Statistics Canada is hiring 37,000 people across the country to conduct the 2011 census, and says it is already swamped with applicants from some provinces.
Hiring for the last census in 2006 fell short because the labour market then was strong and the jobless rate low. This time, the federal agency has already been flooded with more than 85,000 applicants from Ontario alone, though the response in Alberta has been slower.
"We have been receiving more applications than expected at this point," said Marc Hamel, Statscan's 2011 census manager. "A key aspect of the recruitment drive is to make sure we have good geographic distribution. We need people in every part of Canada."
Statistics Canada conducts a census every five years. This year's national head count comes after considerable controversy over the federal government's decision to cancel the mandatory long-form census and, for the first time, replace it with a voluntary household survey.
The agency plans to hire a similar number of people for this year's census as for the last one, although recruitment levels are generally lower than they used to be, because online responses make data collection less labour intensive.
Statscan estimates the 2011 census will cost $660-million over the course of seven years (initial preparatory work began in 2008, and evaluations of the data will continue to 2015). That is $30-million more than its original budget because the Harper government said it will spend more on a public awareness campaign aimed at enhancing response rates to the voluntary survey.
Early enumeration began last week in the Far North, where residents of remote communities will be counted before they migrate to smaller, scattered fishing and hunting camps for the summer. Iqaluit Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik is among those to have raised concerns about response rates in the region now that the long form is voluntary.
Statscan's Mr. Hamel said it's too early to gauge how response rates are faring.
Hiring for the census started last month and will run through June, with most positions, including data processors and call-centre employees, lasting from May to August. Of the total, 29,000 positions are for enumerators - people who track down non-respondents and help to ensure Canadians fill out their forms. Most enumerators will be paid about $15 an hour, plus expenses. Crew leaders, who supervise a dozen enumerators, will be paid $18 an hour. (Click here for the StatsCan job site, or here to apply now.)
The wide-scale hiring might add some noise to monthly economic readings - possibly giving a temporary bump to Canada's labour force survey and some retail sales. But the number of jobs created is proportionately less than half that of the United States, which saw a huge boost in payrolls over two months last spring, said Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets.
The Canadian positions will inject an extra $200-million into the economy over several months, he estimated. "It's going to add some volatility into the market, and you'll see some injection of some money into the economy."
The federal government cancelled the mandatory long-form census last summer, citing privacy concerns. The move prompted criticism from economists, urban planners and medical officers, who said they'll be missing key information to help them make decisions.
Statscan's former chief statistician, Munir Sheikh, resigned in July after the government claimed that he supported its decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census. Last month, the government named Wayne Smith, who has worked at the statistical agency since 1981, as the new chief.
Ian McKinnon, Victoria-based chair of the National Statistics Council, said it will take another year or two to assess the quality of the data gathered from the new household survey. "I know Statscan is working extremely hard to make it as robust and accurate a census, statistically, as it can. But we won't know definitively how it turned out for a year or so afterward."
The United Kingdom is now examining how to adjust the methodology for its 2021 census - meaning it is taking a full decade to study various approaches, Mr. McKinnon said. Canada, too, should keep searching. "We know Canada traditionally has been able to get some of the best [statistical information]in the world through a mandatory long-form census. Other approaches can get you high-quality data. But the important point is, how do we get robust, reliable, inclusive information that allows governments and private individuals to make more accurate and better decisions?"