When the penny was dropped, Canadians didn’t hesitate to give their two cents.
Word that the federal government had scrapped the one-cent piece as part of its 2012 budget instantly touched off strong reaction across the country.
Everyone from coin collectors to armchair economists hastened to offer a penny for each others thoughts after learning the coin was enduring its last gasp as a form of viable currency.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the penny’s production costs now exceed its worth. Each coin costs 1.6 cents to mint, or a total of $11 million a year. The last penny is due to be struck this fall.
Twitter was abuzz with the news within minutes of Thursday’s announcement. For every cry of indignation, another comment would appear praising the government for being so penny wise.
Within mere minutes of the news breaking a Twitter account dedicated to saving the penny was set up and unleashed a torrent of quips about the impending demise of the copper coin.
“Want my two cents? This sucks,” tweeted the operator of the account aptly named SaveThePenny, which took the persona of the coin. “I was such a pretty penny too.”
Some Canadians seemed to express a degree of sadness over the death of the penny and threw their support behind a call to save the coin.
“Soon a child will be born that will never understand the saying of a penny saved is a penny earned,” tweeted one person. “No penny means I can’t say ‘penny for your thoughts’ anymore,” lamented another.
Colleen MacIsaac, a theatre worker in Halifax, said she would honestly miss the penny.
“I have often not had very much money in my life,” said the 26-year-old. “So there’s been many a time when I’ve been scrimping through the bottom of my purse and been able to collect the last five pennies that have been able to allow me to purchase something.”
Others, however, expressed something more akin to mock dismay.
“Without the penny, what will misers pinch?!” tweeted one user. “Canada got rid of the penny? BUT THAT DOESN’T MAKE ANY CENTS,” quipped another.
Still more expressed sheer joy over plans to scrap the lowest physical form of Canada’s currency.
“I AM SO EXCITED!!! The Penny is finally going to be killed! This should have happened years ago,” tweeted one user.
Christine Gossland, 24, from Vancouver, will not miss the penny.
“I don’t think we should have the penny anymore,” said Gosselin, who just finished her degree in public relations. “I don’t think that it’s really very helpful. They accumulate, people throw them out. It’s like money being thrown out all the time.”
Amid all the chatter however, a thread of serious discussion emerged over whether the government was using news of its penny plans to divert attention away from other, more contentious, cuts in the budget.
“The penny is a dumb distraction. The pennies, or nickels, we will have to earn working years longer before retirement are far more important,” tweeted one person, referring to the government’s plan to gradually move the age of eligibility for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement to 67 from 65.
“Killing the penny to distract from real budget issues. Its death has been in the works for ages, well played to announce on bdgt12,” said another.
On the retail side, word of the coin’s demise came as good news to at least one store owner.
For Mary Pascale, co-owner of Pascale Gourmet in Toronto, the penny has been nothing but a nuisance for customers who stop in to stock up on Italian bread, wedges of high-end cheeses and other delicacies whose price tags often come in a cent or two under the dollar.
Rounding up or down to the nearest five-cent denomination makes all the sense in the world, she said.
“I honestly do that already because it takes time to count all the change,” Pascale said. “For me it’s positive. I can use the slot for something else.”
Catherine Serge, a 57-year-old Montreal programmer, was concerned about the prospect of prices being rounded up.
“I’m sentimental about it but I can understand that it’s very costly. But I also worry about the price jumps now — instead of being six cents, seven cents of course it’s going to be rounded up to the nearest nickel. It’s bad and good.”
Meanwhile, some who study coins for a living saw Thursday’s announcement as the end of an era that predates confederation.
Coin dealer Tom Preston of the Calgary Coin Gallery said the coin was first produced in 1858 and has remained in relatively heavy rotation since then. Despite its historical value, Preston believed its swan song is long overdue.
“It should have been done years ago,” he said. “A penny doesn’t buy anything anymore. It’s inflated itself out of usefulness.”
Preston said he’s been preparing for the penny’s demise for years, stocking up on rare coins produced when fewer one-cent pieces were being struck.
Such items will be hot collectors items for years to come, he said, adding even more common coins will begin piling up in shoeboxes across the country. The penny will likely be out of circulation three years from its final minting, he said.
Pennies will still be legal tender, but as they slowly vanish from circulation, prices will have to be rounded up or down.
If the customer has the pennies, they can use them. Payments with debit or credit cards, or cheques, can also be to the penny. But if the customer is paying cash and doesn’t have the pennies, the total will go up or down to the nearest nickel.
Highlights from the Conservative government’s 2012 budget, released Thursday:
— Production of the penny to cease this fall, saving an estimated $11 million a year.
— Deficit projected to fall $8.5 billion, to $24.9 billion for 2011-12, to decline to $21.1 billion next year and to disappear by 2015.
— More than $5 billion in cuts to annual federal spending by 2014-15.
— Job cuts: 19,200 federal positions to be eliminated, or 4.8 per cent of the federal workforce.
— Age of eligibility for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement to gradually move to 67 from 65, beginning in 2023.
— $5.2 billion over 11 years to renew and refit the Canadian Coast Guard’s fleet of vessels and helicopters.
— Eligible Canadians to be allowed to defer old age security for a maximum of five years, beginning in 2013, in exchange for higher benefits.
— $1.1 billion in research and development over five years, plus $500 million to encourage venture capital investment by the private sector.
— First Nations reserves: $275 million over three years for schools and education, $330.8 million over two years to improve water systems and water quality.
— CBC to lose 10 per cent of annual funding.
— Return $130 million in fees to nearly 300,000 would-be Canadian immigrants to eliminate backlog in skilled-worker applications;
— $482 million over two years to improve the effectiveness of the employment insurance system, including incentives for accepting work and ensuring benefit levels align with local labour market conditions.
— Cap on annual increases to employment insurance premiums until operating budget is balanced.
— $205 million for a one-year extension of a temporary hiring credit for small businesses.
— $50 million over two years to provide job skills training for young people.