In 1999 the Bank of Canada commissioned Compas Inc. to undertake a survey among the general public to explore familiarity with, and perceptions of, the Bank and its activities. A total of 2,028 interviews were completed during October 1999. A survey this size is considered to be accurate within +/- 2.2%, 19 times out of 20 (most conservative estimate).

The survey findings indicate that the general public has limited familiarity with the Bank. Slightly less than one-third claimed to be even somewhat familiar with the Bank and its operations (few are very familiar). As well, almost half were unable to point to anything when asked to describe what the Bank does. And of the items that were identified, few were cited with any frequency. Only a third offered 'correct' responses of what the Bank is or does (with the main focus on the setting of interest rates), while 18% were 'partly right'. A noteworthy minority views the Bank as a commercial bank like others.

High levels were also uncertain or wrong about what the Bank is trying to accomplish when it raises or lowers interest rates. However, the level of understanding tends to increase as one moves from the general (what the Bank does) to the specific, most particularly when the focus is on lowering interest rates. For the latter, slightly more than half offered 'correct' responses. While some of this can be explained through the design of the questionnaire itself (we gave them a little information as we went along), many people appear to have an easier time understanding the Bank's motivation in lowering rates, compared to increasing them. For many, this is likely rooted in their own personal experience with interest rates, and the positive impact that lower rates can have on their own financial situation.

In short, the research suggests that familiarity with the Bank is neither widespread, nor deep. It appears that between 25%-30% of the public has a general understanding of what the Bank does (i.e. broad outlines only, better with some prompting). Considerably fewer have what might be regarded as a good understanding, likely limited to the small number (5%) who claimed to be very familiar with the Bank and its operations.

When asked whether the actions of the Bank have an effect in a number of areas, respondents perceived the biggest impact to be on the cost of borrowing money and the value of the Canadian dollar. In these two areas, more than half think the Bank has a significant impact. The Bank's impact was seen to be least regarding the price of goods and services, and on economic growth and job creation (although approximately a third still see a big impact).

In terms of information about interest rates and other economic news, people are most likely to use commercial banks (about one-quarter), followed by newspapers and television.

Demographically, men, non-youth and the higher educated are more likely than others to be familiar with the Bank and understand its purpose. However, majorities in each of these groups still tend to have relatively low levels of awareness/knowledge. Regional differences were relatively small, although Ontario residents are the most likely to think they are familiar with the Bank, Quebecers the least likely to think this, Atlantic residents somewhat less knowledgeable about related issues, and the West more likely to view the Bank as a commercial bank.