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As the U.K. brings back imperial measurements, is it time for Canada to drop them?


For more than 50 years, Canada’s dual system of measuring everything has been a source of confusion for traders, craftsmen, newcomers, and anyone who has ever been asked their weight according to their own weight. kilogram unit.

For example, why is outdoor temperature measured in degrees Celsius – until you get in the pool? Why do we order morning coffee by the ounce but buy milk by the liter?

Canada is officially a “metric” country, however many industries and individuals work in British units, adding cost and complexity to businesses and making daily tasks more difficult. The day – from buying a product to ordering a drink – gets a little more complicated.

  • Canadians tend to use a combination of the metric and British systems for measurement. Is it time for Canada to complete the index? Let us know what you think about ask@cbc.ca

Before long, Canada may have a new ally in matching its measurements: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly planning to announce a revival of the imperial system for the Celebration of Women. King. The move will allow stores to sell products in pounds and ounces, as well as grams – putting the UK further away from Europe, which uses a metric system.

Professor Werner Antweiler, an economist at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, said: “It’s crazy” about the UK’s proposed change.

“This is pure populism. It has absolutely nothing to do with economics. It’s bad for the economy. It’s detrimental to British commercial interests, because most of their trade is still there. be in the European Union, like it or not.”

A group of British shopkeepers known as ‘Metric Martyrs’ keep imperial pins outside a London court on 20 November 2001. These men have been convicted for selling products under the system. royal weight, after the UK implements the European regulations, by law the metric system must take precedence. Now, Britain is expected to allow shop owners to use the imperial system again. (Russell Boyce / Reuters)

The US, Myanmar and Liberia are the only countries that still use the imperial system on a daily basis.

Antweiler and others – including some who work entirely within the imperial system – say Canada should take the opposite path to the UK, by ditching the imperial system and going for the metric system. fully, like most of their commercial counterparts.

Canada’s continued use of both systems, Antweiler said, adds “an additional layer of complexity and additional source of error and an additional source of cost, because now you have to conform to a different standard.”

However, greater measurement would require buying across industries, from engineering and real estate to agriculture and brewing – and it could create new headaches for businesses. Canada has customers across its southern border.

When Canada follows the index

To understand why most Canadians know their height in feet and inches but measure their travel plans in kilometers, you have to go back to 1970. That’s when the federal government established the Metrics Commission. to convert Canada from British to metric and to educate the public on how to use the new system.

The Metric Commission announced that schools in Canada will begin teaching metric measurements and weights in 1975. (CBC News / CBC Archives)

In 1975, weather broadcasts switched from degrees Fahrenheit to Celsius. Food packaging and street signs were soon revised to the metric unit, and by 1979, gas stations were filling up. in liters instead of gallons.

However, for many industries, the change is voluntary. Amid objections from them, as well as some members of the public, and from the United States – which abandoned its own hyperbolitionist plans in the early 1980s – Canada became deadlocked in measuring at that time. The Committee on Measurements was abolished in 1985.

VIEW | In 1985, Canadians were still confused about the metric system:

Metric and British measurements confuse Canadians

Today, Canada is measuring under two systems, and it’s getting confusing.

Today, entire industries – such as construction and others – still operate within the British system of measurement, or a combination of both, requiring bilingual proficiency in the two systems of measurement.

Accuracy argument

Like most merchants, Greg Moogk, a cabinet man in Toronto, worked almost exclusively in the imperial system – except when an architect gave him metric drawings, this happens sometimes with high rise construction projects or when he buys products from outside North America.

“It’s an easy way to be more precise in the measurement system,” says Moogk, adding that he’s received requests like “”just cut hair at a height of more than 1/16th of an inch” – like I have an idea what that is.”

“If we had the choice to abruptly remove the imperial system, it would obviously be strange for a minute, because everyone [in the trades] will have to learn the metric system. But it’s much easier [to use] – It would be a lot harder for someone to learn about fractional math than the really easy decimals, wouldn’t it? “

Other creators face similar challenges when working between the two systems.

“The tools we use in making quilts [are] it’s all measured in imperial British units… But in Canada, when we go shopping for fabric, we buy it in meters, not yards,” said Karen Neary, a duvet designer from Amherst. , NS said.

She includes both measurement systems on her samples, so customers can find out how much fabric they need – no matter where in the world they are.

The UK is poised to bring back some imperial measures, which means that like the Canadians, the British will use two systems of measure in everyday life. Here, a tailor in London, UK, holds a tape measure that indicates inches and centimeters – measurements that Canadian craftsmen often have to convert between. (Hannah McKay / Reuters)

“The numbers are much easier, because if someone says ‘five-eighths of a foot’ or whatever, you have to stop and think, well, what is that?” she speaks.

“But I can’t really see us switching completely to metric, because all the tools, all my rulers, are 1/4 inch, everything is 1/4 inch.”

Those measurements get even more confusing when you consider beer, which is measured differently depending on whether you buy it in a can or from the tap. A tall can contains 473 ml (16 oz, or one US pint), but walk to the bar and order a pint, and you’ll get 20 oz (one pint under the imperial system).

For those in the beer industry, switching between those measurements is like second nature, says Kyra Dietsch, marketing manager at Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge, Ont.

“We go a line between two things, and we end up using them interchangeably to the point where we don’t even notice… When I go into a restaurant, I order by ounce; when I look at the cans, I call them milliliters. So it really depends on the format.”

Time for a change?

The transition between the two is easier in some industries than in others. It can be as simple as exchanging ounces for milliliters on a coffee shop menu, putting a wooden label in centimeters, or printing a Celsius reading on an oven knob.

“I would say that 80 percent of the history of the metrification process is just the willingness to really put different labels on things, and basically push people to use international standards,” says Antweiler.

Construction and other occupations are among Canadian industries that operate primarily within the imperial system – in large part due to American influence. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

But some industries will need to take extra steps, like retraining workers like engineers and architects, and companies may need to change production lines or other operations to adapt. , depending on which country their customers are in.

Antweiler believes that a complete change will only be possible if the federal government asks for it – and that is unlikely.

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada said the government “supports and encourages the use of metric units, but understands that some people Canada is more comfortable with the British measurement system. Therefore, the use of both measurement systems is permitted in commerce.”

For all the confusion in Canada’s measurement system, it’s a source of hope for those who can only dream of living in a country where everything is measured in meters and liters – like Don Hillger, president The American Metrology Association, has run into resistance for more than 100 years while pushing for the United States to adopt the metric system.

“I even have relatives who say, ‘Please don’t do this, don’t advertise [metrication]”until they die, because they don’t want to learn numbers,” says Hillger.

Proponents of the metric system say it’s time for Canada to stop using British metric, such as measuring their heights or short distances in feet and inches. Here, seats are spaced – in inches – for an event in Three Rivers, PEI, on March 17, 2021. (Jane Robertson / CBC)

He said he hears from a lot of young people who think it’s “ridiculous that the United States is such an important focal point.” But it’s unclear when – or if – his country might join the rest of the world in going after the index.

“You have to get a lot more people asking for it before it actually happens in the United States. And I don’t think we’re done at that point,” he said. But he added: “I think it would help if Canada changed.”



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