This past week, the Canadian dollar reached parity with the American dollar for the first time in 31 years.
Not that long ago, we Great White Northerners (the North being white, obviously; this statement is not meant to be exclusionary or unreasonably unaccommodating in any way) were looking at the very real possibility of our "dollar" being valued at 50 American cents. We certainly hit the low 60s, and we dipped into the 50s in daily trading more than once.
So, what does this mean, this valuable money thing? Can we, as it were, cash in on it?
The silver-dollar lining (a.k.a. the upside):
~ cross-border shopping, particularly all those fantastic outlet stores so conveniently located just beyond the crossing. Assuming the outlets are still there; it's been a while since cross-border shopping was an activity in which sane Canadians engaged.
~ virtual cross-border shopping: eBay and Barnes & Noble, here I come!
~ political ramifications: we can talk smugly about how our government appears to be actually governing domestically, unlike some demagogues we could name. We can, but we won't. