One of Winnipeg's poorest neighbourhoods has been left out of the new long-form census, and the data from another area are so spotty they're unreliable.
Statistics Canada has suppressed data for two census tracts, which cover most of the West Alexander neighbourhood around Health Sciences Centre, because fewer than half the residents responded to the voluntary national household survey. Data for a third tract in the neighbourhood just barely made the cut, but the response rate is still so low -- 50.7 per cent -- the information could be questioned.
Two more tracts, those covering North Point Douglas, earned an average response rate of 52 per cent, meaning they just squeaked by Statistics Canada's suppression threshold.
The national household survey, which has been widely criticized, purports to answer dozens of socio-economic questions for areas large and small -- such as the number of renters, the average income, where immigrants are from or how many people have high school diplomas. Community advocates say poor-quality data make it difficult to measure progress and to ensure a neighbourhood, or a city, has the proper services.
'If, on paper, there's no problem, then there isn't the willingness or the funds to address those issues. Programming dries up'
"If, on paper, there's no problem, then there isn't the willingness or the funds to address those issues," said Ricardo Lopez-Aguilar, chairman of the Point Douglas Residents Association. "Programming dries up."
Perusing the data for North Point Douglas, Lopez-Aguilar said the median income seemed a little high. The tract covering the peninsula recorded a median annual income of $20,600, and the tract north of Euclid Avenue and west of Barber Street had a median income of $18,750.
There have been significant improvements in Point Douglas in recent years, but the median income, according to the new census, is roughly 25 per cent higher than it was in the 2006 census. Winnipeg's median income rose only 16 per cent over the same period, bolstering Lopez-Aguilar's fear the half of North Point Douglas that failed to respond to the national household survey is the poorer half.
Since data from the NHS began to roll out over the spring and summer, spotty figures have become increasingly worrisome for researchers. Everyone from Manitoba Centre for Health Policy director Patricia Martens to the Manitoba government's statistics czar, Wilf Falk, have raised red flags about the impact low response rates will have on public policy, especially for the poor.
But, as patchy as Winnipeg's data are, Hamilton's is worse.
The Ontario city is missing national household survey data for 16 census tracts, and Montreal has even more missing.
Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan, who lives just blocks from the two data-less West Alexander tracts, said he's got a strong sense of what the area needs but now lacks hard numbers to verify the poverty, housing and immigration trends he sees. That means it's difficult to advocate for a host of services, from child care to English-literacy programs for new Canadians to health services.
"It puts us behind the eight ball," said Pagtakhan. "Statistics Canada has to step up their efforts."
He said extra care must be taken to ensure poor people complete the census and the national household survey, and even suggested Statistics Canada redo the survey in the neighbourhoods with bad data.
Dennis Lewycky, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, said the lack of hard data undermines the work many non-profit groups do in poor neighbourhoods. Most frustrating is data from the latest national household survey can't reliably be compared with the old 2006 census.
"We can't do trends and projections," said Lewycky. "It's the change in demographics that's really important."
But, he said it won't stop non-profit groups from forging ahead with their work, and groups such as the Social Planning Council and the United Way have already begun to pool their money to pay for data from different sources.
The University of Winnipeg's Institute of Urban Studies will release a report today detailing "eight years of unprecedented investment and development" in Winnipeg's core, launching another debate about the success of downtown revitalization programs.
The mandatory census and the voluntary national household survey don't help much with that debate because there are two yawning gaps in the data. Basic population numbers for all five tracts covering the downtown exist.
That's how we know, with modest certainty, the population increased by only 700 people between 2006 and 2011.
But, tract number 6020013 was left out of the national household survey because of low response rates. That tract covers the area between Portage Avenue and York Avenue and also includes The Forks. Data for that tract was suppressed.
And, confusingly, the tract covering the East Exchange, Waterfront Drive and South Point Douglas has data from the survey, but not the short-form census. We know the total population for the tract -- 1,163 people -- but not the age breakdown, marital and family status or what language is commonly spoken at home.
-- source: Statistics Canada, tracts 6020013 and 6020024