Good afternoon everyone.
First off, I'd like to point out that today's meeting is being broadcast online, which is why your names are arranged the way they are.
Next, I'd like to welcome the team from Statistics Canada. Joining us, we have Anil Arora, chief statistician of Canada, Lynn Barr-Telford, assistant chief statistician, social, health and labour statistics, and Stéphane Dufour, assistant chief statistician, census, regional services and operations.
Committee members, please keep in mind that we'll be taking 10 or 15 minutes at the end of the meeting to discuss subcommittee business.
Now, let's turn our attention to Statistics Canada.
As you know, the committee has been eagerly awaiting your appearance. You'll have 10 minutes or so for your presentation, and then, committee members will take some time to ask you questions.
Mr. Arora, you may go ahead.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to begin by thanking the committee members for inviting Statistics Canada to appear before you today to provide an update on its efforts regarding the enumeration of rights holders under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As you mentioned, Mr. Chair, with me today are my colleagues Lynn Barr-Telford and Stéphane Dufour, who will assist me in answering your questions. The fact that I am here with assistant chief statisticians attests to how important we consider the issue to be and gives them an opportunity to hear from you directly. Ms. Barr-Telford and Mr. Dufour are responsible for census content and operations, respectively.
Statistics Canada is committed to providing high-quality up-to-date data and analysis to policy-makers. To that end, we have formed strong relationships with our partners, developed world-class expertise, established robust methodologies, pursued constant innovation and explored new ways to meet the data needs of Canadians.
We use sample surveys, administrative and new emerging data sources, and the census, conducted once every five years, to build, maintain and further strengthen our data infrastructure in Canada. This infrastructure reflects a support of our values, our laws and societal needs with good facts and evidence. This evidence and need for unbiased data—not influenced by factors other than statistical rigour and independence—was made explicit through changes to the Statistics Act in 2017, subsequent to the return of the mandatory long-form census in 2016.
Canadians, 88% in fact, say they trust Statistics Canada. The 2016 census achieved the highest-ever response rate, which lends further support for a strong and credible statistical system in Canada.
Meeting the data needs of our bilingual society, where English and French have had official language status for the past 50 years, is something we take very seriously at Statistics Canada. We are unaware of any other statistical agency in the world that has acquired expertise equivalent to ours or built such an extensive wealth of knowledge around a society with two official languages as dynamic as the one we have here in Canada.
We are also committed to meeting the specific needs of language rights holders, a commitment I care deeply about. I'd like to take a few moments to show you that by sharing some of the tangible measures we have taken at Statistics Canada in the past few years.
First, we secured stable funding for a language statistics program at the department, as provided for in the 2019 budget. Through a leading-edge centre of expertise for statistical production and analysis for Canada's official languages, we can support related government initiatives. Our efforts support the official languages action plan and give official language communities, as well as all Canadians, access to high-quality information.
In 2017, we assembled Canada's leading experts through a formal advisory committee on language statistics to help guide our commitment to further strengthen our capacity to serve Canadians with the best information possible, the measure of right holders being an important focus.
Given the specific requirements that define minority language rights holders both within and outside Quebec, we developed, through robust qualitative testing, a module of comprehensible questions in both languages to ensure that we could obtain a highly reliable count of right holders.
To ensure that the questions designed through qualitative testing would work to yield high quality and reliable results, we conducted a large-scale quantitative test with 135,000 households in 2019.
Over the past many years, Statistics Canada has also strengthened its ability to obtain and maintain administrative data on school enrollments from other jurisdictions, including enrollments in minority language schools across this country.
In addition, together with the Department of Canadian Heritage, we built the capacity to produce geographic databases that make it possible to overlay the location of rights holders' children and the exact location of every minority language education facility in Canada. This will enable Statistics Canada to determine the distance between where rights holders live and where the education facility is located geographically.
We are also working with the Department of Canadian Heritage, as well as other federal partners, to develop a new post-census survey on official language minorities in Canada. The survey should provide relevant contextual information on rights holders' intentions when it comes to sending their children to a minority language education facility. The survey should also highlight the challenges official language minority communities face, including access to education in their official language.
The census is a signature data collection vehicle that dates back to 1666 in Canada, and one that obviously has evolved since in content and methodology. It serves our nation's needs for high-quality data at low levels of geography for very small populations. It provides a statistical basis upon which numerous legal, statutory and policy programs are assessed, and subsequent decisions are made to increase their effectiveness, including the Employment Equity Act, the Official Languages Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, the Employment Insurance Act and Canada Pensions Plan, just to name a few.
