Painting a Portrait of Canada: The 2021 Census of Population
2. Engagement with Canadians

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As part of each census cycle, Statistics Canada leads comprehensive consultations and discussions on census content requirements and data dissemination strategies. The census, at its core, offers Canadians a robust, consultative dialogue in which the country’s changing data needs are highlighted; the census then evolves accordingly to fill any identified data gaps. It is with this adaptive and collaborative approach that Statistics Canada stays on top of trends and new demands, reflecting a changing society.

“The census, at its core, offers Canadians a robust, consultative dialogue in which the country’s changing data needs are highlighted; the census then evolves accordingly to fill any identified data gaps.”

Because of the variety of uses and the importance of census data in decision making, any changes made to census content are carefully analyzed and discussed with stakeholders to preserve data relevance, overall quality, coverage and comparability over time, as well as to ensure that legislative and policy requirements continue to be met.

After research, consultations and testing, the agency develops content for the census and submits the proposed questions to Cabinet. According to the Statistics Act, census questions must be prescribed by the Governor in Council through an order in council, and the approved questions must be published in the Canada Gazette. Typically, this approval occurs in the year preceding the census.

Consultations on dissemination activities and products help determine the best ways in which to share results with users to ensure census data are accessible and meet the needs of all data users.

Content consultations and discussions

A formal content consultation is planned at the start of each census cycle. During this time, Statistics Canada invites data users, stakeholders and members of the public to provide feedback on what information they use and for what purpose, as well as what—if any—data gaps Statistics Canada should consider addressing in the next census cycle.

In preparation for the 2021 Census of Population, Statistics Canada consulted with census data users to

Engagements were held from September 2017 to May 2018 and involved an online questionnaire available to all Canadians, to gather feedback, as well as face-to-face discussions with federal departments; other research and analysis organizations; and First Nations, Métis and Inuit stakeholders.

Over 10,000 census data users were invited by email to participate in these engagements and were encouraged to share the invitation with others in their network. Statistics Canada also reached out to the general public through its website, social media accounts and regional offices.

Over 2,800 respondents participated in the discussions—an unprecedented number that reflects a high level of interest in helping to shape the census as an important source of demographic and social information.

During these engagements, Statistics Canada heard from individuals and organizations in many sectors of Canadian society, including

Given the large volume of engagements carried out during the intercensal period, it is not possible to provide an exhaustive list. However, some of the partners that Statistics Canada has worked alongside include the following: the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages for minority language rights-holders; Veterans Affairs Canada for Veteran and military service; the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation on housing; the Office of National Statistics, UNECE, on matters pertaining to gender; McGill University, the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal and Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, related to ethnic or cultural origins. All of these efforts build towards an improved census. For more information, please consult the 2021 Census of Population Consultation Results: What we heard from Canadians.

In addition, to better understand the needs of Indigenous organizations and communities, the agency visited 30 locations across the country, held approximately 60 discussions and listened to over 400 people from local, provincial, territorial and national Indigenous organizations.  

Statistics Canada recognizes the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. A key part of this effort is the Indigenous Liaison Advisor program. The Indigenous Liaison Advisors work to build partnerships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities and organizations based on respect and trust. The program was founded in the 1980s and today has evolved to be a national program with 11 advisors located across Canada.

The program’s objective is to increase knowledge of, and access to, Statistics Canada data, products and services for First Nations people, Métis, and Inuit across Canada, and to promote participation in the Census and Statistics Canada surveys.  

Content consultation questionnaire

Part 1 of the content consultation questionnaire focused on census data users and collected feedback on

Participants were asked whether they used census data for

Participants who used data for statutory or regulatory purposes were also asked to identify the respective laws, statutes or regulations.

Part 2 of the content consultation questionnaire asked participants to

Data needs of organizations and individuals

Data users identified a number of interests and specific needs:

Small geographic areas and populations of interest: Respondents from all user groups showed great interest in being able to access data for areas with small populations. Overall, about two-thirds of respondents reported that the lowest level of geography they or their organization used was census subdivision or lower.

Comparability across Canada: Overall, 82% of respondents believed it is important to be able to compare census data across Canada for at least one of their purposes. The most important topics to data users for comparing data across Canada were income (82%) and population groups (80%). Household composition (67%), mobility (72%) and activities of daily living (72%) ranked slightly lower.

Continuity over time: Overall, 93% of respondents felt it is important to be able to compare census data over time for at least some of their purposes. The most important topics for maintaining the census time series were income (92%) and population groups (91%), while topics such as household composition (81%) and activities of daily living (85%) ranked slightly lower.

Frequency of data availability: Virtually every organization and individual from all user groups agreed that census data should be available every five years. (A question on religion is included every 10 years.)

Multivariate analysis: Users cited the ability to perform multivariate analysis as critical to their use of census data, as it allows users to examine interrelationships across different census questions, such as age, education, income and immigrant status. This type of analysis is possible with the census because anonymized data are available for each individual and household.

While all types of users consult demographic, language, education, labour market activity and income data, there were notable differences among respondent groups. Federal, provincial and territorial government organizations typically used ethnocultural and Indigenous data more than other users. Municipal governments frequently used mobility, journey to work and housing data. Indigenous data users reported making broad use of all census content, with the exception of ethnocultural questions relating to ethnic origin, population groups and religion.

This feedback from data users led to proposed changes to the 2019 Census Test questionnaire. New content and revisions were tested for the following topics: sex and gender, language and minority language educational rights, Veterans, health, immigration and citizenship, ethnocultural diversity (ethnic origin, religion), Indigenous peoples, education, labour and commuting, and housing. See Chapter 4 for a description of testing results and the final 2021 Census content.

Dissemination consultations

With each census, Statistics Canada looks for ways to publish census results in a timely, relevant and accessible manner while maintaining high data-quality standards. A primary goal of the dissemination process is to maximize the user experience for Census of Population products and services.

User feedback helps Statistics Canada measure user satisfaction and gather suggestions for the 2021 Census of Population products, services and release strategy.

Dissemination consultation process

From January to March 2019, Statistics Canada collected feedback from data users and interested parties across Canada who shared their views on various aspects of the 2016 Census of Population dissemination process. In January 2020, the agency also hosted face-to-face sessions with a range of data users, including businesses and non-governmental organizations.

Detailed feedback was obtained from nearly 1,000 participants on the following topics:

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