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globe editorial

A Statistics Canada 2016 Census sits on the key board of a laptop after arriving in the mail at a home in Ottawa on Monday, May 2, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean KilpatrickSean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Mass mailings addressed to "Household" are not generally linked to outbreaks of widespread excitement.

Yet when envelopes from Statistics Canada started landing in mailboxes last week, a mad stampede to the 2016 Census website ensued, crashing it. There is something charmingly Canadian about being in a hurry to fill out government forms.

Canada's official Census Day for 2016 is Tuesday, May 10. And after a brief, unnecessary and damaging interregnum, the mandatory census is back, in both long and short form.

Parenthetically, The Globe editorial board were not among the 25 per cent of Canadians chosen to complete the long questionnaire. Count us among the disappointed.

The large number of early filers suggests that millions share a fervour to do their statistical duty, despite attempts from the tin-foil helmet brigade – implicitly accepted by the Harper government – to paint the census as some kind of exercise in big-government coercion and a mass violation of privacy.

If we believe in running a country on the basis of reason and enlightened, evidence-based decisions – and we do, ardently – then knowing more is always preferable to knowing less. But as a result of the Conservatives' shooting a torpedo through the old mandatory long-form census, Canadian researchers and policy-makers found themselves knowing a lot less about a lot more.

For all that, the census won't be the most important thing the federal government does this year. But it will sketch a rich and detailed picture of the country's people and economy, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, from coast to coast to coast.

Yes, it's theoretically possible to go to jail for not participating. No, it won't happen. Bet on the response rate smashing the dismal 68.6 per cent for the voluntary National Household Survey in 2011.

Re-establishing the long-form census was among the very first orders of business when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office; the most recent federal budget included $14-million in extra funding for Statistics Canada to "fill existing data gaps."

You can't have peace, order and good government – especially that last one – without deep knowledge of who is being governed. Welcome back, census.

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