Posts tagged ‘Canada’

May 2, 2011

The habit of voting: start early, vote often

rick mercer makes a pursed point

Image by clang boom steam via Flickr

Rick Mercer has been suggesting youth take a date to the federal election today. His earlier rant, at the beginning of the campaign, sparked vote mobs on campuses across the country. His words carry the weight of research.

Being eighteen-years-old is about the worst time to introduce youth to voting, according to a University doctoral student I met recently at a farewell reception for the now-defunct Centre for Urban Health Initiatives. Likely to be at a more tumultuous time of their lives, living in a new community, eighteen-year-olds are less likely to vote than the former age-of-majority, twenty-one-year olds. And when we don’t vote, she explained to us gathered around, it becomes a habit.

So the call to drop the voting age to sixteen makes a lot of sense. Youth, normally still living in familiar surroundings, would make their first foray into voting on more stable ground.

In fact, our grad student’s own research focuses levels of voting among immigrants. She is finding that those without the culture and habit of voting are less likely to exercise their franchise when they come to Canada. 

“If  I were king of the world,” she said, “I would make voting at least once a pre-requisite for citizenship.” Her doctoral work, not yet complete, gives weight to calls to allow city residents, despite their citizenship status, to vote in municipal elections.

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April 11, 2011

Statistics Canada 2011’s long form census questionnaire will play out neighbourhood by neighbourhood

Within less than a month, Canadians will be filling in the new census forms delivered to our front doors, which we all have to answer. One month later,  a third of us will be given the voluntary long form, now called the National Household Survey.

People smarter than me have pointed out how this new format will hurt the reliability of the census. We know that low-income people and others who are not included in full civic  participation are less likely to participate. And, frankly, if they are not counted, then the government will look good.

“Look, fewer poor people in Canada!” And then, because dollars follow the evidence presented, “We can cut some of those costly support programs.”

That exact logic has some of us in the community sector worried. If people in our neighbourhoods are not counted, we will not be able to make the case for the need.

Toronto had a more small scaled rehearsal of this census “undercount” problem in 2006. Key Toronto organizations, City of Toronto staff and local academic researchers all raised concerns about undercounting in some key Toronto neighbourhoods. As a result, Statistics Canada went out and re-sampled the target areas.

In fact, when the Inner City Advisory Committee at the Toronto District School Board looked at the last census, they also worried about the undercounting problem and moved a motion to encourage local schools to set up form-filling clinics to help parents to complete the census.

Schools and community agencies are close enough on the ground to reach people who live in basement apartments, or who speak one of the official languages as a third or fourth language, or who have limited literacy skills. These are the people who are less likely to fill in the census form — especially if it is voluntary — so helping them to do so, helps build a more accurate picture of the neighbourhood.

On the other hand, some are arguing that we should boycott the voluntary long census form. The data, by most measures, will be unusable because the methodology has changed so much. Any data collected this way cannot be compared with earlier censuses. “Why participate?” they ask.

So, in the end, what community agencies and local schools are left with the prisoner’s dilemma.

  • If some of us, working for the benefit of our local community, support a higher response rate, our neighbourhoods will be helped,  but others, who didn’t do the additional outreach, will be hurt in the comparison.
  • If none of us work to support a higher response rate, then the resultant undercounts will hurt our clients.
  • And the final option, that we will all work to improve the census, seems the most unlikely scenario of all.

What we choose, and what others choose, will have consequences for all of us.

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