Why a Census?

Here are the reasons why Canada’s national stock-taking is considered a wartime essential

GRANT DEXTER June 15 1941

Why a Census?

Here are the reasons why Canada’s national stock-taking is considered a wartime essential

GRANT DEXTER June 15 1941

Why a Census?

Here are the reasons why Canada’s national stock-taking is considered a wartime essential



CANADA'S eighth census is underway. It is being taken this year, as the British North America Act decrees, despite protests from those who would prefer to see $2,750,000 added to war appropriations for Spitfires, Hurricanes, tanks or guns. There was never a chance of the government heeding these protests. The reasons why the census should be taken are much too strong.

To begin with, the decennial census is the national stocktaking, the foundation of all we know about ourselves. Censuses are like vast panoramic photographs. Sections are continually being singled out for enlargement and detailed study, but always against the larger background.

Without the census there would be no larger picture to bring the detailed information on industry, population, wealth, business—all the details of our national life—into true perspective.

• - Statistics today are so much a part of the essential furniture of our minds that many of us are not aware of their importance. We think that the census is just a frill, a whim of the statisticians.

The fact is that every businessman, every worker, depends far more than perhaps he is aware on the census. Parliament and our legislatures, lacking the census, would work in a blackout. Indeed, not to take the census would cripple the war effort and hamstring post-war reconstruction. We would have to govern ourselves by guesses based upon the 1931 census. It would be precisely the same as if a businessman were to stop keeping books and try to carry on his business in his head or by guessing his current position from previous audited reports. It would be just as sensible for the head of the family to disremember his income and the size of his family.

For those who would dispense with a census in wartime, it would be well to remember Foch's remark after 1918— “Statistics won the war.” Germany, before the war, doubled her censuses—taking them twice as often as previously. And it is more than probable that in 1941 Hitler is taking stock of Germany’s resources every few months. In war, where so much depends upon the efficient use of resources—human and material—accurate information is vital.

New-Type Census

rT'HE CENSUS now being taken, of course, is different -*• from the seven stock-takings which have preceded it. The first was in 1871. To some extent efforts to gain certain information sought in earlier censuses have been dropped, because experience has shown that other methods of gathering it are more efficient. This, for example, is true of deaths.

It is an odd fact that people often do not remember accurately the dates of deaths. Moreover, the average citizen is a most unreliable authority with respect to causes of death in his immediate family. More reliable mortuary statistics are obtained in other ways.

Likewise, masses of facts which were first assembled in

the census are now kept up to date by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics and no longer are part of the decennial stocktaking. Manufacturing is a case in point. It is still essential, however, to true up these statistics with the broad factual lines disclosed in the census. Indeed, without the ten-year stock-taking, the whole statistical service at Ottawa would rapidly lose value.

The present census will survey population, housing, agriculture and merchandising services. There are thirtynine questions on population—distribution, age, sex, conjugal relations, nationality, urban and rural, literacy, occupation, income, and so on. The replies to these questions will dispose of scores of questions, the answers to which must be known if parliament is to govern this country intelligently.

The housing, questionnaire is new, and is obviously designed to help solve war and post-war problems. In a general way it is known that we entered this war with less than one per cent of our houses vacant, in contrast with fifteen per cent in 1914. There are already critical housing shortages in many areas, due to war concentrations either of troops or of industry. These shortages are being relieved by purely temporary structures.

When this war is over, a vast housing scheme will be one of the first reconstruction measures. Without the facts, however, parliament cannot frame such a policy wisely. It is essential to know how many houses are required, and where, and what type of house is needed most.

There is an important change, as well, in the agricultural questionnaire. The usual X-ray of our basic industry will be taken, but in addition a survey of the horticultural section will be made this year for the first time. This survey will disclose the extent of what might be called incidental farm production. It is known, in a general way, that there has been a rapid expansion in this branch of agriculture, but how important the expansion is to the nation at large will not be clear until the census returns are complete.

With respect to town dwellers who do a bit of agriculture on the side, full detail of cows, poultry, bees, truck garden, tree or bush fruits, grapes, etc., will be taken. Bona fide farmers will only answer this questionnaire, however, if their side-line production was in excess of fifty dollars in 1940.

The main agricultural questionnaire will yield complete information on farm ownership, debt, income, abandoned or idle farms, acreage, livestock, etc.

The last questionnaire covers merchandising and services, and the purpose here is to survey the distribution of commodities and services. Merchandising includes wholesalers and retailers—groceries, hardware shops, and similar kinds of businesses. Services include barber shops, tailors, cleaners, dyers, hotels, garages and scores of similar service establishments. It is the intention, as well, to compile this time a complete list of small firms that manufacture on their own premises and sell direct to the publicbakers, milliners, and similar types of business.

