[personal profile] blogcutter
... but I'm afraid that if you can't or won't log in, you don't really count. Like most of the people I know in the various communities I belong to, I was glad that the Liberals reinstated the long-form census. That said, I believe there are still a number of problems with it. Some relate to the questions themselves, but the bigger problem is the way it's being administered and the accompanying instructions for how to complete it.

We received our notification this past Monday, in our Community Mailbox (thanks, Mr. Harper). It was a single sheet of paper, folded and sealed, which consisted of a "Secure Access Code" and a form letter from Wayne R. Smith, Chief Statistician of Canada. It outlined two possible ways to complete the Census: (1) Online (which clearly was the preferred way); and (2) By calling a toll-free number to request a paper version. It alleged that completing the census online was "quick and easy" and admonished (just in case we hadn't read it on the front before opening it) that completion of the census is required by law. In bold letters, it read "Please complete it by May 10".

Well, it seems you can't believe everything you read, even if the source is as reputable as the Government of Canada.

For starters, it seems that the computer system couldn't handle the surge of users eager to log on and fill in the Census (or more likely, eager to get their patriotic duty out of the way and off their to-do list). And let's remember that, even in 2016, not everyone owns or has access to a computer. Even if they do, I have to wonder whether we have almost reached that point where we are legally obligated to use a computer in our dealings with the Government (and with many other organizations besides)?!

Surely the use of a computer (or not) is still an individual choice in a free and democratic society? Or perhaps we need to enshrine it in the Charter?

Now let's suppose you're one of those Canadian residents without ready access to computer. Let's hope you at least have telephone service so you can phone and get your paper copy, though I suppose there are people - the homeless, for instance, or those "of no fixed address" where even this wouldn't be a valid assumption. If they're going to mail you a paper copy, I'm not convinced it would even reach you by the May 10 deadline, let alone allow for the necessary time to complete it and mail it back. Perhaps a Census officer would be available to deliver it to you in person and help you complete it on the spot? If you do phone for a paper copy, I shudder to think how long you'd have to wait on the line for the "next available agent" while they assure you that "your call is important to us"!

I seem to recall that for the 2011 Census, we received both a paper copy AND a code to log into the system for those who preferred to complete it online. And though we opted to complete it online, it sure was handy to have the paper census so we knew in advance what the questions would be, and what supplementary documentation we should have at hand if we wanted to complete it in one sitting. This time around, I learned on visiting the Census site that for those with the short version of the census, there would be NO option to come back later to finish it and that a page would time out after 20 minutes leaving you in illegal Census limbo if you needed a bathroom break or whatever. Talk about a lack of respect for those of us with wonky vision and arthritic keyboard-fingers!

Now, there are only two of us in our household and we are both retired, so finding a time when we were both available was not too much of a problem. But supposing there'd been seven or eight of us, all with different schedules and commitments. That would have been a nightmare.

We did do our Census online on Tuesday morning, like the good, polite, law-abiding Canadians we are. But I'd have to say that I found it neither quick nor easy. To begin with, I had no idea until I logged on with our access code whether we would be dealing with the short- or the long-form Census. It wasn't until I saw the "come back later" button at the bottom of a screen that it dawned on me that we had been presented with the long one. And once all the questions had been answered to the best of our respective abilities, it occurred to me that a Census is generally a snapshot in time, and the questions (in theory at least) were being asked for the situation on May 10, 2016. So if anything dramatic happens between now and Tuesday, it's possible that one or more of our answers may prove to be incorrect. But I was so busy obeying the stern warning to complete it "by May 10" (which to me means that on the day itself would be acceptable but sooner is better) that that little wrinkle did not occur to me until afterwards.

I'll just touch briefly on the questions themselves. With both the short- and long-form versions, there's the issue of gender and the gender-binary. I don't know if the questions relating to ethnicity were on both versions of the census, but they did involve a fair amount of discussion on "Who do we think we are?" Questions about how much we spent on home maintenance and utilities and so on also involved a certain amount of guesstimation. We had to make some judgement calls about whether certain health conditions were chronic and to what extent other past diseases and health issues should be listed. But I can see how the aggregate answers to such questions could be very useful in terms of planning future services.

One saving grace in the choice of questions was the free-form one at the end, in which we were asked to indicate any questions we had trouble answering, or any general comments about the Census itself. Still, I think if I'd had a paper census in front of me and had been able to think it over at my leisure, the quality (and perhaps quantity in terms of level of detail) of my answers would have been correspondingly better.

I suspect the decade of Conservative rule has taken its toll on the Census-taking infrastructure. But I hope my - and everyone else's - comments will be taken to heart in the design of the 2021 Census!

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