Manitoba is calling for a recount of its population, claiming Statistics Canada's estimate is too low and is ultimately shortchanging the province in transfer payments.
The province believes it has 18,000 more people than the 1,265,015 residents Statscan says it has, with the province arguing it will lose $100-million in federal transfers because of the discrepancy. The province, which already has a deficit of roughly $505-million, says a major flood during the same period of the census may have affected response rates.
Statscan, however, said Manitoba's response rate was strong and the population figure is sound – one based on the mandatory short-form census, then updated in 2012 and reviewed after Manitoba first complained.
"We found no error in our processes, so we confirmed that our population estimate is solid," said Jane Badets, Statistics Canada's director-general of census subject matter, social and demographic statistics. The agency used the same formula to calculate every other province's population, she said. "What's essential for us is to have a common, robust statistical methodology that is consistent for every province and territory in Canada, and it's one that we use over time."
Census results are updated and refined the following year. In Canada, the 2011 census was found to have a "net undercoverage" of 2.3 per cent, meaning the census missed an estimated 2.3 per cent of Canadians. In Manitoba, the rate was 1.8 per cent, down from 2.9 per cent in the 2006 census and 2.7 per cent in the 2001 census.
This is critical to Manitoba's argument. It means Statistics Canada acknowledged its census missed fewer Manitoba residents than it had in the past; Manitoba argues the agency is still missing some. The province also says the number of residents filing income tax returns suggests a higher rate of population growth than Statistics Canada shows, and is calling for a recount.
"Those people exist. They need health care and education. We have to pay for these things," Finance Minister Jennifer Howard said. "At this point, I think where we're at is seeking a redo of the study that led to what we think is an error."
Statistics Canada figures show the "net undercoverage" rates dropped nationally, meaning the agency is saying its short-form census missed fewer people over all, not just in Manitoba. The agency also notes Manitoba's census compliance rate is higher than many other regions, bolstering accuracy.
The agency sees the matter as closed, but Manitoba says it may take on the task of re-estimating its own population. "If we have to do that, I think it's worthwhile," Ms. Howard said.
A spokesperson for federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said both equalization payments and overall transfers have increased for Manitoba since the Conservatives took power.