Geek looking at data

Making Sense of the 2021 Census

Published May 27, 2021, 10:35 AM by Environics Analytics
Environics Analytics and Statistics Canada review the importance of the Canadian census and what is new in Census 2021


The census is the only source that provides key information about everyone right down to their local neighbourhood level and it happens every five years in Canada.

At Environics Analytics, we use the census to provide small area data to our customers. It helps us project into the future and allows us to leverage all the great data assets available to the marketplace. Customer data tell us about the people that we already have a marketing and customer relationship with. Census data tell us about everyone. By combining these data, we can identify untapped potential, look at the divide between online and offline experiences, and help organizations get the right messages to the right people at the right time. These kinds of data and analytics make people’s lives better – not just our lives as analysts and data geeks, but the lives of all Canadians.


“As a user of data and a long-time participant of what I like to call the national statistical system, I want to remind everyone how important it is that we have great participation in this census. I am asking you fill out the census and encourage others to do so.”
Jan Kestle, President of Environics Analytics  


Why census results matter for individuals, governments and businesses

A national census paints the portrait of a society and tracks how it is changing. It helps to understand who lives in your country, where they live, and the changing economic trends.


Here a few reasons why the census is essential to the well-being of our society:

  • The department of finance relies on census counts to calculate transfer payments to the provinces. In turn, the provinces rely on these data to transfer money appropriately to municipalities.
  • Census data are used to determine representation in parliament. The growing number of seats in parliament correlates to a census count that says that there is enough population in an area to have its own member of parliament.
  • Cities and towns are planned using census data. Census data are used to plan for daycares, schools, hospitals, public transportation, road infrastructure, emergency services and more.
  • Informing business decisions. Environics Analytics models census data into several comprehensive data products to help businesses and organizations understand the communities they serve, at the local level.
  • Benchmarking. Any survey that Statistics Canada does is benchmarked against census counts. Polling companies use the census as a foundational benchmark as do many other organizations.


What's different in 2021 compared to prior census surveys

For Statistics Canada, the primary goal in conducting the census is to collect quality data. While some countries chose to suspend their census due to the continued hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada chose to adapt the program to a new reality, with safety and accessibility considerations top of mind. 


In 2021 the following changes were made to administer the census survey: 

  • By and large, the 2021 Census was contact-free. Access codes were provided to households to then complete the census online.
  • For the first time, Indigenous, remote, and northern communities were offered the option to complete the census online.
  • Paper versions were made available for those without access to the online questionnaire or who preferred to complete the paper version.
  • In-person support or follow-ups were conducted by numerators equipped with masks and who remained outdoors at a six-foot distance.
  • All geographic regions took part in the census at the same time, unlike previous surveys where early participation was possible.  
  • For the first time, Statistics Canada hired locally in Indigenous, remote, and northern communities rather than sending in people from outside. At the time of this panel, more than 3000 applications from people living in Indigenous communities had been submitted.
    • Statistics Canada worked directly with administrators at collective dwellings like long-term care homes to fill out information through administrative records, ensuring the safety of residents.
    • A one-time question to ask about Canadian military experience was added. 


    What remained the same:

    • Short-form and long-form versions of the census survey.
    • One in four households received the long-form version.  
      • Extensive consultations were held to ensure census data continue to provide relevant information for individuals, governments, and businesses to inform important decision-making.
      • More than 32,000 people were hired to help Statistics Canada with the census across Canada.


        New questions in the 2021 Census

        The 2021 census saw the addition of new questions to the short-form survey in response to initial consultations and happenings in our society. The short-form survey collects key demographic information including name, sex, date of birth, age, marital status, family status, knowledge of official languages, languages spoken at home, and mother tongue. For the first time in history, it also includes questions about gender and sex at birth. Canada is now one of the few countries that are asking both of these questions. Also new in this year’s census is a question about Canadian military experience, intended to be asked once and maintained as a record that can be updated with administrative data.

        Long-form survey questions consider the activities of daily living, place of birth and citizenship, ethnocultural diversity, First Nations, Métis and Inuit status, questions around mobility, moving, education, labour market activities and commuting, and expenditures and housing. Statistics Canada has asked about Religion every ten years since 1871, in the year that ends in "one". Religion is on the 2021 census.


        New questions on the long-form survey include:

        • Instruction in the official minority language to identify rightsholders of a minority language.
        • Membership in a Métis organization or Settlement.
        • Enrollment under an Inuit land claims agreement.
        • Labour questions to understand multiple job holders and reasoning behind not working a whole year and reasoning behind only working part-time.
        • Use of multiple modes of transportation to get to work. 

          Why census data matter to Environics Analytics

          Census data are the foundation of much information used for decision-making in our businesses today. We use census data as a steppingstone to take all the great market research and survey data from public and private sector sources and create behaviour and media preferences, psychographics, and other important information that gets tied into the Environics Analytics ecosystem

          A few of our databases that incorporate or easily connect to census data include CensusPlusDemoStats, AccultuRates and our leading segmentation system, PRIZM®.

          We are using census data extensively in our new product development, where we’re harnessing big data, mobile movement data, and other kinds of behavioural data from large data sources, including the internet of things and other tracking studies. We are bringing it into our ecosystem to produce information about what happened last week or last month. We can then use PRIZM® and demographics and wealth data to set a baseline and look at current pandemic recovery and future post-pandemic behaviour. 


          Watch the full "Making Sense of the Census" presentation, here.

          Making sense of the Census 2021 promotional banner


          Related Content

          Discover which of the 67 unique PRIZM lifestyle types make up a neighbourhood. Try the PRIZM postal code lookup.

          The Impact of COVID-19 on Population, Employment, Social and Economic Trends in Canada

          The Implications of COVID-19 on Retail Sales, Restaurants and Bars

          Environics Analytics Captures a Variety of COVID-19 Related Data


          PRIZM is a registered trademark of Claritas, LLC.


          About Statistics Canada

          Statistics Canada produces statistics that help Canadians better understand their country—its population, resources, economy, society and culture. Every year, it conducts about 350 active surveys on virtually all aspects of Canadian life, including the national Census every five years. The Census of Population provides high-quality information on key socioeconomic trends and analysis that helps Canadians make important decisions that affect our families, our neighbourhoods and our businesses. For more information on the 2021 Census, visit


          Back to top