There are many things we can learn from other countries, but one lesson involving nearby New York state is particularly timely.
Canada’s national Census Day is May 11, and by now you probably have received your package in the mail, or from a wave of enumerators bringing them door to door.
The United States held theirs last year, and since census data showed they did not have the population to maintain the same representation, the Empire State lost one seat in Congress. The mind-blowing part is that they were only 89 people shy of the threshold required. There’s a pretty good chance that in a state with more than 20 million people, at least 89 people did not return their completed census questionnaire.
In other words, the census matters. Similarly, decisions relating to schools, hospitals, daycare, housing, emergency services, and roads are made in Canada based in part on census information. And businesses looking for a new location often take advantage of StatCan data about the age, work experience or education of the population to inform their choices.
The bottom line is that the census, which occurs once every five years, gives us the most detailed look at who we are as a people – and it shows how our nation keeps changing.
Around three quarters of Canadians will receive the short-form census, while one quarter will get the longer version. The short-form version asks basic demographic questions about age, languages spoken and marital status. The long-form version goes into more detail “about the social and economic situation of the people across Canada and the dwellings they live in,” according to StatCan’s website.
The machinery behind counting every person in the second largest country on earth is a juggernaut. The general public typically never sees the many levels of temporary and permanent employees responsible for getting materials organized, counted, researched, corrected, printed, packaged and distributed for mail out or drop off.
The face of the census however, are the enumerators. Before they take to the streets, they undergo at least 12 hours of training on topics ranging from what to do if they encounter someone who speaks a different language to how to deal with hostile dogs. Each is given a series of maps, and a package of sequentially arranged envelopes with documents inviting Canadian citizens, landed immigrants, asylum seekers, and people here on a work or study visa to fill out the census questionnaire.
Some Enumerators can complete their route on foot, but in our area, many will drive, getting the materials to cottages, farms and rural houses. Along the way, they have to make decisions about what type of building they are visiting (is it a dwelling, private dwelling, apartment in a duplex, mobile home, or movable dwelling, etc?) and if it is occupied, abandoned, under renovation and so. And, they have to communicate the reasons for the Census with the residents, while keeping their materials organized, maintaining impeccable records and sometimes battling the weather.
When their day is done, it’s not really done. They then log in to the Census Canada portal and enter data from their route, including adding buildings that went up since the last census in 2016, and correcting inaccuracies regarding lots or address numbers. Enumerators exercise judgment, display interpersonal skills, and demonstrate planning and organizational skills valued in any workplace, and they learn it all in a couple weeks.
With all that in mind, hopefully Kawartha Lakes residents will make the time to complete the questionnaire online or take advantage of the phone-in service where someone will record your answers for you.
The few minutes you spend today with your census form might mean more health care dollars for your community next year — or it might help someone research your family tree 100 years from now.
Either way, it’s time to stand up and be counted.
–Geoff Coleman serves as a crew leader assistant during the 2021 census.