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Biz to decide the cent's worth

Merchants may still accept copper

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OTTAWA -- The penny took another step Monday on what could be a long road to extinction, with businesses given the short-term power of deciding whether they want to keep accepting them.

The Royal Canadian Mint officially ended its distribution of one-cent coins to financial institutions. But businesses can still accept the copper pieces as long as they choose, says Shelly Glover, the parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

"Pennies will retain their value indefinitely so they can continue to be used as long as they are available, and with businesses that are willing to accept them," Glover said at a Shoppers Drug Mart in Ottawa.

Flaherty announced the demise of the penny nearly a year ago as a cost-saving measure as the mint was spending more to make pennies than they were worth. The last penny made came out of the mint's Winnipeg facility in May of last year.

Retailers who decide to no longer accept pennies as part of cash payments will have to round up or down to the nearest five cents.

"When pennies are not available, cash payments will need to adapt," said Glover.

As an example, if a cash purchase totals $1.61 or $1.62, a retailer who doesn't want to deal with pennies would charge a customer $1.60. If the purchase adds up to $2.28 or $2.29, the customer would be charged $2.30.

The government calls it symmetrical rounding.

Essentially, any final cash amount that ends with a 1, 2, 6 or 7 would be rounded down to the nearest five- or 10-cent increment. Purchase totals ending in 3, 4, 8 and 9 would be rounded up.

Electronic purchases, such as those online or using debit or credit cards, will still be billed to the cent.

And businesses are being encouraged to stop using pennies, to make the transition work smoothly.

The Retail Council of Canada says it's ready, with its members given an extension of the time they needed to adapt to the change.

"We have worked collaboratively alongside departmental officials to help develop tools for our members to use during the phase-out," said Diane Brisebois, the council's president and CEO.

The government has also taken to social-media websites to let consumers and businesses know how to deal with the phase-out.

Renée Gruszecki, a Halifax academic and archivist, has spent the past year making a living through a jewelry business devoted primarily to preserving the country's stray cents.

About 30,000 strategically sorted pennies fill Gruszecki's home and eventually find their way into the accessories produced at Coin Coin Designs and Co.

Gruszecki, a longtime collector of lucky pennies, believes her pieces will help preserve a symbol that is both an object of superstition and a Canadian icon.

"The Maple Leaf is synonymous with everything Canadian. We all identify with it," she said. "Now it's just no longer going to be present among us, so I'm saddened by that."

The Bank of Canada's currency museum has taken steps to preserve the penny's place in Canadian culture. A mural consisting of nearly 16,000 one-cent pieces has been assembled at the museum to commemorate the coin's history.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2013 A4

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