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The penny drops


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So... a penny-less Canada. How's that working out for you?

Over the weekend I had to tear myself away from the sweet sounds of spring to go to the grocery store, away from the faint, sporadic "bump-bumps" made by sleepy bumblebees as they flew away from newly flowering bushes and hit the kitchen window.

"We needed honey," I thought to myself and off to the honey-selling store I went. No bees were actually killed in the creation of that idea; they lightly bounced off the window and flew away.

When I got to the checkout of the big box outlet I was visiting I saw a sign explaining the niceties of their change-giving protocol now that the one-cent coin has been rendered too-expensive-to-produce/unnecessary-to-our-greater-economic-goals by the Harper government.

The sign explained that when a purchased item plus tax came to $1.01 or $1.02 it would be rounded down to a dollar, if it came to $1.03 or $1.04 it would be rounded up to $1.05, because so far nickels are still in favour at the mint and the Prime Minister's Office.

That seems fair, though I'm still curious about the math and what I feel are the missing numbers that they'd like us to just forget about. What is the percentage of overall sales in this country in the $1.01 to $1.02 range (leading to a "loss" to the retailer of one or two cents) vs. the percentage of overall sales in the $1.03 to $1.04 range (leading to a "loss" to the consumer of one or two cents)?

There is a real, quantifiable amount. I want to know what it is and so far I've seen nothing. I haven't even seen the question asked, so I'm asking it.

I've had experiences in the last few weeks where $1.01 has been rounded up to $1.05 rather than down to a buck, meaning no gain for the consumer. Stores and other companies that take money from consumers are under no obligation to play nice.

Do shoppers come out looking like whining asses if they complain about four cents? Sure they do and we're easy going and pliable and passive aggressive so we don't complain, eh, but as our grandmothers told us the pennies do add up.

Since we shop and buy and order things every day as individuals, let's assume we're currently paying a dollar more due to "loss-making" penny-related transactions over the period of a week. You're a store owner? OK, let's assume you lose a couple of bucks a day doing it the other way. Whatever the truth is, I guarantee that the amounts are not cancelled out. Someone is losing. How many millions in cash transactions around the whole country does that add up to over that week? Over a month? Six months? Colour me curious.

I know, I know, shut up and pay electronically. Yeah, but...

The demise of the penny was promoted by the federal government's Economic Action Plan for Canada, they of the expensive marketing campaign with TV adverts where actors playing nice middle-class people walk on beaches or get work as ship welders.

On the Economic Action Plan's webpage entitled "Eliminating the Penny" (one imagines a stiletto knife and prolonged screaming) is the following:

"Retailers and other businesses can continue to price goods and services in one-cent increments and there will be no obligation to reprogram cash registers. When settling transactions in cash where pennies are not available, businesses are expected to round prices in a fair, consistent, and transparent manner."

Don't assume I am on team penny no matter what. I just want to know what's really happening.

At least $11 million in production costs is meant to be saved per year in the move to eliminate the penny. Someone else took the trouble to estimate the cost to the Canadian economy of folks standing in line to simply get pennies for change — that apparently costs $20 million per annum. Phew, that's a lot of time wasted in line to get some copper. How did they manage to get that number estimated? Were they able to separate all the bank runs for quarters and dimes and loonies?

Political optics are an interesting thing, especially if you are predisposed towards satire, as I am.  According to the federal government's annual report on advertising spending for 2011/2012, which was released on March 11, the Tories spent $78.5 million on federal advertising, covering everything from the War of 1812 (quick ­— for 10 points — who won and how?) to fighting drug abuse. Of that amount, $21 million was spent on promoting the Economic Action Plan.

CBC political blogger Andy Radia took that $21 million and spent it hypothetically on other things: Six MRI machines for hospitals, one year's worth of salaries for 250 police officers, 160 social housing units, 4.2 million hot meals for Canada's homeless... and one year's worth of salaries and housing allowances for every Canadian senator.

A penny for your thoughts.

How did the honey-buying trip go? Thanks for asking. The final cost came to $3.92 or in the brave new world $3.90. I was two cents on top. Win.


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