Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Plasticize THE LOONIE!

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We are ignoring the best thing that may come out of the introduction of our new plastic money.

It just might free us from the burden of hauling around all that "heavy metal." That is, if Canadians can develop the cojones Americans showed when their government tried to replace a paper buck with a dollar coin.

It was bad enough when the Canadian government phased out the dollar bill and replaced it with a loonie. All of a sudden, men found themselves hauling around pockets full of coins or developing piles from sitting on wallets with a bulging change compartment.

And then came the toonie. (We had already gotten rid of the very useful $2 bill which would be even handier today).

Every time the cash register rings up a total like $15.21, you know you're going to get a pile of change when you plunk down your $20.

It didn't used to be this way. We used to get some nice, light, convenient folding money you could tuck neatly away in your wallet or money clip.

Like they still get south of the border.

Some of you might recall when the American government introduced the "silver dollar." It had the head of some famous president or other historic figure on it and the American people embraced it.

As a collector's item.

But try to convince those Yankees to put a dollar coin into daily use and the answer was "Hail No!"

Yet here we are talking in Canada about going to a $5 coin!

The main value in using coins is that they last longer. I haven't personally done the math but supposedly it is less costly to replace coins every so often than it is to replace paper currency all too often.

But the new plastic currency has cojones of its own!

The new $100 plastic bill will last 2.5 times longer than the traditional paper-based notes, according to Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney. And it only costs twice as much to produce the new polymer currency (19 cents versus 10 cents).

Again, I haven't done the math but I accept the Bank of Canada's claim that the new money is economical.

The Canadian government is selling it mostly on its security features. Supposedly, it is much harder to counterfeit.

We should be using this sturdy new currency to replace all those costly coins.

Even better, the new bills are so thin and light, you can fit or sit on a hundred of them ($10,000) in your wallet comfortably. Okay, most of us would be jamming a hundred one-, two-, five-, 10- or 20-dollar bills but just think if you tried to haul around that amount of money in loonies, toonies and phony "finnies."

And, bonus!

They seem to be finding all sorts of funky images in the new money.

The see-through window on the new polymer looks like a woman's body to some.

They have even got focus groups studying the bills to spot "potential controversies."

So far, the DNA strand has been confused with The Big Dipper and sex toys. Religious iconography appears to be on the Peace Tower.

The plastic 50s are due out in March. Focus groups have already found ghost figures peering from the portholes of a Canadian icebreaker. Or perhaps it's skull and crossbones.

The rest of the denominations will be in circulation by 2013. Just think of all the things we shall find when everybody can get in on the action (those of us who never get a close look at a $100 bill)

If we had any guts or even smarts, we would be fading out the loonie and toonie at the same time and replacing them with good old (new) plastic one- and two- dollar bills.

Don Marks is a freelance writer in Winnipeg who rarely deals in currency in amounts larger than one or two dollars.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 19, 2011 j11

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