Painting a Portrait of Canada: The 2021 Census of Population
10. Costs and benefits

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A census of population is fundamental to any country’s statistical infrastructure. In Canada, the census is currently the only data source that provides high-quality population and dwelling counts based on common standards and at low levels of geography, as well as consistent and comparable information on various population groups.


Statistics Canada spreads its census-related costs over a seven-year period that includes time to revise the questionnaire, plan and prepare for operations, collect responses, analyze the data, and distribute the results. Many factors, including questionnaire length, sample size, number of questionnaires mailed, collection methodology and the extent of non-response follow-up, can affect the overall cost. As a result, the final cost of the census is not known until two years after Census Day.

Statistics Canada is always improving the efficiency of the Census Program. For example, for the past three census cycles, Statistics Canada reduced the average cost per dwelling. For the 2016 Census, the cost per dwelling was $47.53, compared with $49.46 in 2011 and $50.74 in 2006 (in 2017/2018 constant dollars).

Because of high participation levels—and a strong online response in particular—Statistics Canada had fewer cases that required a follow-up during the 2016 Census compared with earlier censuses. This translated into savings for Canadian taxpayers. From its approved budget of $715 million for the 2016 Census, Statistics Canada was able to return $65.2 million (in 2017/2018 constant dollars) to the Government of Canada.


High-quality census data allow governments, businesses and community leaders to make informed decisions with confidence and better allocate resources.

Representation in parliament: The federal government uses population counts from years ending in 1, e.g., 2001 and 2011) to redefine the boundaries of federal electoral districts. These data are required under the Constitution Act, 1867 to determine representation in the House of Commons.

Services planning: Communities use census information on population growth and mobility to plan services such as schools, daycares, and police and fire services. Town planners, social welfare workers and government agencies use census information on families. Transportation planners for provincial, territorial, regional and municipal governments use census information to analyze traffic flows, assess existing transportation services, and plan for changes to these services and to road networks. Government departments use age trends to estimate future demand for benefits and programs.

Private-sector businesses: Canadian businesses use census data for market research and to target their investments. Businesses use the data to determine new locations for factories, stores and offices based on the population size and distribution in different areas. Life insurance companies base their premiums tables on census age data. Household and farm equipment manufacturers use census data to determine the best market locations for their products.

Official languages: The federal government uses data on first official language spoken by the population, within the scope of the Official Languages Act, to estimate demand for services in the minority official language (English in Quebec and French in provinces and territories other than Quebec and New Brunswick).

Resource allocation: Population estimates are derived from census population counts adjusted for coverage errors. These estimates are used to calculate transfer payments from the federal government to the provinces and territories, and from the provincial and territorial governments to municipalities. In 2018/2019, the Government of Canada allocated roughly $75.4 billion to provincial and territorial governments through its major transfer programs (Canada Health Transfer, Canada Social Transfer, Equalization and Territorial Formula Financing) and direct targeted support.

Policy making and monitoring: Governments at all levels rely on census data to develop programs. For example, census data on place of work and commuting are used by Transport Canada to develop and plan policies. Census data help identify specific groups and communities, such as recent immigrants, youth and older workers who may benefit from labour market programs. Data are also used to profile occupations in local labour markets. The Government of Ontario uses labour market information from the census to support its economic development initiatives, such as the Canada–Ontario Labour Market Development Agreement annual plan, the Employment Ontario policy framework and the Ontario Job Futures occupational profiles.

Academic research: Population and sociodemographic statistics are used to understand social conditions and examine the impact of past policies. Statistics Canada’s network of research data centres provides researchers with access to microdata each year.

Family history: People with an interest in their family history, as well as genealogists and historians, use census records to research family or social history. Census records up to and including the 1926 Census are available online through and as microfilm copies through LAC.

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