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Wayne Smith, who replaced Munir Sheikh as Canada's chief statistician during the census controversy, gives an interview in his Ottawa office on Feb. 11, 2011. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)
Wayne Smith, who replaced Munir Sheikh as Canada's chief statistician during the census controversy, gives an interview in his Ottawa office on Feb. 11, 2011. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

Is census data usable? 'Our thinking has evolved,' chief statistician says Add to ...

We've had municipalities issue proclamations --already there are proclamations being issued by municipalities across the country, indicating their support of the census.

In the past, support has been expressed in the form of census beer. It's been painted on the side of trucks: census messages.

All of those things are part of getting that message across that says 'This is important: we need your support'.”

When the minister announced the change – to the NHS – or at least answered questions about the change, he said that $30-million had been allocated to help advertise ... to help spend money on getting better response rates. That money seems to have gone to other things including postage and printing.

So my question is how much are you spending [on boosting the response rate] on extra efforts: on those second visits or third visits to the door?

It's not an easy question to answer. Ultimately it depends on what various pieces of the process cost and how much money is available. But let me do an effort at it.

We had $630-million to conduct the census and the National Household Survey.

The government has give us $30-million additional dollars. Of that amount, $15-million is planned to be a contingency to deal with any shortfall in response rates in either census or the National Household Survey.

The purpose of that money is to send people to doorsteps. It's not for advertising. It's not for communications. It's to actually send enumerators to the door trying to get questionnaires.

There will be an advertising campaign in support of the census portion of the exercise. We can't advertise for the NHS at the same time because the collection periods overlap. And the messages are different: this one's mandatory and this one's voluntary.

So we’re going to do a limited amount of advertising mainly in ethnic newspapers ...

With the NHS the effort is going to be vested primarily in the doorstep.

How much have you budgeted in advertising for the NHS?

I don't know the money. It's not a large amount of money, but I don't know it offhand. I don't even know if we've got an estimate right at the moment about what the precise amount is.

The other money – the other $15-million is largely to address additional costs associated with the change in plan from going to an integrated mandatory census to moving to ... that's what it was given to.

But effectively we have the global budget [$660-million]and the budget will be used to accomplish the mission ... That entire amount of money is available to ensure the success of the National Household Survey and the census of population.

What are you doing for 2016 [the next census]

We've been asked for 2016 to look at options and to come back to the government with options for 2016 and to look at them very comprehensively and do it in collaboration with the national statistics council.

If you think of the debate over the last few months, a number of options have been out there and discussed. Could Canada do a census based entirely on administrative records. Could Canada do a census like France where they do a part of the country every year and they don’t do the country in one year. Could we do something like the United States where they have a decennial census once every 10 years and run a very large survey every year in the interim that is capable of producing smaller area data. That's another model that's been talked about.

So data mining?

Data mining is a version of using administrative data. Basically you think of any administrative file that exists. What some countries are doing – for example, Denmark or Finland – if you live in those countries, you have to register your address. If you move you have to register. If you want to have a job you have to be registered. They actually have a basic register that says: here are the people living in the country and here is where they are living and this information is current and accurate.

And once they have done that, then they have all these other files: these people are in the education system; these people have cars, these people are in the health system ... You could think of all the files the government holds: they link those file to the basic population register and achieve something that is a very rich data base. There are certain types of data it doesn't contain obviously but it contains a very rich set of data.

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