Annual census under review by Calgary city council

Highway traffic moves through Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. New census data shows the population of the metropolitan area of Calgary outpaced the national growth rate over the last five years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh.

As the City of Calgary puts out a request looking for workers to conduct the city census this spring, city council has asked for a review of the value and benefits of having an annual count.

This year will mark the 61st straight year there has been a civic census in Calgary. However, city clerk Laura Kennedy told members of council on Monday that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs is proposing changes in the rules in how counts are audited.

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Kennedy said she wants to review the rotation of questions that are asked each year, how the data is being used in the city and to understand the value of the questions being asked. Kennedy expects to present council with a report before the end of 2019.

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The city clerk also said Statistics Canada has indicated it would prefer the city not conduct its own census in 2021.

“Statistics Canada has reached out to the City of Calgary and asked if we would be interested in helping partner in 2021 which is when they have their next federal census.”

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She said there is benefit in having Stats Canada collect the information. But there are drawbacks as well.

“They report their data 18 months after collection and that would not be timely,” Kennedy told council, “however Statistics Canada, in a conversation we had with them, wants to work with us and identify opportunities for improvement.”

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For Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek, the civic census is one of the best services the city provides and said she doesn’t want to lose the annual count.

“This kind of data is not just important to council to make decisions. It’s not a matter of charts and things that don’t change overtime.

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“Having solid annual information so you can do comparisons year over year — I can tell you as a researcher — is absolutely critical.”

However her colleague Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating isn’t as sold on the yearly census.

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“The data is absolutely crucial. What isn’t crucial is on an annual basis,” Keating said. “It has to happen no doubt. Does it happen every year? I don’t think so — every three years probably.”

The argument in the past for an annual census has been that Calgary’s steadily increasing population would be recognized with increased funding from the province in per capita grants.

Council has been told by administration that it appears the city charter and the new fiscal framework with the Alberta government will also use population numbers when it comes to funding increases.

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When the census is conducted — starting April 1 — there will be a new variation on an old question.

“In the policy we talk about age and sex, that term is not appropriate. So we have turned our question into one of gender,” Kennedy said.

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“We will ask for the traditional male or female and we will have an additional option of ‘other’.”

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