Provincial survey may not be representative

Self-selected sample and closed-ended questions limit feedback

Illustration by Justin Ladia

The Province of Manitoba released a new healthcare poll, but an expert says it’s not representative, and some are concerned it constrains discussion.

On Sept. 13, the province announced it would hold pre-budget consultations and survey people on controlling marijuana use, sustaining health care and balancing the budget. The public consultation process would include in-person town halls in several Manitoba cities starting in October, as well as telephone town halls.

An online survey, found at, was also created to solicit feedback from any Manitoban with internet access.

Dr. Christopher Adams is a political scientist based at the University of Manitoba’s St. Paul’s College who has deep experience in the polling industry.

Adams notes that web surveys, like the province’s, are based on self-selecting samples.

“You can’t generalize the results to what the general population is saying,” Adams says.

“They (the province) won’t be able to say that ‘Manitobans told us this.’ What they can say is ‘Manitobans that are interested in filling out our survey told us this,’” he says. A proper sample is where everyone in the population has the same chance of being selected, he says.

Dr. Jennifer Clary-Lemon is an associate professor in the University of Winnipeg’s Rhetoric, Writing and Communications department. Clary-Lemon has also taken the survey.

“I felt it was designed so that whoever responded to it would respond to the needs of the current government,” she says. Clary-Lemon says the heavy use of multiple choice responses closed off options to survey-takers.

When it comes to surveys like this, Clary-Lemon says she thinks “there is an ideal use, and then there’s probably a real use.” She says the ideal use is to guide policymaking, but Pallister has already hinted he may not use the survey results to guide policy.

Matthew Molnar is a Manitoba resident who saw the survey press release.

“The first thought (upon seeing the survey) was that it was another disingenuous attempt by a government to absolve themselves of responsibility for decision-making,” Molnar says.

He feels the survey is late in the game, as the province has already made changes to health care services. Because of this, Molnar believes the government will mainly use the survey to help rationalize previous decisions.

The range of options given in the survey are also an issue for some. Clary-Lemon believes that the range of choices limits the creativity of Manitobans, who may be able to come up with other solutions.

Molnar agrees that the survey is limiting. Particularly, he notes the first question under the sustaining health care section of the survey presents four options for preserving care: raising income taxes, increasing deficit-based financing, finding efficiencies or cutting other government programs.

Molnar believes there are alternative options, such as raising different types of taxes, that were not presented in the survey.

Adams believes the motivations for putting out a survey like are so the province can say they consulted with Manitobans.


Published in Volume 72, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 28, 2017)

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