

2009 Census Test

The 2009 Census Test took place from May to June 2009. The main test included 110,000 dwellings in the Montréal area (Quebec) and Red Deer (Alberta) and was designed to test procedures rather than content.

A supplementary sample of 25,000 dwellings was selected across Canada to evaluate the wave collection methodology which involved households receiving an Internet promotion letter rather than a paper questionnaire at the start of collection. The sample was divided into five panels of 5,000 dwellings each. The primary objective was to evaluate two versions of the letter and two different timeframes to return a completed questionnaire.

Additional testing following content approval

In August 2010, two language questions were added to the census content that required a format change to the census questionnaire (refer to the section Changes to the 2011 Census questionnaire). Qualitative interviews were conducted to evaluate instructions designed to maximize response to the questions appearing on the new page.

In September and October 2010, participants of qualitative testing provided feedback to the online version of the questionnaires. This test was used to evaluate the transition screens from the census to the NHS, as well as other messages used in the online version of the questionnaires.

Content approval

Many factors were considered when recommending content changes to the 2011 Census questionnaire. These included: legislative, policy and program requirements, response burden, data quality, cost, historical comparability confidentiality, privacy, alternative data sources, consultation and testing.

Comments received during the content consultation and the results of the testing program formed the basis of the decision of which questions were presented to Cabinet for approval.

In accordance with the Statistics Act, following approval by Cabinet, the questions for the Census of Population were prescribed by the Governor in Council through an Order in Council. The Order and the schedule of questions were published in the Canada Gazette, Part I on August 21, 2010.

Types of data collected

The following is a list of data collected on the 2011 Census questionnaire:

  • Name
  • Date of birth and age
  • Marital status
  • Legal marital status
  • Common-law status
  • Relationship to Person 1
  • Knowledge of official languages
  • Home language
  • Mother tongue
  • Access to personal information 92 years after the census
  • Structural type of dwelling
  • Collective dwellings

Changes to the 2011 Census questionnaire

The most significant change, in terms of content and questionnaire development, was the government decision to conduct the 2011 Census as the short-form only. The 2011 Census consisted of the same eight questions that appeared on the 2006 Census short-form questionnaire (covering basic demographic topics such as age, sex, marital status, mother tongue and consent to future release of personal information), plus two additional language questions on knowledge of official languages and languages spoken at home.

The 2011 Census questionnaires can be found on the Statistics Canada website. Refer to the 2011 Census Dictionary, Catalogue no. 98-301-X, for detailed definitions of Census of Population concepts, universes, variables and geography, as well as historical information to facilitate the comparison of variables between census years.

Appendix A of the Census Dictionary, Catalogue no. 98-301-X contains a complete list of census questions asked since Confederation.

The following section focuses on specific modifications, additions, and deletions to the 2011 Census questionnaires.

New questions

Two questions on language were added to the 2011 Census. These questions were previously asked only in the census long-form.

Question 7 asks, 'Can this person speak English or French well enough to conduct a conversation?'

Question 8 consists of two parts, and asks the following: 'What language does this person speak most often at home?' and 'Does this person speak any other languages on a regular basis at home?'

Modified questions

A question on age was added to Question 3 (date of birth) of the 2011 Census. Combining information on date of birth with age helped collect more accurate data.

There were also modifications to the response categories to Question 6 on Relationship to Person 1.

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