Vital to War Effort

ALL THIS information may seem rather unrelated to ^ * the war. The truth, however, is otherwise. The facts with respect to population are essential to the intelligent mobilization of manpower for war, and the framing of wise economic policies, particularly taxation policies. When taxation takes twenty-five per cent of the national income, as it does this year, it is vital that the government should know precisely what it is doing. In the good old days it did not matter so much because indirect taxation was the chief means of finance.

Today it is not possible to meet demands of war or peace by unfair, indirect taxes. Direct taxation, based upon ability to pay, is now the backbone of Dominion revenue and it is of vital importance that the margin of error both with respect to individuals, industries, and areas, should be cut down to the greatest possible extent.

The position of agriculture will be known with finality and the wartime policy of production will be based upon the findings of the census. Since September, 1939, the position of agriculture has been one of increasing strain and difficulty. Obviously, our greatest export industry is a Continued on page 1,0

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war casualty, but must be maintained. Such a policy already obtains with respect to wheat, and the surplus problem may well become acute in livestock and dairy products before this year is out. All manner of changes in the areas of production, in acreages and in the size of herds and flocks, are taking place under the pressure of war. Policy must be guided by these trends, and only through the census can they be charted.

In a broader way, the census will give a new answer to most of the vital problems which confront us. There is the matter of representation in parliament for the coming ten years. This, of course, is the ostensible, if not the most compelling, reason for taking the census. In preConfederation days representation by population was a potent political issue. Few history books are without a page or two on the era of “Rep by Pop.” It was primarily for this purpose that the Fathers of Confederation made ten-year censuses compulsory under our constitution. The last war, of course, fell between the 1911 and the 1921 censuses. Nevertheless the five-year, intermediate census of the Prairie Provinces was due in 1916 and was taken as usual.

The reason for the five-year census is that the Prairie Provinces grew so rapidly in the early decades of this century that their subsidies were in need of revision oftener than a ten-year census permitted. Occasionally it is suggested that the intermediate stock-taking might now be dropped. What is more likely, however, is that there will be a national census every five years. The pace of modem development is so great that more changes occur now in five years than in the ten years envisaged at Confederation.

Parliamentary representation is calculated in this way:

Quebec is assured sixty-five seats in the House of Commons. The unit of representation is the population of Quebec divided by sixty-five. The population of the other provinces is then divided by this unit and the number of seats determined in each case—with the proviso that the representation of any one province must not fall below a minimum. The minimum is the senate representation of the individual provinces.

One point which the census will clear up is the matter of loss of population. It is a serious thing for a nation to lose large quantities of its life blood. Between 1921 and 1931, immigration and natural increase should have increased our population from 8,787,949 to 11,587,949. Actually the increase was only to 10,376,786. We lost 550,000 immigrants, which had cost us plenty of money, plus an even larger number of our native bom. They went chiefly to the United States. Did this drain continue in the decade 1931-41?

Then there is the decline in the birth rate. In 1921, the average number of children per family was 3.06; in 1931, 3.04. When you remember that there are 1,857,105 families, such a decline represents a great many children. Put it another way. In 1871, 286.9 in every 1,000 of population were under ten years of age. In 1931 the number was 212.7. The importance of these figures may be judged when you think of them in terms of social legislation—pensions, annuities, hospitalization and medical care.

Racial Trends—Literacy

CONSIDER the problem of the racial strains in our population. These figures tell the story:


British Canadian Europe

1867 63 34

1901 57 30

1921 55 27

1931 51.8 28.2

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The balance is composed of Indians, Negroes, Eskimos, Orientals (.6 per cent in 1931) and other minor groups.

The census passes a commentary on our system of education when it tells us that 295,000 people were wholly illiterate in 1931, *and that 261,000 of them were voters. Moreover, 164,000 children were growing up without benefit of education. In fairness to our system of education, however, it should be said that illiteracy is declining.

Here again, you have fundamental national problems with which Parliament and the legislatures must deal. These census figures merely reveal the stark facts. To understand them you must trace back the illiteracy to particular areas and when you have done so you will find that some provinces are unable, by reason of lack of taxable income, to provide adequate educational facilities.

The Sirois report is as good a source of information, here, as any. Many people wondered why the Sirois Commission recommended provincial - grants - in - aid which would guarantee a minimum standard of government throughout Canada. The reason will be found in just such facts as these.

Take again, the division as between urban and rural residents. In 1901, the rural population of Canada was 3,357,093, the urban 2,014,222. In 1931 the rural was 4,804,728 and the urban 5,572,058. These figures should be read in the light of the fact that only 1,370,622 heads of families owned their homes in 1931, while 1,080,738 lived in rented houses.

These are the bare bones of the social problems which all but wrecked this country in the Great Depression. Again the Sirois report is recommended to people who desire to know more of our fundamental problems.

In these thirty years we changed from being largely a self-sufficient people— living close to the land and not easily forced down to the starvation level—to an urban people exposed to the full sweep of depressions. Dramatically speaking, these

figures mean the end of village industries and the rise of mass production—the growth of great “dormitory” cities; the concentration of huge masses of population in the larger cities, living in rented homes and completely dependent upon their weekly pay cheque. For them unemployment has terrors unknown to their fathers and mothers.

