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October 22, 2015

More of Harper crimes against Canadians

The Canadian Charger

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When the Harper government cancelled the mandatory long-form census in 2010, it surreptitiously affected the lives of Canadians in many ways, according to Jan Kestle, president of Environics Analytics.

Speaking on a recent edition of the TV Ontario program The Agenda, Ms. Kestle explained why the long-form census is essential.

“We need the long-form census; it's essential not only for business but for good government. There's no other source for social service organizations to understand what's happening in neighbourhoods and to understand poverty, to plan for education, to plan for healthcare, long-term healthcare, ageing and place. These are all very granular local community issues where demographics make a big difference. We will always strive in the statistical community and the business community to do the best with what we have but the long-form census as a mandatory program is essential for us to provide the best quality data.”

Environics Analytics is one of many companies which provides information for banks, insurance companies, telecoms, retail organizations and social service organizations.

Ms. Kestle said that when the long-form census was mandatory it was a statistically balanced survey that gave detailed information for small areas such as a neighbourhood of a couple of hundred households and it was the only source of quality information at that spacial scale.

It's data about those neighbourhoods from the long-form census that municipalities, social service organizations, and boards of education would all rely. With no long-form census for 2011, Ms. Kestle said her company created and continues to created demographic estimates for the current year, which are then used to provide things such as new advertising campaigns and new education programs.

“We as a company tried to create a surrogate for the census we're missing and we called it Census Plus. We don't mean by any stretch of the imagination that it is as good as the census. We have a staff of 100 people...We used substitute products for the 2011 census for neighbourhood demographics and we needed to do that because it creates a space for all the other work we do in building our prism segmentation system. In building our current demographic, one of key things of methodology was to take advantage of past trends using good solid census data from 2001 and 2006; looking at the relationship between the short-form and the long-form in 2006 and seeing what that meant (for demographics) in 2011.”

Difficult though this process may be, Ms. Kestle said that as time goes on it's going to be harder and harder. From a marketing point of view alone, she said consumers want brands to know them and the business community needs solid census data in order for firms like hers to create data about consumers. Other information sources are not as good.

“You can get information from social media but they don't often know the basics about my income, socioeconomic status, whether I'm a mother or a grandmother, so firms use those kinds of data and the census has been traditionally the way those data are aggregated for some government and business use in Canada.”

Although this era of big data is providing a great opportunity to understand populations and understand consumers, Ms. Kestle said census data is needed too, as a basis to make the other data meaningful.

“We combine social data and transactional data and loyalty program data with good quality census data. It's like census data is the denominator. It grounds us; it enables us to look at whether that's a good thing or a bad thing for a brand or whether that's a good thing or a bad thing for a hospital. So the census is what allows us to use other data in a normative context and make other data useful to all kinds of communities.”

At this point Mr. Paikin explained what he felt was the Harper government's position on this – and most other – issues.

“So his (Mr. Harper's) type of conservatism is that if the private sector can do something as well as and cheaper than the government, then let them. So part of the motive was: let's get the government out of this business and let the private sector do it.”

Ms. Kestle said it didn't really happen because private companies like hers can't do it as well.

“We did it as well as we could after 2011, but one of the key things to do with methodology was to take advantage of past data.”

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