Backgrounder on Business Outlook Survey data by region, sector and firm size

Every quarter, the Bank of Canada surveys about 100 firms and publishes the resulting narrative and related data in the Business Outlook Survey (BOS). Firms are asked to participate based on several criteria—most importantly, their region, sector and size.1

BOS data are typically published as averages over the entire sample of firms surveyed each quarter. However, data are also available by region, sector and firm size. Starting with the winter 2020–21 BOS publication, averages for these categories will be made available to the public. This will help improve the transparency of both the BOS and the Bank’s monetary policy analysis. It will also provide observers of the Canadian economy with additional information to better understand the current economic context and trends.

These data will be released as four-quarter moving averages, given the small sample size. This reduces variability in results and maintains the confidentiality of firms surveyed. Data will be available for all core BOS series and will cover the topics of business activity; pressures on production capacity; and wages, prices and inflation. These data will be released for the period that begins in the first quarter of 2004.

Several caveats should be kept in mind when using these data:

  • The averages are based on a small number of firms, and any inferences drawn from the data should take that into account.
    • When the Bank uses these data, their reliability is corroborated with other sources of information. These include external data sources as well as narratives obtained from the face-to-face conversations Bank staff have with firms during the quarterly survey.
    • Table 1 defines each category. It also presents the number of firms that are targeted and the average number actually sampled over four quarters since 2004Q1.
  • Movements in these categories of BOS data may not align with current-quarter aggregated BOS data because of the use of four-quarter moving averages.
  • The BOS evolves over time, and some data series may change or be discontinued without notice.

Table 1: Business Outlook Survey sample sizes, by category

 DefinitionFour-quarter target sampleAverage number of firms surveyed over four quarters, 2004Q1–2020Q3
AtlanticProvinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick6059
QuebecProvince of Quebec8080
OntarioProvince of Ontario100101
PrairiesProvinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, territory of Nunavut, and Northwest Territories8084
British ColumbiaProvince of British Columbia and territory of Yukon8079
PrimaryNAICS codes 11 and 214446
ManufacturingNAICS codes 311 to 3398885
Construction, information, transportation and utilitiesNAICS codes 22, 23, 48, 49 and 518889
TradeNAICS codes 41, 44 and 456061
Finance, insurance and real estateNAICS codes 52 and 535656
Commercial, personal and business servicesNAICS codes 54, 55, 56, 71, 72 and 816466
Firm size
SmallFirms with 10 to 99 employees132127
MediumFirms with 100 to 499 employees132139
LargeFirms with 500 or more employees136136

Note: NAICS is the North American Industry Classification System.

  1. 1. For more information on how the BOS sample is determined, please see D. Amirault, N. Rai and L. Martin, “A Reference Guide for the Business Outlook Survey,” Bank of Canada Staff Discussion Paper No. 2020-15 (December 2020).[]