Long-form census improves lives

February 16, 2015

Cities to weigh loss of long-form census for community planning”, read the headline in the Globe and Mail a week or so ago.

No kidding.  It should come as no surprise that the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census is hampering evidence-based decision making by local governments.

I spent three days last week at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Sustainable Communities Conference in London Ontario and the need for reliable data to make smart decisions that deliver beneficial economic, environmental and social outcomes for communities was undisputed.

We are granting CSIS with new powers to collect more data about us to fight terrorism yet are denying local governments the data they need to fight poverty.

We live in a world where on-line commercial interests collect, trade, hack, scrape and sell massive amounts of data on us – so much so that they seem to know what we want even before we do – and yet we balk at data being used for social purpose.

Even the Conservative government in Ottawa, that cancelled the mandatory long-form census, has turned political marketing into an art form using detailed personal data on Canadian voters to customize political promises to some while apparently sending others to the wrong poll.

“Conservative parties, especially the Conservative government in Ottawa, have eagerly capitalized on all of the advances in the sciences of polling, voter analysis and political marketing. They are pure empiricists when it comes to the tactics of politics, and it has made them fearsomely successful campaigners. But how committed are Conservatives and conservatives to applying the same empirical approach to governing? How interested are they in figuring out which policies work, which do not, and why – thereby governing better and leading to the creation of more successful policies? The argument has been joined.” Globe and Mail Editorial

In the information age, where data is king, it seems unfathomable that we no longer have access to reliable information to improve the lives of Canadians and the communities they live in.

Ideologically-based and feel-good programs may be politically convenient but they are expensive and, in an age of persistent fiscal constraint, morally irresponsible.