2016 Census Strategy Project: Data Uses and Requirements Report

1. Executive summary

Statistics Canada's mandate is to ensure that Canadians have access to a trusted source of statistics that meet their highest priority information needs. The efficient production of relevant, accessible, high-quality statistics helps to ensure that the Canadian economy functions efficiently and our society is governed effectively (Statistics Canada 2011a).

As part of this mandate, Statistics Canada is responsible under the Statistics Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. S-19) for conducting the Census of Population every five years. By law, the government (by an order in council) prescribes the questions to be asked in the census. By the same law, each person is required to provide the information requested in the census and Statistics Canada must protect the confidentiality of the personal information provided by respondents.

As part of Statistics Canada's customary process to review and evaluate its statistical programs, and in light of the changes to the 2011 Canadian Census ProgramFootnote 1 and changes to census-taking approaches internationally, Statistics Canada launched the 2016 CensusFootnote 2 Strategy Project in December 2010. The objective of this project was to study options and deliver a recommendation to the federal government on the methodology of the 2016 Census Program in 2012. While this timeframe is needed to ensure a decision on approach is made in time to then allow sufficient time for the planning, development, testing and implementation of the methodology for 2016, it does not provide sufficient time to fully analyze the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) data quality, analysis that will be completed in 2013 when the NHS results are released. This project was further mandated to develop a content determination framework, including criteria for inclusion of content in the Census Program.

To develop this content determination framework it was necessary to: examine content determination approaches elsewhere; to consider the Canadian context; and ultimately to gather information on high priority Census Program data uses and requirements directly from data users. The process to gather this information employed similar communication approaches of previous Census Program consultations (Statistics Canada 2008, p. 7), but requested more detailed information from data users on their data uses and requirements.

The input received from data users over the summer and fall of 2011 as part of the 2016 Census Strategy Project confirmed the critical role played by the Census Program in delivering information on a range of topics, with over 800 uses of Census Program data reported.Footnote 3 First and foremost, population counts produced by the Census Program are required explicitly by numerous pieces of legislation, meaning census data are explicitly mentioned. These population counts are at the heart of Statistics Canada's Population Estimates Program (PEP) that relies on the most recent Census Program data, along with administrative data provided by other federal, provincial and territorial government departments, to produce annual and quarterly estimates of the Canadian population at various levels of geography between censuses. The PEP responds to statutory requirements for the calculation of revenue transfers and cost-sharing programs between the various levels of government (Statistics Canada 2011b) and produces information to calculate major federal transfers to the provinces and territories under the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act. It is also a source of information for the allocation of House of Commons seats to provinces in the recent Fair Representation Act that received Royal Assent on December 16, 2011. The PEP is also used as a source of benchmark data for many other social and household surveys at Statistics Canada and contributes to the integrity of the broader social statistics system.

Other data produced by the Census Program also respond to key legislation. The official languages content is an example where there is an explicit legislative requirement for the use of census data for specific language variables where it is stated in subparagraph 3(a)(ii) that the method of estimating the "English or French linguistic minority population" is on the basis of "after the results of the 1991 census of population are published, the most recent decennial census of population for which results are published…" (Official Languages (Communications with and Services to the Public) Regulations, SOR/92-48). The Census Program provides data at low level of geographies and for small populations where there is no alternative data source. For example, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the Public Service Commission and Treasury Board Secretariat reported that Employment Equity Regulations require data on Aboriginal peoples and visible minorities which are not available in administrative databases but are provided by the Census Program.

Data users demonstrated the requirements for Census Program information for all topics. In particular, describing information requirements for data at low levels of geography and for small populations for resource allocation; service delivery; the development, evaluation and monitoring of policy and programs; research; and other uses supporting both the government and the non-government sectors, for which there are currently no suitable alternative data sources. The data users likewise provided evidence of the importance of multivariate analysis which calls for both topics which can identify populations of interest, but also topics which can describe the labour, income, education and housing conditions of these populations, that is to say their socioeconomic outcomes.

Analysis of the 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, and the advice of the National Statistics Council (National Statistics Council 2010), provided the quantity and quality of information needed to develop a more structured and transparent framework for determining Census Program content in the future.

The balance between relevance, quality, respondent burden and privacy will need to be examined as part of the content determination process for the 2016 Census Program.Footnote 4 External stakeholders will be consulted on their uses of the Census Program data to determine relevance (including timeliness) and quality requirements. Priorities would be assigned based on the strength of user need. In particular, 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 indicate content to be collected in the 2016 Census Program, as well as content not to be collected in the 2016 Census Program though perhaps which could be measured through other statistical programs.

Such a content determination process provides an open and transparent framework for stakeholders and data users, as well as for the Canadian public, and can demonstrate evidence-based decision making in reaching content determination conclusions.

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