Monday, March 14, 2016

Let's take all the faces off Canada's banknotes

Canada is grappling with political correctness again, and no doubt it will end in tears. Again. The powers that be have decided it is past time that one of Canada's banknotes should have a female face on it - other than the Queen who is already featured on our $20 notes - and of course no-one can decide which (face, or banknote). The USA recently went down this same route, and decided on African-American abolitionist and ex-slave Harriet Tubman, whose face now gaces the US $20 note in place of former president Andrew Jackson.
Given that the current faces on our notes are all ex-Prime Ministers, that automatically rules out women. And given that the "rules" dictate, arbitrarily, that banknote icons need to have been dead more than 25 years, that also automatically rules out most women that most people might have heard of.
Reformer and suffragist Nellie McClung is the name most often put forward, except that others take offence at her temporary flirtation with eugenics. And who - outside of Canada, and outside of feminist academic circles - has even heard of her? Ditto for many of the other suggestions like Harriet Brooks, Marguerite Bourgeoys, Viola Desmond, Jennie Trout, Annie Mae Aquash, Laura Secord, Elizabeth McMaster, Emily Murphy, E. Pauline Johnson, Louise McKinney, Charlotte Whitton and Agnes Macphail. Kenojuak Ashevak, anyone? There again, who outside of Canada has heard of Sir Robert Borden, or even Sir Wilfred Laurier...? Names like Lucie Maud Montgomery,  Emily Carr or Margaret Laurence may be better known internationally, but do they really qualify or deserve the honour.
Whoever is proposed (and whoever's image is deleted from our current stock of banknotes), someone somewhere will object, probably strongly. So, it seems to me that either we stick with the current set of dead Prime Ministers - in which case women will not feature on them, that's just how it is - or we do away with portraits completely.
Why not just take the politics out of it completely, and show images of, say, famous Canadian geographical hot spots? At least that is something Canada excels at, and even foreigners will probably recognize most of them. Yes, there will no doubt be arguments over which provinces are represented, whether rivers or prairies are unfairly being excluded, etc. But surely it is safer ground than political personalities.

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