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Bank of Canada History 1935 - 2023

Last Updated: January 24, 2024


  • The Bank of Canada is the nation’s central bank and their main purpose is to promote the economic and financial welfare of Canada.
  • Currently, the Bank of Canada is maintaining its policy rate at 5.00%
  • The next Bank of Canada announcement will be on March 6, 2024.

The background of the Bank of Canada

The Bank of Canada is a crown corporation that serves as the country’s central bank. It was established in 1934 by the Bank of Canada Act and is responsible for monetary policy and financial system regulation in Canada. Its primary mission is to “promote Canada’s economic and financial well-being.” Its principal tool for implementing monetary policy, led by a governing council, is the overnight rate target also known as the key policy rate. By adjusting this rate, it is possible to influence the supply of money circulating in the Canadian economy. It is also entirely responsible for Canadian currency issuance and distribution, as well as the control of foreign currency reserves.

  • 1935 (The beginning of the Bank of Canada)

    The Bank of Canada was founded as Canada’s central bank in 1934 and opened their doors and began operations, following the granting of royal assent to the Bank of Canada Act in March 1935. The Bank of Canada was privately owned at first, but became majority owned by the federal government in 1936 and fully nationalized in 1938. The main purpose of the Bank of Canada was “to regulate credit and currency in the best interests of the economic life of the nation, to control and protect the external value of the national monetary unit and to mitigate by its influence fluctuations in the general level of production, trade, prices and employment, so far as may be possible within the scope of monetary action, and generally to promote the economic and financial welfare of the Dominion”.

  • 1935 – 1955 (The Great Depression, World War II, Post-war period)

    In 1935, the Bank of Canada rate started at 2.50% and by 1945 it was at 1.50%. Canada played a vital role in supplying natural and manufactured resources to the Allies which helped the economy strengthen during the war. Employment of women also increased and the drop in the Bank rate encouraged people and businesses to borrow money to invest in new manufacturing plants and housing. After World War II, the Bank of Canada rate didn’t rise until October 1955 to 2.00%. This promoted investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, housing and consumer goods. When inflation began to rise in the early 1960s, then-Governor James Coyne ordered a reduction in the Canadian money supply.

  • 1977-1991 (Stagflation)

    After the rate raise in 1955, the Bank of Canada rate continued to rise throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. The benchmark rate hit double digits for the first time at 10.25% in October 1978. In August 1980, oil prices hit a record high and the Bank of Canada hit an all time high of 20.03% in August 1981.

  • 1991 – 2008 (Recovering economy)

    After the 1980s recession, the Bank of Canada rate went downwards between 1991-2009. The inflation target rate was introduced at the beginning of this period.

  • 2009 – 2017 (The Great Financial Crisis)

    Following the 2008 recession, the central Bank of Canada lowered interest rates to stimulate the economy and for the first time ever, the rate dipped below 1% to 0.5% in March 2009. There was a minor recovery in 2014 however oil prices dropped 60% which caused a recession in Canada’s export economy. In 2015, the Bank of Canada rate then dropped from 1.25% to 0.75%.

  • 2018 – Present (COVID-19)

    By the end of 2018, the Bank of Canada had raised rates up to 1.75% from a low of 0.5% in May 2017 in response to economic growth, and rates remained at 1.75% for the duration of 2019. COVID-19 impacts cause two 50 basis point drops in March 2020 where the rate was at 0.25% for two years to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on the economy. This was then followed by quantitative easing, where the Central Bank increased the money supply to create funds for government spending, but this led to the inflation rate reaching the highest it’s ever been in over 30 years at 4.80%. The Central Bank stopped its practice of quantitative easing by October 2021, and accelerated the timeline of increasing interest rates to pre-pandemic levels. The expansionary monetary and fiscal policy caused inflation and forced the BoC to start increasing rates in early 2022.

How does the Bank of Canada influence mortgage rates?

