|Census to reveal Canada's changing demographics|
Quebec's population shrinking; Figures expected to show strong growth in Prairies, Newfoundland and Labrador
Major changes in the makeup and population of the Canadian federation will come into sharp focus next week as Statistics Canada unveils the first results of its 2011 census.
This glimpse at Canada's people won't be without controversy, however. Some experts have questioned the federal government's 2010 decision to replace its mandatory long-form questionnaire, previously sent to a representative sample of the population, with a voluntary household survey.
Laurent Martel, a senior analyst from Statistics Canada, says the data to be unveiled Wednesday - focused on population and dwellings - should reflect the latest estimates from his agency that show changes in provinces such as Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador, which are now seeing increased growth.
"We can certainly see some major shifts in demographics in different provinces and territories," said Martel, who leads the agency's research on demographics.
He says other trends, such as the decreasing proportion of Quebec's population within the federation, observed over the past half-century, also should be confirmed next week.
The release of the first results from the 2011 census comes just after the departure of Statistics Canada's chief economic analyst, Philip Cross, who took some parting shots at his employer in an interview with the Globe and Mail over last year's changes to the long-form census. Cross suggested in his interview that internal debates were being stifled by the agency with management no longer tolerating dissent.
Statistics Canada's census manager, Marc Hamel, says he has never had any issues about exchanging ideas or views at the agency.
"We have shared information about the risks of conducting the survey on a voluntary basis and the strategies that we are employing to minimizing those risks, and those are being shared very openly," says Hamel, who adds he didn't work with Cross.
Through questionnaires that are sent out, Statistics Canada conducts a census every five years to update the status of changes in the population.
While the short-form census was maintained as a mandatory survey for all Canadians in 2011, more detailed questions about households, travel habits, culture or ethnicity and other personal information were conducted on a voluntary basis, and as a result, some say, will not necessarily produce reliable statistics.
Hamel notes the response rate to the voluntary survey, at 69.3 per cent, is similar to that of other voluntary surveys.
But he acknowledges, along with other analysts, that one of the risks of it being voluntary is receiving incomplete information from regions of the country with low response rates.
Armine Yalnizyan, a senior economist from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says the elimination of mandatory questions from the long-form census also will reduce knowledge about the gap between the richest and poorest Canadians.
She adds that the lack of information will make it difficult to evaluate what happened to these groups, as well as to a variety of minority communities, during the recent economic downturn.
"What happened to them when the recession hit and what happened to them during this so-called recovery?" Yalnizyan asks.
"We will not know and it's the first major recession in our history where we will not have the answers to these questions."
Another trend that Statistics Canada is expecting to see confirmed is the growth in large metropolitan areas, with more urban sprawl in those regions and smaller populations in rural areas. But Stephen Gordon, an economics professor from Université Laval, in Quebec City, says some factors, such as income and public transit services, may now be difficult to track because of the voluntary nature of the national household survey.
After this week's release, Statistics Canada will continue to unveil new data as it is processed over the next year, starting with statistics on age and sex of Canadians, to be released at the end of May.
This will be followed by a report on families and households in September, leading to a final report on language in October.
CENSUS KEY DATES
Statistics Canada will release a series of reports in the coming months based on the 2011 census as it continues processing the data collected last year.
First report on population counts and dwellings
Second report on the age and sex of Canadians
Third report on families, households, marital status, structural type of dwelling and collectives.
Final census report on the language of Canadians.
First information to be released on results of National Household Survey sent to a select number of Canadians on a voluntary basis.
The survey replaced the mandatory long-form questionnaire on the census.