Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - December 8, 1971, Lethbridge, Alberta
Metric system is on the way Wrdnrsdoy, Drccmtjcr 8, 1971 THE lETIIBRHVSr By IRVING C. WIIYNOT Canadian I'rpss fiiisinrss Editor Canada has set its path to- ward eventual adoption of the metric system of measure- ments in what one wag de- scribes as an example of inch- ing along to a milestone. Proponents say Hie move is essential and unavoidable, for trade reasons if no other. Only Canada and the United States of the major industrial countries remain with inches and pounds in a world where 90 per cent of the population deals in the metric system. A Canadian government wiiite paper says adoption of metric is "ulUmately inevita- ble and desirable for Canada" and preliminary planning is already in progress. In the U.S., the commerce depart- ment lias urged Congress to make the switch during a 10- year period but this has not yet been accepted as policy. When the move most government and busi- ness officials say it has seems essential that Canada and the U.S. move together because of the heavy volume of trade across the border. One guess is that the U.S. Congress will accept the idea in 1373 and that both countries then will aim at completing adoption of the metric system during a 10-year transitional period ending in 1983. COSTLY CIIAXGB For business, it will be a costly and agonizing time. For the average citizen, it will mean changes in eveiyday life involving such things as rewriting of cookbooks, new speed limits on the highways, and perhaps a fourth down in Canadian football. There are some who aren't whole-hearted supporters of the move. Some claim that rapid calculations available from computers have lessened the need for the change. But the basic opposition and con- cern is one of huge, but unknown, cost of making (lie switch. Proponents admit the cost will be high but argue that the business lost to Canada and the U.S. in world trade will be enormous jf metric is not adopted. No one knows for sure what lire conversion will cost. Some estimates put the cost in tho U.S. at ?20 billion. Some Ca- nadian guesses range from 5100 to million a year for each of the 10 years, a possi- ble total of up'to billion. On the other hand, using the United Kingdom experience a guide, Canada might save up to million a year in education because of the simpler mathematics involved with the metric system. And proponents of metric claim that Canadian business loses up lo SI billion worth of business each year because it doesn't produce in metric. ALREADY LEGAL The metric system already is legal in Canada, and is used in some scientific and engineering work, but is not widely used in daily com- merce. Following Ihe metric white paper in the government in 1H71 brought in a new weights and measures act which imbeds the metric sys- tem in Canadian law. And a new packaging and labelling law provides, among other things, that on most goods it will be necessary to list quantities in both traditional Canadian units o[ measures and in tho metric equivalent when prepacked. Consumer Affairs minister Ron Basford announced six new standard toothpaste sizes would be marked in the met- ric system and described it as "a step toward eventual me- trication of all measurements in Canada." Part of I ho long process to- ward tin's end was the ap- pointment of Stevenson Cos- sage, a retired CP Rail vice- president, as chairman of the Canadian Preparatory Com- mission for metric Conver- sion. His first task is to round up members for the 15-man commission which will con- duct surveys to dclcnninc how eventual conversion lo metric will affect the econ- omy. Its role is as an advi- sory bndy lo Ihe government. FULL COST UNKNOWN' He says that so far he hasn't met anyone actually opposed lo conversion "but naturally, there are some con- cerned about how much the changeover will cost." He says I hat no one knows the final price tag. One reason is thai indiislries won't have lo Ihrow out all llu'ir machin- ery and lools because many will be convertible. Others can he wrillen off during the 10-year conversion period and industry will be able lo con- vert as it buys replacement equipment. But he suggests that any in- dustry planning major pur- chases now of equipment for long-range use should make sure it can be converted to metric. Adoption of the metric sys- tem would mean a whole new language for Canadians. It would mean converting measurements of length from inches, feet, yards, miles and so on lo centimetres, metres and kilometres. It would mean converting ounces, pounds, tons and the like to grams, kilograms, and metric tons. Pints, quarts and gallons would be converted to litres. A metre is about 3.2808 feet In length, and 100 centimetres equal a metre. One Uiousand metres make one kilometre, which is 0.6214 of a statute mile. A kilogram weighs 2.4046 pounds in avoirdupois weight, and an ounce is 28.3495 of a quart, and a cubic foot contains 28.3102 litres. HOW METRIC WORKS In simple terms, metric is a decimal system of measure- ment with the metre, litre and gram as units of length, ca- pacity and weight. Using the prefix of deca-, hecto-, and kilo- denotes mul- tiplication by 10, 100, or a kilometre is metres. Prefixing with deci-, centi, or milli- indicates division by 10. 100 or a de- cilitre one-tenlli of a litre. The government white paper noted this means that converting from one unit of metric measurement to an- other within the system is done by simple mathematics. Present measurements re- quire more complicated pro- cedures, with 12 inches to the fool, three feel to a yard, feet to the statute mile, feet to the nautical mile and such others as 30.25 square yards to a square rod and square feet to an acre. And if that isn't complicated enough, consider that even in North America there are dif- Canada using the imperial gallon and the U.S. .the smaller U.S. gallon. SEEN AS NECESSARY Here's how various business and professional groups react to the possible change: Royal Architectural Insti- tute of Canada: In view of tho world situation of almost uni- versal use of, or conversion to, the metric system it would seem that: Canada must also convert within the fore- seeable future. Although there will doubtless be problems and cosls involved, economic and technological progress de- mands it. Canadian Construction Asso- ciation: Our main concern now is that the conversion process be carried out as smoothly as possible. If met- ric conversion is inevitable in Canada, the longer it is de- layed the greater and more expensive the problem will be. National House Builders As- sociation: It seems inevitable that Canadian industry must, some day, convert lo the met- ric system. The residential construction industry will be able to change to a metric base as soon as building ma- lerials become available lo do so. Richard Stekettc, president of Giffels Associates Ltd., To- ronto, consulting engineers: The question is really not whether we should switch but when? Most agree that the in- convenience and the cost of the changeover will be justi- fied by the benefits. EASIER FOR PUPILS The change, when it comes, will affect everyone. School children will no longer have to memorize com- plicated multiplication tables. Thermometers will change- water will freeze at zero de- grees, boil at 100 and the nor- mal body temperature will be 37 degrees on the centigrade scale instead of readings of 32.212, and 98.6 on the fahrcn- heit thermometers. Cookbooks and a wide range of technical journals will have to be revised to eliminate ref- erences to such tilings as tablespoons and cups as mea- surements. Much of sport already oper- ates on the metric system, as in the Olympics where dis- tances arc in metric. But in Canadian football it would be rather awkward for an an- nouncer to report that a team had the ball with 9.144 metres to go. Mr. Gossage suggests it might be simpler lo boost it lo an even 10 moires and per- haps introduce a fourth down. Hut sport is not a major concern-trade is Ihe crux.' "We have to export, to maintain and expand, so we must adopt the metric sys- he says. "There is no other choice." COXED r EIIOIIS.. 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