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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 ...

Remember, it doesn’t work that way, because we’re sharing infrastructure. This enumerator that I’m going to send to the door, the training of that enumerator, it’s the same enumerator, they’ll be out there in certain periods, they will be collecting both, how do I decide who that belongs to?

But there must be incremental costs for going out again four weeks later.

Yes, but I could potentially tell you what our estimated cost is from the time that we stopped the census...but that won’t tell you the cost of the NHS, it will only tell you how much did we spend after we stopped, how much did we think we were going to spend.

The whole infrastructure is shared. And that’s why, we’re not trying to be difficult or hide anything. The infrastructure is actually shared between the census and the NHS. You can’t really pull apart the costs of the two. Certain costs, yes, we can tell you how much when we’re finished. We’ll be able to tell you how much we spent on printing a questionnaire, because there really are distinct costs. The communications program, I’m not going to be able to separate it because it’s the same people going to one place and talking about both of them together. I’m not going to be able to tell you how much the Internet infrastructure costs because we’re using the same...

So you’re not putting in any extra effort in trying to reach those small population groups, which typically had low response rates.

They’ve always had traditionally low response rates, so we’ve always been going there.

Who are they, by the way?

The ones that we worry about are youth – young men particularly. Recent immigrants, big problem. The low income – we have to pay attention to areas where there is a high concentration of low income. That tends to be... if you think of Ottawa, that tends to be urban core. Therefore urban core municipalities, things that we can do in the core. Those are the kinds of groups that we traditionally have problems with.

Non permanent residents – people who aren’t citizens of Canada, but are counted, they’re another group we have problems with. We can approach them through areas where they traditionally work. A lot of them are students

But you’re not putting a lot of extra efforts..

No. Because the same problem has always existed. So we’re using the same mechanisms and the same processes to do that.

So the short form is out in early May and then it’s the household survey, except for the North?

In the North we’re doing both together. We’ve already started. I was briefed the other day. In the North in remote areas, we do 100 per cent on the NHS, it’s not a sample, we do every household. In the 700 that we’ve done already we have a 96-per-cent response rate on both the census and the NHS.

When you say you do 100 per cent, why is that?

If we sampled in these small communities, we wouldn't be able to publish data. It’s also done by enumerators who actually do an interview, we're going in and we’re flying people in and out, so we've started.

In the beginning of May, we'll invite Canadians to respond by Internet, we'll send the information they need to be able to respond. We've already chosen the sample for the NHS, so if you're in the NHS sample, when you go on our website to respond to the census, we will also offer you the opportunity to complete the NHS at the same time. So as early as the beginning of May, we’ll start getting some responses to the NHS. But the major mail-out for the NHS is at beginning of June, that's when we start the intense operations.

You’ve said in your own internal newsletter in July you said the results of the NHS will “of course never be comparable to census data.” So what do you expect are the differences?

The major difference is that potentially we're going to see a larger sampling error, and we're at great risk of non-response error, because of the change in methodology between the two, we may see some difficulties in comparability between the two. But we've put a document on our website to kind of illustrate those issues and the magnitude of those issues potentially. And now we’re doing everything that we can possibly do to ensure that...based on that information. The reason we did those studies was to inform our planning so that we could improve relative to what those numbers show.

I understood what they were trying to do there, they were trying to set the baseline for what the problems were. And then move backwards on that.

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