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THE NUMBERS GAME: Census data crucial for city planning decisions

Census figures can be crucial in helping municipalities and social service agencies know where programs are most needed,and then secure funding to put those services in place.

Census data is crucial for social planning decisions, but the elimination of the long-form census could make it more difficult.

Municipalities will now have to rely on the co-operation of residents to fill out the voluntary National Household Survey portion of census forms, which are mailed out May 3. The voluntary NHS form will be sent at random and will reach roughly 4.5 million households.

Information such as education level, transportation choices, whether they rent or own, and family size and dynamic is now voluntarily submitted.

John Horn, social planner for the city, said he relies on census data to decide where to place recreation facilities, family support services, playgrounds and other services.

“It’s important for us to have accurate, objective data when making planning recommendations – that gets you better public policy,” said Horn. “That allows us to plan much more effectively and get a pretty clear picture of who lives in the neighbourhood.”

Hilde Schlosar, executive director of the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society’s Immigrant Welcome Centre, said the voluntary census is going to create problems for community planning.

Because much of the information is voluntary, it will create skewed numbers, depending on who decides to submit the form, she said, adding many people might choose not to fill it out because of their mistrust of government or apathy.

“For an inconvenience to some of our citizens, it does an injustice to all of us as a whole,” she said. “Our communities will suffer for sure. It’s the communities that will pay the price.”

Decisions such as social services and services for people who are marginalized or face barriers are based on statistics, said Schlosar.

Horn said personal stories don’t always give an accurate picture, that’s why the city relies on unbiased census data. Horn said a person walking in his neighbourhood might see many seniors during the day and believe more seniors’ housing is needed, but in reality, the neighbourhood has many families that work during the day and aren’t usually seen until the evening.

Horn said he encourages people to fill in the voluntary census if they receive the package.

“The long-form volunteer census is worth filling out and the information is valuable,” he said.

Statistics Canada is recruiting employees to fill 35,000 temporary positions during the 2011 Census, from March to mid-August.

In Nanaimo, Lantzville, Cedar, Nanoose and Gabriola 86 people will be hired to work as enumerators and supervisors. Enumerators will deliver the questionnaire to each household and followup if residents don’t respond and offer help filling out the census.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old, eligible to work in Canada and able to commit to at least 20 hours a week. In some locations people will need a driver’s license and vehicle access.

Please apply online at or call  1-866-773-2011.