Wanted: Catchy Census PSAs

Believe it or not, Rafe Mair brought it home for me in his recent Tyee article.  He boils down his response to:

I must say, without intending to hedge, that my opposition takes the form of simple questions.

Why do you want this information?

What specific purpose is it used for?

Right! The people who don’t use the census data on a regular basis don’t necessarily realize how their whole life is so essentially shaped by it. Thanks for the reminder, Rafe. We are so easily blinded by our own little experiences.

Reading along with the Census long form debacle, I have eventually come to realize that part of the whole problem here is that the federal government has done a really terrible job of PR around the census and its uses. Yes, there were political reasons behind the scrapping of the mandatory long-form data collection tool, but such arguments would have no toehold with a population that was by and large aware of the importance of good census data. People know this isn’t really about privacy (as the government claimed) or jail time (since no one has ever gone to jail over the census), but many people don’t know what the big deal about the census is. I mean, census data sounds kinda wonkish and boring. Until you realize how different your life would be without it.

While clearly many people and organizations are aware (as of this morning datalibre.ca’s Census Watch tally lists 10 individuals & organizations on record against the mandatory long-form census and over 300 on record in favour of keeping it mandatory), many other people are like Rafe Mair – suspicious of the government, and unaware and uninformed about the actual uses of the census data.

Now, the current government may have ideological agendas driving the neglect of such public education, but past governments have been similarly neglectful.

It’s not that we don’t have the ability to do decent PR here: Canadians still remember the 60-year-old Swede outrunning the 30-year-old Canadian in the ParticipACTION ads from the ‘70’s. It’s only a lack of political will that has prevented similar census ads letting Canadians know why they must fill our their census forms.

Apparently the ad campaign for the US 2010 census was projected to save the government tons of money by improving compliance and reducing the need for door-knockers. Although the Tories are obviously not concerned about saving money, deciding to pay more for less with a voluntary census with larger mailout, for the truly fiscal conservative, such savings might be a selling point.

While nowhere near as catchy as the original ParticipACTION campaign, the US Census 2010 ads do a decent job of addressing common concerns (e.g., confidentiality, how do you know the person at your door is really a census taker) and tell people WHY the census is important with soundbytes like:

A proper count is vital in assuring your community receives proper representation, as well as the funding it needs for services like job training, schools, roads and transportation


By answering the questions, your residence will be counted, and you’ll be helping your community get its fair share of $400 billion in federal funds.

Oh! Legislative districts are drawn based on census data! Funding for job training, schools, roads and transit are also based on census data! That’s why the government wants to know this stuff!

Reading some of the 300+ the open letters to the Canadian government that oppose the census changes gives one a glimpse of the wide swath and diversity of Canadians who are concerned with this issue. Few other issues unite ethnic-cultural community groups with economists with librarians with the medical association.

Reading the letters also gives a nice picture of the diversity of uses to which the data is put, and clarifies exactly why the census does ask things like:

  • when you commute to work (for transportation planning),
  • whether your home is in need of repair (for housing renewal strategizing), and
  • whether anyone living with you has a disability (for health care as well as community accessibility planning purposes).

Some of the letters are linked from the datalibre Census Watch list, and I encourage you to go skim some. However, I recognize that not everyone has the time, interest, or ability to read a bunch of advocacy letters.

That’s why what we need in Canada is a Census PSA campaign that mashes up the 2010 US Census style clear information-delivery with the uniquely Canadian aesthetic of the old skool ParticipACTION ads.

Any takers?



1 Comment

Filed under democracy, government, government information

One response to “Wanted: Catchy Census PSAs

  1. Pingback: A Day in my Life, with Census Data « Social Justice Librarian

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