Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A penny yearned

Collectors put their money on the copper coins before demise

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OTTAWA -- Penny lovers in Winnipeg flocked to the Royal Canadian Mint's gift shop to snap up rolls of the copper coin Friday now that its days are numbered.

Christine Aquino, spokeswoman for the mint in Winnipeg, said the penny's impending demise was getting a lot of attention.

"We've had a lot of calls about it," she said. "There are a lot of people coming in to our boutique to buy rolls of pennies."

Although Thursday's budget called for the penny to stop being distributed in the fall, production of the coin will cease in a few weeks.

Aquino said the exact date is yet to be decided. "This is quite a new announcement for us," she said.

Officials at the mint weren't told the plan ahead of the budget, although it had been discussed for years and it was generally accepted it would eventually happen, she said.

Numerous studies have been done on the penny in Canada, including by the Bank of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mint.

In 2010, a Senate committee studied the issue and didn't hear from a single witness who wanted to see the penny saved.

For years, Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin had suggested the penny be scrapped.

He was downright ecstatic after Thursday's budget announcment.

"Finally, some common sense from government," said.

Martin introduced a private member's bill at least three times to get rid of the penny.

Most businesses and charities said they favoured eliminating it because it costs more to collect and deposit the coins than they are worth.

It costs Canada 1.6 cents to produce each one-cent coin.

There are some business associations that want the government to use caution when implementing the change because it will take time and money to reprogram cash registers and retrain staff.

Although the penny will remain legal tender, it's expected it will gradually become less common and stores and restaurants will need to start rounding cash transactions to the closest nickel or dime.

Credit card, debit card and cheque transactions will still be calculated to the cent.

Last year, the mint distributed 1.1 billion pennies to the Bank of Canada to put into circulation. About half of them were minted at the Winnipeg plant; the others were recycled.

There will be no job losses at the Winnipeg mint on Lagimodiere Boulevard.

About 310 people work at the plant, which is the sole producer of Canadian coins.

The Royal Canadian Mint's Ottawa plant focuses on handcrafted collector and commemorative coins, gold bullion coins, medals and medallions.

Aquino said the mint expects some increase in production of both nickels and dimes as a result of the penny's loss, though it's not clear how much more will be minted.

The Winnipeg plant also does a robust business producing coins for other countries. In 2011, a billion coins were produced for 13 other countries. The mint produces about 20 million coins a day.

In 2010, there were 60 million nickels, 150 million dimes, 62 million quarters, 24 million loonies and eight million toonies minted in Winnipeg.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2012 A3

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