Canadians “flying blind” on census

by Our Vancouver Correspondent

One of Canada’s most authoritative voices on immigration and demographic trends is worried that the abandoning of the long-form census will prevent experts like him from answering this crucial question: are ethnic enclaves also hotbeds of poverty and joblessness?

Dan Hiebert, professor of geography at the University of British Columbia (UBC) who has been studying and writing about Canada’s evolving demographics for over a decade, calls the shift from the long-form census to a voluntary National Household Survey (NHS) in 2011 “a major mistake.” The first findings from the NHS were released on May 8 – including a detailed snapshot of immigration and settlement patterns. For instance, it reported that 62.5 per cent of recent immigrants between 2006 and 2011 live in the cities of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

“What we really need is a long-form census in 2016 … Hopefully, the current difficulties we are having with the NHS will encourage the Cabinet to revisit this issue and reinstate a known and reliable method of collecting data of vital national significance in 2016.”

Prof. Hiebert released the third part of an ongoing study on the emergence of ethnic enclaves last summer (July 2012) which – based on 2006 census data – attempted to forecast the demographic landscape of Canada’s three premier cities in the year 2031. Driven by new immigration and high fertility among the newcomers, all three cities will see huge demographic shifts by 2031. In that year, only 50 per cent of Montreal’s citizens will be able to trace their family history to their grandparents’ generation in Canada. In Toronto, that percentage will be only 20 per cent and in Vancouver only 27 per cent.

Here are his main findings from the report titled “A new residential order?” –

·         Toronto 2031 – 63 per cent of the population will be Visible Minority; 1.4 million South Asian Canadians, 650,000 Chinese-Canadians, 270,000 Canadians of African ancestry, and 200,000 Arab-Canadians will live in enclaves dominated by specific ethno-cultural groups. The top five Visible Minority groups (in descending order) will be South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino and West Asian (Arab).

·         Vancouver 2031 – 59 per cent of the city will be Visible Minority, but the number of single-group enclaves will be fewer than in Toronto, but Whites and Visible Minorities will tend to live in different parts of the metropolis. The top groups will be Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, Korean and West Asian (Arabs).

·         Montreal 2031 – the city will see more “White citadels” with nine of 10 Whites living in White-dominated neighbourhoods. An estimated 750,000 Blacks and Arabs will live in Montreal in enclaves that will also tend to be poor. The main groups will be Black, Arab, Chinese, Latin American and South Asian.

Enclaves of poverty

It is this economic aspect that has Prof. Hiebert worried. He is keenly awaiting the release of neighbourhood-level data by Statistics Canada, to see if his forecast is on the right trajectory. Based on 2006 data, the UBC professor was not unduly alarmed, stressing in his report that it is wrong to necessarily link ethnic segregation with poverty. There were indications that Montreal was witnessing a coincidence of poor economic performance among immigrants and the growth of ethnic enclaves, but Vancouver showed no such trend – that is, segregation did not appear to influence average household wages. Toronto was somewhere in between.

Written in the wake of riots in Paris and London that pitted poor immigrants against an uncaring state, the Canadian demographer said his report raises similar “crisis of confidence” issues beyond immigrant isolation. Integration, he said, is what will make the difference. “[I]f integration fails, newcomers are unemployed and the children of immigrants fail in the education system, we could expect the strained social relations seen, for example, in the banlieue neighbourhoods of Paris.”  

Data quality in question

If there was a silver lining in his last report to the nation, it was that Canada does not have a true “ghetto,” which typically suffers from an extreme degree of segregation. Prof. Hiebert defined the term as a neighbourhood “where a single Visible Minority group constitutes at least 60 per cent of the population; at least 30 per cent of the group lives in these types of areas; and the incidence of low income is double that of the larger metropolitan population.” Although the term “ghettoization” has gained currency in recent years, Canada had no areas of extreme ethnic segregation and low income in 2006.

Do we have any ghettoes now? “It is too soon to say. We need the data. But we also might not be able to answer this question given the quality of NHS data.”

Prof. Hiebert’s latest comments should not come as a surprise. In a footnote contained in the study released last year, he said this: “Most unfortunately, the National Household Survey (NHS) that replaced the census of 2011 will not enable us to make an interim assessment of the projections, since no one can say what the degree of error will be in the NHS at the scale of Census Tracts. Until we know the true value of data collected in that survey, Canadians will ‘fly blind’ in terms of the micro-geographic patterns analyzed in this study.”

The translation: Despite spending a reported $650 million on the NHS, we may not have reliable data to validate or rebut Prof. Hiebert’s projections into 2031.- New Canadian Media

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