Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Burlington.
It is my pleasure to rise today to talk about the recently announced change from a mandatory long-form census questionnaire to the volunteer national household survey.
Every five years, Statistics Canada conducts a national census on behalf of the federal government. Since 1971 it has comprised a short form, with basic demographic and language questions, and a long form, to obtain more detailed socio-demographic information.
The 2006 census long form was 40 pages and went to 20% of households. In addition to the short-form questions, it asked questions in such areas as language, education, labour market, housing, ethnicity, citizenship and immigration, and income.
Section 31 of the Statistics Act states that a person who refuses or neglects to furnish information or who knowingly gives false information required under the act, such as for census questions, is liable, on summary conviction, to a maximum fine of $500 or to imprisonment not exceeding three months or both.
Our government does not believe that this threat of a fine or jail time, or both, is appropriate when it comes to a long-form census. This is why our government announced that we would no longer punish Canadians for choosing not to complete the 40-page, 61-question plus 36-subquestion long-form survey sent to 20% of the households.
Critics of this decision believe that if a Canadian refuses to fill out the 61-question long form, that person deserves to be prosecuted and given a criminal record. Clearly, this is just not right.
The government asked Statistics Canada to provide options for administrating a voluntary long-form questionnaire. I want to be clear on this point. Our government took the decision to put an end to the concept of threatening Canadians with fines and/or jail time for not completing the 40-page long form. We then sought options from Statistics Canada on how to implement a reliable survey. This led to the creation and implementation of the national household survey.
This reasoned and responsible approach is about finding a better balance between collecting necessary data and protecting the privacy rights of Canadians. Furthermore, this government has announced plans this fall to remove the penalty of imprisonment from section 31 of the Statistics Act.
Now, as Statistics Canada has noted, a voluntary long-form survey offers challenges. In particular, efforts will need to be made to maintain quality data, and Statistics Canada provided options as to how to address these challenges. The options provided included increasing the sample size of the national household survey.
In 2011, the new survey will be sent to 4.5 million households. This means that one in three Canadian households will receive the survey, compared to one in five households who received the old long-form census.
The census has evolved over time. Questions are modified, added, and deleted, taking into account a number of factors, such as consultation feedback, support to legislation, program and policy needs, respondent burden, privacy concerns, quality, cost, operational considerations, historical compatibility, and availability of alternative data sources.
Collection methods have also evolved. For example, in 1971, Canadians began to complete the questionnaire themselves rather than provide answers to an interpreter or interviewer, as in the past. Beginning in 2006, Canadians were given the option of providing their answers via the Internet.
The content of the national household survey is similar to the 2006 census long form, with 66 questions. It will provide information on key populations for public policy, including aboriginal peoples, recent immigrants, youth, seniors, and visible minorities. The national household survey will include questions on income and housing, which measure crowding and identify housing needs, for example, leading to the development of community housing programs.
It also includes questions on commuting and place of work, which are used in commuting pattern studies, leading to improvements in transportation infrastructure, public transit, and support programs.
Our national household survey content includes education, labour market, language, ethnicity, aboriginal peoples, and immigration and citizenship. Information from these markets, then, analyzed together, can provide insight into the labour market integration of various segments of the population such as, for example, youth, recent immigrants, or aboriginal peoples. This will lead to the development of various programs, such as those related to foreign credential recognition, skills and language training for those lacking knowledge of official languages, and programs aimed at narrowing the education gap between various segments of the population.
New content on child care costs and child and spousal support payments, when combined with income, will help provide better measures of disposable income. This may be useful in developing new measures of low income.
Statistics Canada is internationally recognized as one of the top statistical agencies in the world. This is due in no small part to the professionalism and commitment of its staff members and to the strong leadership provided by its management. I am confident that Statistics Canada will show the same professionalism and commitment in implementing the census and the national household survey in 2011.
StatsCan will use a variety of methods to encourage people to fill out these new voluntary surveys. This is the first time the national household survey will be conducted, and Statistics Canada will monitor the results carefully, applying the same sound methods and standards used for all its voluntary surveys.
In summary, the 2011 census of population remains mandatory, and the new 2011 national household survey, which replaces the census long form, is voluntary.
I would like to take this opportunity to invite all of my colleagues in the House today to encourage all of their constituents to participate in the national household survey if their household is contacted.