January 13, 2016 6:22 pm

Will Canadians soon see more female faces on bank notes?

The new polymer bank notes are pictured in Vancouver, Nov. 7, 2013.


Canada’s minister of finance says he would be “strongly supportive” of any plan to feature more women on Canada’s bank notes.

Bill Morneau made the comments in Toronto on Wednesday, about 24 hours after the NDP put out a renewed call to increase the number of female faces on Canadian bills and coins.

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“The Bank of Canada regularly does consultations on the people and the pictures that are on our bank notes,” said Morneau, whose government has pushed for increased female representation in the upper echelons of government, notably by including an equal number of men and women in cabinet.

“I can say that I would be strongly supportive of a recommendation from the Bank of Canada to put an iconic woman or women on the bank notes.”

At the moment, Canadian bank notes feature former prime ministers Wilfrid Laurier, John A. Macdonald, William Lyon Mackenzie King and Robert Borden. Queen Elizabeth II, whose likeness appears on $20 bills, is the sole female member of the exclusive currency club.

But women throughout our history have helped shape Canada in myriad ways, said British Columbia based historian Merna Forster, and yet they remain conspicuously absent from the bills Canadians pull out of their wallets each day. Forster, who has been an outspoken advocate for more female representation on bank notes, said she was very “encouraged” by Morneau’s words, but the time for consultation is long passed.

“It’s time for action,” she said. “Certainly it’s the time to commit to celebrating one or more women from Canadian history … and proceed with sorting out who, or which women.” 

The next possible opening would likely be in 2017, when a special commemorative bill is expected to be released to mark Canada’s 150th birthday.

The bank note gender gap first began making headlines during the release of the new polymer series of bank notes between 2011 and 2013. The new series saw the Famous 5 (the five petitioners who sought to have women recognized as persons under the law) and groundbreaking politician Thérèse Casgrain unceremoniously replaced on the $50 bill by an icebreaker.

The former $50 bill featuring prominent women from Canadian history.

Source: Bank of Canada

Forster quickly launched a petition to have the move reversed. The petition also called on the federal government to commit to equality moving forward, and “follow the excellent example of Australian bank notes that currently features a notable Australian man and an Australian woman on each note.”

The petition is still active, and was just short of 65,000 signatures on Wednesday afternoon.

In England, a similar petition with 35,000 signatures was enough to convince the powers that be (which included former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney) to select author Jane Austen as the new face of the £10 note.


In 2014, Forster decided to give Canadians a chance to incorporate notable women on bank notes with a special online tool. The submissions have ranged from the unlikely:

Avril Lavigne

To the far more plausible:

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Then, on Tuesday, the NDP opened up the debate again, with status of women critic Sheila Malcolmson sending Morneau a letter asking for change, and issuing a release saying it’s time for Canada to “break through the paper ceiling” and feature prominent Canadian women on our bills.

“We’ve tried so hard,” Forster said of the ongoing campaign.

“I think we’re all hopeful with the change in government and quotes like ‘because it’s 2015.’ It seems like at this point the impetus has to come from the government of Canada.”

WATCH: Campaign underway to put women on Canadian currency

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