Restricting Access to the Annual Population Estimates Compendium
from Statistics Canada
by William Warren Munroe, June 15, 2009

Where are all the datasets going?

Every year, I purchase (what I consider to be) the most valuable dataset available in Canada, for the low low (reasonable, publicly accessable) price of sixty dollar ($60), the Annual Population Estimates Compendium from Statistics Canada. This vital, fundamental descriptor of Canada to the Census Division level provides the components of population change by age and sex for each year since 1971.

This is the single most important dataset created by Statistics Canada. Population estimates are fundamental to social, and economic estimates and forecasts, because population is the denominator for many of the indicators of economic and social activity. What is the employment rate without an estimate of the number of people over 15? How do we decide whether health and educational facilities should be opened or closed? To quote the popular demographer, David Foot, demographics explain two-thirds of everything.

During the course of many conversations with the Demography Division of Statistics Canada recently, I found out that access to the Compendium is being restricted.

I was told the Compendium might not be issued next year because there is not enough interest in the product to justify its cost of production. The population will still be estimated, paid for by tax payers, but access to the estimates may be more costly. Indeed, the price for the output may double. I was also told that Statistics Canada would keep a list of people and organizations who will receive the data annually. The Compendium is so important to planning that it should be made available to everyone so that we can stay informed and make better decisions.

Next year, our community will be revisiting the Official Community Plan (OCP). The foundation upon which the plan is based is on population estimates. Why is there a barrier between the data and the citizens involved in the OCP? Last year there were meetings about the closing of elementary schools and this year (as in previous years) there have been meetings regarding the shortage of health care facilities. Opening up the data and making it readily available will help people make better decisions.

Statistics Canada's most important output is the Population Compendium. You can purchase it online thru the Demography Division for $60. Buy it for yourself and tell others to do the same. Buy it for a present, or special occasion. Better yet, write and ask that the data be made available online on a queriable website with graphic outputs. Use the information to see what has occurred and also use the data to forecast what might occur. Understanding population change can save money and refine planning.

Let Statistics Canada know that you want the Population Compendium data to be freely and widely accessible. We already pay for the estimates. Now we need only provide them readily at as low a cost as possible. By making the data available on line, the costs would be reduced drastically. Contact Statistics Canada and let them know what you think.

What is in the Population Estimates Compendium?

As you would expect, as people have gotten better at gathering and storing data, the detail has improved over time, so that by 1986, the data provides the number of people by single year of age and by sex, to the Census Division level (also referred to as Regional Districts in BC and Counties in Ontario).

The Compendium has estimates for births and deaths, as well as migration in and out of CDs, across scale...that means migration in and out between CDs within a province as well as migration between provinces and those moving between Canada and other countries.

The population estimates can be distributed for a fraction of the current price.

I asked the demographer from Statistics Canada, whether the Compendium would be provided online as a download, thereby reducing the cost of turning the data into a hard copy, (if you can call a Compact Disc a hard copy), and sending it out by slow mail. She was not sure what is going to happen, but that things are going to change.

I suggested that the data be made available on a site like cansim, where a person could query the dataset. For example, someone could choose the CDs or provinces/territories of interest, for which ever age or age group, for which ever scale and direction (in or out) and generate a graph on the fly as well as receive a table output. This is all doable and much less costly. Indeed, we pay far more than we should because the technology is here now and is under utilized.

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