Manitoba wants panel to rule on costly census dispute

The Manitoba government says the 2011 flood — one of the largest in the province's history — contributed to inaccurate population figures.
The Manitoba government says the 2011 flood — one of the largest in the province's history — contributed to inaccurate population figures. Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG – Manitoba wants the federal government to appoint a panel to rule on whether Statistics Canada undercounted the population by 18,000 in the last census — costing the province $100 million a year in transfer payments.

Finance Minister Jennifer Howard says Ottawa has a responsibility to help resolve the dispute. A panel made up of a representative from Manitoba, Statistics Canada and a neutral chair could settle the dispute, she suggested Tuesday.

“The stakes are high for us,” Howard said. “Losing half-a-billion dollars over the next five years and trying to deliver high-quality services to Manitobans and balance the budget — that is a significant, significant challenge.”

Since federal transfer payments are based on population, finance department officials have calculated Manitoba will receive $100 million less a year in health care, social services and equalization money.

The governing NDP has said the 2011 flood — one of the largest in the province’s history — contributed to inaccurate population figures.

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Statistics Canada has publicly said its census figures are accurate. It said it uses a methodology that includes a way to make up for people who might be missed and which was agreed to by all provinces.

But in a letter to Manitoba’s chief statistician, Statistics Canada admitted something might be amiss with the population estimates and would try to fix it in time for the next census, Howard said.

“It’s as if you went to your doctor and they did blood work and they got a result they couldn’t explain,” she said. “But then they said, ‘We’re just going to go with it.’ You would want that redone. That’s what we’re asking for.”

Statistics Canada did not respond to a request for comment.

The agency has said Manitoba actually had one of the highest response rates in Canada in the 2011 census. It also said it actually added almost 22,000 people to Manitoba’s population using the agreed-to methodology.

Manitoba says there’s been no response to the province’s formal written request for a panel that was sent in January. Jake Enwright, spokesman for Industry Minister James Moore, wouldn’t say whether the federal government is contemplating the request.

“Statistics Canada has actually looked into the matter,” he said. “They’ve done several reviews and they’ve found no basis to justify the population adjustment.”

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Enwright wouldn’t answer questions about the proposal for a panel. He would only say the agency used the same methodology it has always used in census surveys.