Saturday, February 12, 2011

New story line for the census

The new census story line is being rolled out for us: "Chief statistician asked to rethink census for 2016."
Mr. Smith, who took over from embattled chief statistician Munir Sheikh last summer and was appointed permanently in January, has been asked to study how other countries gather information and report with options that could shape the 2016 census.

Examples range from a register-based census, where governments dip into their records on their citizens, to surveying a different part of the country every year.

“The government wants to step back and say okay, ‘Let's look at those other models: what is possible in Canada,’” the new chief statistician said.
That would be an interesting development had they done this before destroying the value of the 2011 data. Despite the protestations of Mr. Smith about how he doesn't want to prejudge the data the new long form survey will produce. He's been put in a position where he pretty much has to say that.

But really, what is going on here? If the government was really interested in a new and improved census model and cared about the information it produces, they'd have left the 2011 census model in place, the same one we've been operating on for years. Then they could have looked onwards to 2016 for changes, without wrecking the data for 2011. But they didn't. They killed the census quietly when no one was looking. So anyone placing any confidence in a 2016 process with this government would probably be misguided.

It reads as a nice yarn to spin politically, covering off the damage the Conservatives have done for 2011. It was all for a larger purpose, to better the census for the nation in the long run. To believe that though you'd have to believe that there was something wrong with a process that actually suffered little complaint and so many groups supported.

Who knows, they might even yet say a door is being left open to return to the old long form census model. What else does "all options on the table" mean anyway but that it would be a possibility? Magical stuff, possibly something for everybody.

Getting one's census ducks in a row before an election?

Update (3:15 p.m.): Another purpose behind the census debacle of  2011, from the emails: "How about making sure there are no usable metrics to gauge how poorly they performed and how many things they degraded in this timeframe?"