However, the census is a specific snapshot in time and, on its own, cannot provide all the information rights holders are seeking. It is therefore important to build an ecosystem of data that will shed light on this important issue. To that end, Statistics Canada is exploring various data sources that will help paint an accurate picture of rights holders. This includes provincial and territorial data on annual school enrolment and a follow-up survey of rights holders to produce estimates of the number of parents who intend to send their children to a minority language education facility.
Indeed, existing questions on mother tongue and language spoken at home on the census, along with annual administrative data on school enrolments and the possible addition of a module of five questions on rights holders and a post-censal survey, would immensely strengthen the information on this vital aspect of our bilingual society.
We are eager to continue working with our partners to enrich this important ecosystem of data.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
We put together a committee. We have our statistical expertise, but we're not.... We put together a committee of experts to help us with what the most efficient and most effective way to collect this information would be. That committee was very helpful in helping us formulate quantitative tests. In fact, we started off with certain things and we thought it might work. We tested it and found out it didn't work. We went back and retested other versions. In the end, what we tested in the quantitative test—the test with the 135,000 dwellings in Canada—was a module of five questions.
We think we're in the final stages of assessing their quality. Obviously, we think that we get from those five questions a really good base on which to satisfy the needs of right holders in this country.
That's one piece of the puzzle. We have to go further than that. I don't think that alone is going to do it because a census is an exercise at one point in time. I think the needs of the users are really on an ongoing basis.
We have been working with partners in other departments on a post-censal survey that can get at not only the total number that we can get from the census, but also how many intend to actually use the services.
We're also working with administrative data sources and other.... We already have some data that we get on an annual basis to see how many people are actually making use of that service.
If you look at some of the legal decisions, the judges have said that we need all three of these. You need the upper limit. You need how many are going to actually make use of that service, and you need to know what that demand is and how is it going to evolve over time.
Statistics Canada wants to work on actually developing the infrastructure that is going to be needed for this country—not just in 2021, but on an ongoing basis—so that we can meet the needs of users on an ongoing basis.
I thank the witnesses for being here.
We have all received the questionnaire and we have all the questions in front of us. Let's go to page 7, where we see that five questions have been added.
Mr. Arora, I just want to thank you for a couple of things. You said that you would keep this at your heart and that you're going to meet the needs of the community. Let's keep that in mind as we go.
Let's do the questionnaire. It's simple. Let's go to number 12 on page 7. You all have that in English in front of you. I believe, Mr. Arora, that you have it as well.
Let's start with Mr. Godin. Mr. Godin, answer question 12. Is your house in Quebec, yes or no?
Yes. Gone. You're going on to question 16. Don't even do the question I asked you.
The next question is question 13: Did you go to a French school or immersion?
Mr. Chong, did you go to a French school or immersion, yes or no?
Mr. Michael Chong: No.
Mr. Darrell Samson: No. Gone.
There goes 70%, 80%, 95% of Canadians who don't have to answer all of those questions. There are two arguments. There's the argument that we bring forward that the test is too long and they won't take it seriously—not true. On top of that, when you do it online you're not even going to see it. In five years, 99% of the people will be doing it online. You won't even see questions 14, 15, 16. They're gone.
The argument that the test is too long is not at all acceptable.
Second of all, when we see the [Inaudible-Editor] is 25%, I can tell you that when you're focusing on one zone, looking at the number of kids, as my colleague said, the best way to do it is to do each and every one of them. I know it. I lived it for 13 years as a superintendent of the French schools in Nova Scotia. I was the president across Canada of the French school superintendents.... I can tell you that we're crying every day. This is the most important thing that we can deliver as a government to make sure that we're reaching all Canadians to get the answers we need. Is it too long? We can get rid of that. Those questions are gone.
Let me go to the next one. Let's go to page 9 of that questionnaire. As upset as I was there, I'm now stupefied. Now I'm gone. It says, “Reasons why we asked the question”. We're saying reasons why. Just follow the yellow.... For questions two and seven that you've been asking for years and years, you're saying the reason that you're doing this, asking those questions, because we want to make sure that the municipalities that are planning a variety of services such as schools.... Who knew? The majority of English people in Canada have always been able to receive the information of how many people will go to school and how many schools have to be built. Can you believe it? It's hard to believe that in this great country the French people and the English people in Quebec cannot have that. We have the question. It says, “from 12 to 17”. This is for the charter of rights and education. We're not even meeting the rights and now we're not meeting the education information. The only place it can be is in the short one.
