For more than 50 years, Canada’s dual system for measuring things has been a source of confusion for tradespeople, crafters, newcomers and anyone who’s ever been asked for their weight in kilos.

Why, for instance, are outdoor temperatures measured in Celsius — until you get into a pool? Why do we order our morning coffee in ounces but buy milk in litres?

Canada is officially a “metric” country, yet many industries and individuals work in imperial measurements, adding extra costs and complexity for businesses and making everyday tasks — from buying produce to ordering a drink — just a little more complicated.

  • Canadians tend to use a mix of the metric and imperial systems for measurements. Is it time Canada went fully metric? Send your questions to ask@cbc.ca

Soon, Canada may have a new ally in mixing its measurements: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly planning to announce the revival of the imperial system for the Queen’s Jubilee. The move will allow stores to sell products in pounds and ounces, as well as grams — further distancing the U.K. from Europe, which uses the metric system.

“It’s plain crazy,” said Prof. Werner Antweiler, an economist at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, of the U.K.’s proposed change.

“This is just plain populism. It has absolutely nothing to do with economics. It’s detrimental to the economy. It’s detrimental to the commercial interests of Britain, because most of their trade is still in the European Union, like it or not.”

A group of British shop owners known as the ‘Metric Martyrs’ hold imperial pints outside a London court on Nov. 20, 2001. The men were convicted for selling products under the imperial weights system, after the U.K. enforced European regulations, which said the metric system must take precedence. Britain is now expected to allow shopkeepers to use the imperial system once again. (Russell Boyce/Reuters)

The U.S., Myanmar and Liberia are the only countries that still use the imperial system day to day, though the U.S. system has some slight differences.

Antweiler and others — including some who work entirely in the imperial system — say Canada should go the opposite route from the U.K., by ditching the imperial system and going fully metric, like most of its trading partners.

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 comply to the other standard.”

But greater metrication would require buy-in across industries, from engineering and real estate to farming and beer-brewing — and it could create new headaches for Canadian businesses with clients across the southern border.

When Canada went metric

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

By 4difm

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