The Harper government plans to issue a new $5 coin from the Royal Canadian Mint with the profile of Stephen Harper sharing space with that of Queen Elizabeth II, according to documents shown to rabble.ca.
The move will be part of major changes to Canada's currency system if the Conservatives succeed in gaining a majority in Parliament in the federal election. Canadians go to the polls on May 2.
The coin will be legal tender similar to the $1 and $2 coins, the loonie and toonie. Insiders have already nicknamed the $5 coin "the harpie," after the prime minister.
It will be the first time a Canadian prime minister has been coupled on a coin this way with the Queen, who is Canada's head of state.
It would also the first time a living PM would be featured on Canadian money. The idea is thought to be the brainchild of Chuck Strahl, the minister with responsibility for the Mint until stepping down from politics several weeks ago.
The current $5 bills, which feature Liberal prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada's first French Canadian prime minister, will be phased out over an 18-month period once the coins go into production and distribution, likely early next year.
In a letter, the head of the Royal Canadian Mint, Beverly Bennett, said the visual inspiration for the harpie came from the recent commemorative coins being issued in Britain to celebrate the upcoming wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton.
"The royal wedding coins are such a success in that country, such tremendous likenesses. We agree with Minister Strahl that having the prime minister share space with the Queen makes the currency seem more quintessentially Canadian," Bennett stated in the letter.
The image on the "tails" side of the coin will be the endangered burrowing owl, Harper's favourite owl, said a campaign insider, who added the prime minister considered them to be "delicious."
In the letter, Bennett also stated that the penny will also be abolished by 2014.
While campaigning in Winnipeg earlier this week, Harper apparently took a side trip to the mint on the outskirts of the city to look at the first prototypes. Later that day he performed on a keyboard with 10-year-old Lady Gaga YouTube sensation Maria Aragon, singing John Lennon's peace anthem Imagine, after a quick change of lyrics.
Afterwards, he refused to take questions about the harpie coin plan, saying he had already answered the allotted five questions the media was allowed to ask that day. He had just responded to a request from a Fort McMurray newspaper reporter to name his favourite colour.
"Blue, thanks for asking," Harper said.
The nickname "harpie" is causing some consternation amongst the more evangelical of Harper's caucus. Harpies are legendary creatures from Greek mythology, and at least one backbencher was understood to object to the "blasphemous" nature of the moniker.
Happy April Fool's Day from all of us at rabble.ca! Thanks to Ellie Gordon-Moershel for the tip that led to the story. Cathryn Atkinson is rabble.ca's news and features editor.
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