Canadian penny lacks currency: committee

OTTAWA — Will no one say a kind word for the humble penny?

OTTAWA — Will no one say a kind word for the humble penny?

Cursed for weighing down trouser pockets, discarded and forgotten in jars, deserted on dresser tops and even spurned by panhandlers, the Canadian penny may be coming to the end of its 102-year run.

The Senate finance committee urged the government to rid the country of the lowly coin, damning it as useless and wasteful — the worst offences possible for an icon of commerce.

Senator Irving Gerstein said not one witness who came forward to testify to the committee — not coin collectors, nor charities — did so in praise of the copper-plated coin.

“It is a piece of currency, quite frankly, that lacks currency,” he said.

Even neo-socialist Pat Martin takes a steely-eyed, bottom-line approach when it comes to the penny.

“There is no rational business case for continuing to produce the penny,” says the New Democrat MP, who has made its eradication a long-standing cause.

The irony, he lamented, is that it was one obsolete and useless body — the Senate — that had the moxy to start the process of getting rid of the most obsolete and useless of coins.

“I guess the Senate’s No. 1,” he grimaced.

The the evidence against the penny appears overwhelming.

Every year the Canadian mint must stamp out about 1.2 billion pennies, mostly because Canadians take them out of circulation — a nice way to say they just discard them.

To make matters worse, it costs 1.5 cents to make and distribute each one, hardly a sound business strategy.

The Desjardins Group has calculated production, storage, transportation and other expenses associated with the penny costs the economy $130 million a year.

The final nail may be simply that the penny no longer punches its own weight. It is only worth about five per cent, in relative terms, to its value when it was put in circulation in 1908.

That means that in 1908, Canadians got along fine with a currency where the lowest-value denomination was worth the equivalent of 20 cents today.

“If it’s reached the point that if it drops on the ground you don’t know whether it’s worth the strain on your back to pick it up, it’s probably time to get rid of it,” said CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld.

Sentimentality is what sustains the coin on life support, said Senator Joseph Day, the chair of the committee.

Purveyors of age-old bromides built around the coin may rue its demise, said Carleton University English professor Robert Holton.

But Holton says “A penny for your thoughts,” “penny wise, pound foolish,” or a “penny saved is a penny earned,” will maintain its value in expressions and writing for some time.

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