In addition to being toque-wearing, hockey-loving, maple syrup-swilling serial apologizers, we Canadians are also, evidently, a bunch of data-loving dorks.

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This article was published 3/5/2016 (2089 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


In addition to being toque-wearing, hockey-loving, maple syrup-swilling serial apologizers, we Canadians are also, evidently, a bunch of data-loving dorks.

The 2016 Census forms arrived in mailboxes across the country yesterday, and were met with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. And hey, sure, why not? It's been a decade since we've seen the mandatory long-form census from Statistics Canada, which the Harper goverment phased out in 2006 and the Liberals brought back when they were elected in 2015.

It's the most unlikely of trending topics, but #Census2016 has indeed been trending for, oh, over 20 hours now on Twitter. Yes, that's correct: Canadians haven taken to social media to express their unbridled excitement over a mandatory goverment form. They took census selfies. They fought over who in their household would have the honour of filling it out and henceforth be known in their homes as Person 1. Someone used their census form in a pregnancy announcement. An improbable number of them expressed their disappointment over not being one of the one in four selected to complete the long-form, 36-page survey. (I count myself among those nerds.)

Canada: we were so pumped about Census 2016 that we crashed the StatsCan website, which was down for a full 45 minutes on Monday night. Census Day, May 10, isn't for another week.

Now, this eager-beaver behaviour could be a folksy Canadian quirk. Or it could have something to do with the fact that we all received an envelope that said, in bold black letters, "complete the census — it's the law." (If you don't, it's a fine of up to $500 or three months in jail.)

But it could also be something else. The return of the mandatory long-form census also heralds the return of informed, evidence-based policy making — and that's something to celebrate. The census will garner information about Canadians offering insight into how we live, including everything from our health and employment statuses to our housing, commute and child-care situations. Statisticians will then be able to create clearer statistical profiles of our communities using that quality data, which will enable our elected officials, businesses, and community organizations and associations to serve us better. Schools, roads, health care, child care, public transit — these are all areas in which census information isn't just useful, it's vital.

While some critics take issue with the "mandatory by law" part, voluntary surveys — such as the Conservative government's 2011 National Household Survey, which replaced the long-form census — just don't yield the same response rate and therefore don't yield the same level of data. (The response rate in 2011 dropped to just under 70 per cent from almost 94 per cent in 2006.) And low response rates — particularly from small, isolated communities — creates insufficient data, which means Statistic Canada can't release it.

A full statistical picture of Canada is important when it comes to policy making, so it's disappointing that there are only two genders available on the forms — male and female. The Statistics Canada FAQ says transgender, genderqueer (a person who identifies as neither, both or a combination of male and female), and intersex Canadians should choose the box they most identify with, or leave it blank and indicate the reason in the comment section at the end of the questionaire, but you'd think StatsCan would want to hear more from a segment of the Canadian population that struggles with discrimination, poverty and high suicide rates.

Happily, anyone can provide feedback in the comment section. So, while you're celebrating the return of the census and taking your census selfies, take a moment to let the government know that Canadians don't fit into two tidy boxes. It's 2016, after all.

Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.