The Bank of Canada influences the interest rate for all borrowing and lending transactions in Canada through the key policy rate and other monetary policy measures. Changes in the key policy rate generally result in changes in bank Prime rates, which means the main policy rate has a major impact on variable mortgage rates based on a lender’s Prime rate.

Changes in the key policy rate and monetary policy can have an impact on fixed mortgage rates as well. Fixed mortgage rates typically track the yields on 5-year Government of Canada bonds. A change in monetary policy can cause changes in bond yields, which can then cause changes in fixed mortgage rates.

Why is the Bank of Canada Overnight Rate History important?

To better determine the mortgage rate forecast, it’s important to take into account historical trends. During the great recession in 2008, the economy was able to get back on track after requiring bailouts and stimulus to keep running. There was very low GDP growth for over 10 years after the 2008 recession, which resulted in low interest rates. From 2020 – 2023 there was a similar economic bailout due to covid. However, this time the stimulus was far greater, with over 40% of dollars ever created between 2020 – 2022. As a result of the shutdown of the economy and supply chains, difficulty restarting these supply chains as well as the war in Ukraine, inflation is significantly more as the economy stabilizes.

Historical trends show that significant new government debt combined with already massive debt can lead to dependence on even more cheap debt to stimulate the economy. This can lead to long term economic stagnation and an amplified effect of increased rates. There is five times more debt in the economy today, adjusted to inflation than in the 80’s and 90’s, so a 0.25% rate increase can make a much more significant impact compared to when debt levels were a fraction of what our levels are currently. When rates increased from 10% to 20% in the 1980s, this was a 2x rate increase. However, when rates increased from 0.25% to 4.50% in 2022-2023, this was actually a 16x rate increase which will impact the economy significantly more.

What is the Bank of Canada’s balance sheet?

A bank’s balance sheet shows that total assets equal total liabilities plus equity capital. The Bank of Canada has a zero book value policy on its balance sheet, matching total assets to total liabilities, and transfers any equity above this amount as a dividend to the Government of Canada.

What are the main roles of the Bank of Canada?

The main roles of the Bank of Canada are:

  • Implementing monetary policy: The BoC influences the supply of money circulating in the economy, using our monetary policy framework to keep inflation low and stable.
  • Producing and issuing bank notes: The BoC designs, issues and distributes Canada’s bank notes.
  • Monitoring the financial system: The BoC promotes safe, sound and efficient financial systems, within Canada and internationally. They also conduct transactions in financial markets in support of these objectives.
  • Funds management: The BoC is the “fiscal agent” for the Government of Canada, managing its public debt programs and foreign exchange reserves.
    Retail payments supervision: The BoC supervises payment service providers, according to the Retail Payment Activities Act.

Who is the current governor of the Bank of Canada?

Tiff Macklem was named Governor of the Bank of Canada for a seven-year term beginning June 3, 2020. As Governor, he also serves as Chair of the Bank’s Board of Directors and as a member of the Bank for International Settlements’ Board of Directors. He chairs the Group of Governors and Heads of Supervision, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision’s monitoring body, and co-chairs the Financial Stability Board’s Regional Consultative Group for the Americas.

Who were the previous Governors of the Bank of Canada?

Graham Towers1934–54
James Coyne1955–61
Louis Rasminsky1961–73
Gerald Bouey1973–87
John Crow1987–94
Gordon Thiessen1994–2001
David Dodge2001–08
Mark Carney2008–13
Stephen Poloz2013–2020
Tiff Macklem2020-Present
Alex Leduc

Alex Leduc

Alex Leduc is Founder and CEO at Perch. Prior to starting Perch, he worked in the real estate sector for 8 years in corporate finance, strategy and analytics roles. He is currently a Technical Advisory Committee Member of the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) and Co-Chair of the Canadian Lenders Association Mortgage Roundtable. Alex is a graduate of Ivey Business School from Western University and a CFA Charterholder. LinkedIn

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Once a month, we bring you the latest on what’s happening with mortgage rates, including our 5-year forecast