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What the census feud is all about Add to ...

So what's all the fuss about the long-form census?

Those of us who have never been asked to fill in one of the detailed Statistics Canada documents - it was 40 pages long in 2006 - may be wondering why the government is willing to wade through a can of worms to declare its completion is no longer compulsory.

The questions do change. Those who received the form in 2001 were asked their religion while those who were handed the task in 2006 were not.

But here are some of the highlights of the 2006 census.

The long forms included the standard personal information - name, sex, date of birth and marital status. They also asked predictable questions about citizenship, language, race and ethnic origin.

The respondents had to state their level of education and where they last went to school.

They were asked to name their employers, to say what kind of work they did, to say whether they had been absent from their job in the previous week, and whether they worked for wages, tips or commission.

The statistics agency asked for permission to access the respondents' most recent income tax filing from Revenue Canada. If that was refused, they were asked to state how much money they made from wages, government benefits, pensions, dividends, interest, support payments etc.

The agency wanted to know if they had trouble seeing, hearing, bending or climbing stairs - or if they were physically or mentally disabled.

It also wanted to know how many hours the respondents spent doing housework and taking care of children and seniors without pay.

And then there were the housing questions that the Conservatives have repeatedly described as overly intrusive - how many bedrooms were in the respondents' homes, how much were the dwellings worth, did they need repair, and how much did it cost for heat, hydro and electricity.

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Conservative MP Maxime Bernier thinks these sorts of questions would rankle most people and he wants to recall the Commons industry committee as soon as possible to explore the issue.

Critics who say completion of the long-form of the census should continue to be mandatory "don't know what we're talking about," Mr. Bernier told The Canadian Press. "And so we have to explain what we did and why we did it, and we'll use the committee."

But organizations that rely on the research are worried the new process of voluntary completion will dramatically compromise the data.

"This change has raised significant concerns on the part of both researchers and the larger community of businesses, organizations and social groups who rely on Census data as a part of their planning and policy-making processes," says Urban Futures, a Vancouver-based group that does strategic urban planning.

"In addition to potentially changing who the Census data represents, moving from a mandatory to a voluntary survey will limit the ability to consider new Census tabulations against almost 140 years of historical Census data."

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