When older people bewail the loss of morale, the inability of present day “softies” to look after themselves in hard times, they should remember that the basis of our civilization has shifted. The extent of the shift is disclosed by the census and in no other way.

The presënt census will carry the data forward from 1931 to 1941 and, as stated, will lay the ground work for war and postwar policy. Undoubtedly the trend toward urbanization will be accelerated by the war.

It is, of course, impossible to do more than generalize on the scope and importance of the census. Suffice to say that no intelligent planning of our national life would be possible without it.

Many may wonder why the registration of last August has not provided all the necessary data for war policy. The reason is simple. The registration was designed chiefly to uncover military manpower. The questionnaire included other items, most of them adopted in a haphazard fashion. The staff to take the registration was assembled rapidly and lacked experience. The results, from a statistical point of view, have been largely without value although the main purpose—to identify present and future “trainees” — was achieved. There will be no repetition of the questions answered last August. Different information is being sought this time.

17,000 Enumerators

THE PHYSICAL problem of taking a census is very great. The country is divided into districts and enumerators are appointed for each district. In all there will be 17,000 enumerators and they will

obtain answers to the questions as of June first. All that may have happened after that date will have to stand over till the next census.

The enumerators, for the most part, are hand-picked men and women who have been trained for the work and who have had past experience in census-taking. In agricultural areas, the sons of farmers are favored. In urban areas, men and women with experience as teachers, or in office work, are preferred. The cost of visiting every home and most places of business, will be $2,750,000—an increase of about $750,000 over 1931.

This business of asking questions is not without humor. Thus Prime Minister King will be asked if he can read or write. The Cardinal in Quebec will be asked if he is married or single. All questions must be answered on penalty of fine or imprisonment for ninety days. But Parliament, by statute, guarantees everyone against abuse of confidence. No census information may be used, except in the census reports. If the government asked for the census return of John Jones of Hamilton, the request would be refused. All census returns are bulked by areas or by subject and the reports are always on a scale so large that any individual or group of individuals could not be identified.

Long ago, there was marked public antagonism to censuses. This was, perhaps, a hangover from the earliest times when censuses were taken chiefly for the purpose of discovering military strength. The King took a census and then levied on each community for fighting men. Moses numbered the children of Israel in the fifteenth century, B.C., following the lead of Babylonia, and Egypt. King David took a census about 500 years later and got into trouble thereby. Indeed the story of David’s census, 11 Samuel, I XXIV 1-25 and 1 Chronicles XXI, 1-27, | indicates that it was inspired by Satan himself and it profoundly influenced Christian people right down to the 19th century. For hundreds of years censustaking was taboo. Indeed, the first census in the modern sense was taken in New France in 1666. Innumerable censuses were taken in the following years and the practice was continued, although less thoroughly, after the conquest. The custom of ten-year censuses pre-dates Confederation, being set forth in a statute of 1851. This custom was confirmed in Section 91 of the British North America Act of 1867, the first Dominion census being taken in 1871. In the early years of Confederation, the responsibility for the taking of the census rested with the Department of Agriculture. In 1912, however, a Census and Statistics office was set up in the Department of Trade and Commerce. This office gradually expanded into the Dominion Bureau of Statistics. R. H. Coats, the present Dominion statistician, took charge of the office in 1916 when he supervised the mid-term census in the Prairie Provinces.

Compiling, Tabulating

TT WILL take six weeks to two months to

gather in all the census returns. The settled parts of the country are the easiest to cover. In the far north, the enumeration will be entrusted to members of the R.C.M.P., to missionaries and traders.

Once the returns are complete, the tasks of compiling and tabulating begin. To do this work, the census branch has a battery of machines, in comparison with which the common adding machine is as simple as pen and ink. Obviously it would take years j to go over each return by hand and the ! margin of error would be high.

To begin with, the census information is transferred to cards—more than 25,000,000 cards. There is a card for each person —more than 11,000,000 persons in all. There is a card for each occupation, each business establishment covered in the census. There are four sets of cards for agriculture.

The information is transferred to cards

by a system of punched holes. The bureau has a staff of 100 punchers, assisted by machines, to do this work.

Once the punching is complete the cards can be run through the vericator, sorter and tabulator machines and answers to questions can be obtained.

The machines at Ottawa were invented by two members of the staff of the Bureau of Statistics—A. E. Thornton, the mechanical superintendent and Fernard Belisle, a member of his staff.

Notwithstanding the improvements in

information handling made by these machines, it naturally takes a long time to correlate facts. Indeed, some three months are required to complete the answers for any set of questions.

Thus, while the returns should be in by July or August, the first information based upon this census will not be available until October or November.

While it’s true that much work and expense are involved, make no mistake about it—Canada’s 1941 census is of timely and definite value.