There is a lot of debate in Canada about the census as the federal government moves to replace the mandatory long form census with a new voluntary approach.

With 15 years of experience developing and delivering community-based social marketing (CBSM) programs, I have developed a strong opinion on information-based decision making. And my experience in research over the last 20 years has added to my formal statistics training many years ago.

The very basis of sound policy and program development is under threat as the Government of Canada undermines the validity of the Census data by moving to a voluntary program.

It is incredible to me that the Government is willing to spend more money for less reliable data.

The assurance that a larger sample size will fix things is so fundamentally flawed that it makes one wonder if the decision makers have any understanding of statistics whatsoever. The fact is, a voluntary census will not be as rigorous and the data will not be as valid because the data will be skewed towards people willing or wanting to fill the form out. And it will cost more. It is incredible to me that the Government is willing to spend more money for less reliable data.

The effect of reducing the validity of the census data goes far beyond CBSM program development, but the impact of developing CBSM programs with less information is easily envisioned. Can you imagine developing curbside recycling programs and communications programs without solid data on household sizes, ratios of single-family dwellings to multi-family dwellings, and language requirements? How can water conservation programs be developed and measured without understanding the number of people in households? How can commuting behaviours be properly evaluated and fostered if we do not have information on how far people travel to work? How can energy conservation programs be developed without sound information on existing energy use, age of homes, prevalence of air conditioning systems, etcetera.

If you are concerned about sound environmental policy and program development (or in sound decision-making in general), please let Industry Minister Tony Clement know. Make your voice heard before it is too late. Minister Clement’s contact information is here (http://www NULL.tonyclement NULL.ca/EN/contact_tony/).

Tagged on: