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Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)


Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on the death of cash Add to ...

Naheed Nenshi is the mayor of Calgary.

The penny has recently been abolished. Will you miss it?

I don’t think I’m going to miss the penny. I think people will get used to it, but I don’t know how I will ask people for their thoughts any more.

What are your thoughts worth now?

At least two pennies. I guess we’ll have to go to a nickel.

How much cash do you have on you right now – change and bills?

I don’t have any change in my pocket. I usually throw it into the cupholder in my car. In my wallet, I have 700 pesos from a recent conference in Mexico, $50 U.S. from a recent trip to Houston – and absolutely no Canadian cash.

Remind me not to ask you to lunch!

I have always been like this. I’m a guy who never has any cash in his wallet. I’m a debit and credit kind of guy and, if I suddenly have to use cash only, I find myself scrambling in my cupholder.

Is change a bother?

The problem is I tend to jingle it in my pockets. When I’m in public or making speeches, the people I work with have made it very clear that I am not to have anything that jingles in my pockets. They take away my keys and any change and they usually take my wallet, too.

Sounds like robbery without a gun.

They are usually pretty good about giving it back, but I do notice one staff member is wearing pretty nice ties these days.

In other countries, Japan and Australia to name two, cash is less prominent. Debit and credit and digital transactions are more the norm.

I have always been a gadget guy. I’m interested to read about some of the stuff that is under way right now. Ebay and PayPal were doing a pilot project where it is Bluetoothed to your phone, but your phone never leaves your pocket. Your photo shows up on the till and they determine if it is really you and it just gets charged to your phone. Interesting. I don’t know how well it would work, but I’m willing to try new technology.

That technology would put the rest of us in your shoes with no cash in our wallets. Is that a good development?

I am well-known in certain drive-thrus in Calgary to use my debit card to pay a $2 or $3 bill, so I think we are well on our way to already.

To some people, me for one, you “debit card for piddling purchases” people are a royal pain!

Ah, I wonder if the timing is actually faster? I don’t know if the people who work behind the counters, and I have worked behind a lot of counters in my life, are really adept at giving change these days. It might actually be faster to swipe a debit card.

Banknotes are part of a country’s personality. I think of the gorgeous notes they have in the Caribbean or the drab monotony of U.S. greenbacks. Would abolishing cash kill that little bit of culture?

I think it is an important part of culture. I get tweeted to me at least once a month a 500 peso bill from Mexico that has a picture of Diego Rivera on it. Not a very handsome man, but it is gorgeous. On a recent trip to Mexico, my first time, I didn’t get one of those notes. It’s now got another guy on it.

Can you foresee the day when there is no cash? A time when all transactions will be digital?

Having real, honest-to-goodness cash is a good thing. You always need cash for guys like my dad, who won’t use debit, or for transactions that people prefer not to have tracked.

I remember once when I was in the U.S. and I wanted to buy a cheapie cellphone just for travelling. I realized that I made a completely anonymous, untraceable transaction to end up with a cellphone, and I’m not sure how good I felt about myself at that moment.

The Canadian government is bucking the cashless trend and investing in a new line of polymer banknotes. Is that wise?

They are pretty cool. I was sad to see the Famous Five, the great sculpture that is just outside of my office, disappear from the back of one of the bills, the $50. But change is good.

We are going to have to have notes anyway. The federal government seems to think these new notes are cheaper in the long run and they last longer. Plus they are kind of cool and harder to counterfeit. So more power to them.

Who’s on the $5 bill?


Who’s on the $10?

Sir John A. Macdonald.

Which one is Stephen Harper on?

In my heart …

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