Manitobans’ health at risk with scrapping of long form census

The federal Conservatives are putting the health of thousands of Manitobans at risk by scrapping the long form census, says Wayne Helgason, Executive Director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, a member of Save the Census Manitoba.

First Nation and Aboriginal Manitobans are particularly at risk, according to Save the Census Manitoba, comprised of a group of academics, senior public servants and heads of social service agencies.

Save the Census Manitoba released a letter calling on the federal Conservatives to reverse their stand and reinstate the long form Census.

The action by Save the Census Manitoba is part of a national campaign being led by the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD) and the Social Planning Council of Toronto. A national news conference was to be held in Toronto at 10 a.m. Eastern time today.

“Reliable, comprehensive, and comparable information about the determinants of health of the population is essential for public health understanding, policy and practice,” said Dr. Joel Kettner, Chief Public Health Officer of Manitoba. “Data from the long form of the census, collected from an involuntary – and, therefore, more representative – sample of Canadians has been an important source of such information. We need more, not less, of this type of information to address the health needs of Manitobans and all Canadians, and to reduce inequalities of health amongst them,” Dr. Kettner said.

Dr. Marcia Anderson, Past President of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada, called the long form Census “one of the richest sources of Aboriginal health data we have. Without it, there will be even larger gaps in our ability to describe the health of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. In order to address the gaps in health status for Aboriginal people we need more information, not less.”

Dr. Anderson added that the voluntary surveys to replace the long form Census do not include First Nations people living on reserve and do not include enough Aboriginal people off –reserve to provide meaningful information for local or regional health planning,

Darlene Hall, Executive Director of the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre of Winnipeg, strongly urged the federal Conservatives to reconsider their plan to cancel the mandatory long form Census.

“The information and statistics generated by the long form Census is critical to the health and well-being of all Aboriginal peoples in Canada,” Hall said.

Dr. Alan Katz, Associate Director for Research at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy and a professor in Medicine at the University of Manitoba, believes sound public policy depends on valid up-to-date information. The long form Census has been perfected over the years, Dr. Katz said. Changing the process will decrease the value of the data.

“As a family doctor and health services researcher, I use this data in some form every day. The loss of this reliable source of information will be a severe blow to our ability to plan the health and other services that Canadians have come to appreciate and value,” Dr. Katz said.

Sandy Gessler, a professor of nursing at the University of Manitoba and President of the Board of Directors of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg stated, “Much of the work of nursing research is built around the social determinants of health. The detailed data provided by Statistics Canada sourced from the census long form is crucial to this work. Without this rich source we are less able to investigate and propose solutions to the many health issues that affect Canadians.”

Terumi Kuwada, President of the National Association of Japanese-Canadians, warned that other groups will also suffer because of the lack of information from the long form Census.  “As a national association, one of our priorities is to respond to various community needs across the country. The long form Census has provided us with information for critical planning on a short-term and long-term basis. We ask that you keep the long form Census,” Kuwada said.

Wilf Falk, Chief Statistician of Manitoba, called the long form Census “the foundation of the Canadian statistical system. Without reliable Census data, we are building on quicksand.”

Ken Murdoch the Winnipeg coordinator for the Community Social Data Strategy, a program of the Canadian Council on Social Development coordinated locally by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg. The City of Winnipeg will likely no longer be able to use Census data on the city’s website, because of the low rate of returns on voluntary surveys, Murdoch said.

“Even if, by magic, there were to be a 60 per cent rate of return, as heralded by federal government sources, this will likely mean an end to the extensive data the city makes available for its 230-plus Neighbourhood Characterization Areas on its website,” Murdoch said.

Dr. Patricia Martens, Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, said municipalities and health authorities rely on accurate Census information to make sound decisions.

“Basing their decisions on biased information, which may exclude exactly those people who may most require services, may lead to an underestimate of the need, and an under-budgeting or inappropriate allocation of funding,” Martens said.

For further information, contact:

Wayne Helgason, Executive Director
Rhonda Powers, Communications Coordinator, Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, (204) 943-2561

Dr. Joel Kettner, Chief Public Health Officer of Manitoba, (204) 788-6485

Dr. Marcia Anderson, Past President of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada, (204) 837-0790

Darlene Hall, Executive Director of the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Center of Winnipeg, (204) 925-1200 or (204) 479-4071

Dr. Alan Katz, Associate Director for Research at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy and a professor in Medicine at the University of Manitoba, (204) 789-3442

Sandra Gessler, Faculty of Nursing, University of Manitoba, President of the Board of Directors, Social Planning Council of Winnipeg  (204) 770-9298

Terumi Kuwada, President of the National Association of Japanese-Canadians, (204) 661-0232 (home)

Wilf Falk, Chief Statistician of Manitoba, (204) 771-4359

Ken Murdoch, Winnipeg coordinator for the Community Social Data Strategy, a program of the Canadian Council on Social Development, (204) 269-9082

Dr. Patricia J. Martens, Director and Senior Research Scientist, Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, University of Manitoba, (204) 789-3791