Montreal, Toronto call on Liberals to put Canadian woman on country’s banknotes

MONTREAL – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was hailed for naming as many as men to cabinet and for his matter-of-fact justification of gender parity: “Because it’s 2015.” But now Trudeau’s government is being asked to put its money where its mouth is as city councillors in Montreal and Toronto call for the addition of a Canadian woman to the country’s banknotes.

In a recent letter, councillors Marvin Rotrand of Montreal and Mary Fragedakis of Toronto call on federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau “to provide a clear signal to the Bank of and to the Royal Mint that addressing the lack of female role models on ’s money is a priority for the Government.”

In the letter, the councillors — who spearheaded the recent passage of municipal resolutions in their cities asking the Bank of Canada to recognize women on the — invoke Trudeau’s commitment to gender parity and his “because it’s 2015” explanation.

“Indeed it is (2015), and it is time that we rethink the images we wish to give the world as to who is honoured by our currency,” they write.

Apart from Queen Elizabeth on the $20 bill and a generic scientist peering into a microscope on the $100 bill, Canada’s banknotes have been devoid of women since a new $50 bill was introduced in 2012. That bill saw images of women’s rights activists the Famous Five and Thérèse Casgrain replaced by a Coast Guard icebreaker.

An online petition calling on the Bank of Canada to “add women from Canadian history to our banknotes as soon as possible” has generated more than 64,000 signatures since it was launched two years ago, drawing support from Margaret Atwood and Kim Cattrall.

“Who and what is celebrated on our banknotes matters, as it reflects what we consider important in our culture and history and who we consider worthy of honouring for achievement,” the petition’s creator, Victoria author and historian Merna Foster, wrote.

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After a similar petition campaign in the United States, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced plans last June to redesign the $10 bill, replacing Alexander Hamilton with an as yet unnamed woman from American history. In the United Kingdom, an online lobbying effort persuaded the Bank of England to include an image of Jane Austen on the next 10-pound bills, expected in 2017.

So far, however, the Bank of Canada has been non-committal. In an Oct. 22 letter to Rotrand, bank Governor Stephen Poloz said the bank “takes very seriously the celebration of the diversity of Canadian society, of its culture and its accomplishments, including the representation of women, on its banknotes.” He said Montreal’s concerns would be taken into account when the next series of banknotes is designed. The current series was released between 2011 and 2013, and a bank spokeswoman said it is expected to last at least eight years.

Rotrand said Friday he wants Morneau, who is responsible for approving any new bank note, “to send a clear signal to the Bank of Canada. We’d like the minister to remind the Bank of Canada that one of the fundamental values of Canada is .”

Fragedakis said she has heard from some critics of her initiative saying there already is a woman on the banknotes — the Queen.

“My reply to that is, first of all, I’m asking that Canadian women be featured on Canadian banknotes, and Queen Elizabeth is actually English,” she said. “Secondly, she’s on the money because she is head of state, and the next three in line to succeed Queen Elizabeth II are all men.”

Morneau’s spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

National Post

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About Graeme Hamilton