I also want to bring you to question 10. That question 10 that's been there for years is a great question, but it's only ever asked in one category out of three. It was never asked in the other two categories, and guess what? There are more and more every day of category two and three than there is of one. It's the parents who took the education. It's the kids taking education. We're too far from getting the information we require. You could say we can put it in the long one or the short one, 25%. I already put that one aside. You shouldn't do that, based on that. But even if you did, on the long survey, do you know what happened? Did the long survey ever become optional in this country?
The Chair: One minute.
Mr. Darrell Samson: A quick yes or no.
Yes, it did. Did it not? It's a simple question. Was the long survey ever optional?
I mentioned I'd be asking questions other than about the rights holders. Maybe I'll come back to that later.
There's a question I wanted to ask you. Before 2005, there were multiple answers to the question of the language spoken at home. If people answered that they spoke both English and French, half of the answers were sent to the English side and half to the French side. Those who answered that they spoke English, French and another language were divided into three categories.
In 2016, you analyzed the results in such a way that someone responding by "English and French" was counted on both the English side, the French side and the allophone side. Therefore, compared to 2011, in Quebec, when there were 81.2% of people speaking French at home, the figure rose to 87% of people speaking French at home. These are Statistics Canada's results. If we look at the results for anglophones in Quebec, there was a jump to 19%. The results for allophones were even higher. This gave a total of approximately 121%.
Why did you make this change in your method of analysis?
I'll just repeat what I said before. I'm very concerned if people think that any of the data—through that logic that you've put—that comes from the long-form census is missing 75% of the responses or that it is not of good quality, because you as legislators make decisions on a whole host of programs based on the quality of the data that we get from the long form.
I cannot explain it strongly enough. We know the total population, and it is a systematic sampling technique that is used the world over where, in our case, every fourth household, with a random start and with a mandatory requirement, fills out a whole host of questions that are on the long form. When we get those responses, we have weighting techniques to make sure that the one house that says “yes” or “no” represents all four in that region. That is how we come up with the full population.
So, it's not that 75% are missed. It's that if you get selected, in a very statistically sound manner, to fill out the questionnaire, you are representing that whole area. That is a method by which we can ask questions of one person, and that response essentially represents others.
I don't want to make light of this, but we don't drain the entire transmission oil to find out whether it's good or not. We take a sample of it and say, “Yes, it's of good quality”, and then either it's time to change it or it's not.
The sampling technique is something that is germane to statistics. Asking a question, with that response essentially serving as a donor to the rest of the population, is what we do all the time.
I asked you earlier about when you're going to put the recommendations to cabinet. If I remember it correctly, you told me that you don't know; it may be a couple of weeks or whatever. My colleague asked when they could provide the questions or they want to change questions. You're saying in a couple of weeks.
It sounds to me like what's going to be on the census forms is already going to be determined. You're going to send it to cabinet and they have no other choice but to accept it. If they do, they do it for the next one over.
That's what I'm hearing here. I'm getting really different answers. It's very frustrating that I asked questions earlier and my colleague asked his questions now, and I'm kind of getting really different points. Then this gentleman here, Mr. Dufour, even said something further, like maybe you can do it in the summer. You don't know when the cabinet dates are, so what is it?
Could you just help me out here?
Let me see if I can just clarify it. As you said, the decision about the content that ultimately lands on the census questionnaire is a decision that's made by Governor in Council, by cabinet and then, subsequent to that decision, is gazetted—30 days, give or take, after that decision is made.
We're in the last stages, because obviously the census is coming up, so it's going to be very shortly that the government is going to have to make that decision about what is the ultimate content of the census. That's not something new. Every five years we do the census; it's at about this time, give or take, that they make the decision on the questionnaire.
Obviously, Statistics Canada, based on the testing we've done, gives our best advice as to what works or not through our testing—through qualitative testing, through the advisory committee that we put together, through the quantitative testing that we've done—and it's ultimately cabinet that says, “Okay, this is a question that we want and this is the content of the census questionnaire” and then we carry it out.
That process hasn't changed and I'm sorry if there's any confusion, but that's the process and that's where we are at this stage. That's why I assume we're here.