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(Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
(Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Government slashes funding for census participation campaign Add to ...

The Conservative government will spend just half of what it promised to encourage Canadians to fill out the 2011 short census and a new voluntary survey.

The National Household Survey replaces the mandatory long-form census that was eliminated over the summer by cabinet.

Dozens of critics, including provincial ministers, the former chief statistician of Canada and academics, had warned that reliable data would be lost if the long questionnaire was made voluntary.

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Industry Minister Tony Clement acknowledged that many Canadians, including the very rich, the very poor and immigrants, might not fill out a voluntary survey, and thus skew the results. But he said $30-million had been earmarked to deal with that problem.

"As I told members of the media, there is an additional $30-million cost for a public campaign launched to convince Canadians to fill out the questionnaire," Mr. Clement told MPs at a House of Commons committee in August.

"At the same time, each census is expensive. In our opinion, it is important to pay the price for achieving a fair balance between Canadians' rights and information needs."

But Statistics Canada has told The Canadian Press that $5-million of that $30-million will cover extra printing and postage costs related to the survey, because the number of households getting the long questionnaire is going up from one-fifth to one-third.

And another $10-million of the pot is now being spent to add two extra questions on language in the short census - an entire extra page is being added, raising those printing, postage and scanning costs.

The government agreed to move the questions on the use of Canada's official languages from the voluntary survey into the mandatory short census after facing intense pressure from francophone groups.

That leaves $15-million in contingency costs for the public campaign Clement spoke of, instead of $30-million.

"Canadians unfortunately are going to be even less informed about this voluntary household survey, and in the end it's going to show in terms of the quality," Liberal industry critic Marc Garneau said.

A coalition of aboriginal groups from Atlantic Canada were in Federal Court this week arguing that the census change violates their charter rights. They would also like a judge to direct the government to put questions about aboriginal ancestry and ethnicity into the mandatory short census to ensure no data on the subject is compromised.

The total cost of the 2011 census could reach $660-million.

That number includes an increase of the number of dwellings in Canada, as well as additional mailing and printing costs.

The 2006 census cost $573-million in 2010 dollars, including a $43-million purchase of software and equipment.

A spokesman for Statistics Canada said the agency was striving to keep costs down for the census and survey, and that the survey was highly integrated into the census operations.

The government has blacked out details about the costs associated with the census in documents released through the Access to Information Act as recently as last month, as well as those released to a House of Commons committee in August.

The Conservative government axed the long-form census in late June, saying it was trying to find a balance between the need for reliable information and the right of Canadians to refuse to respond to detailed, personal questions.

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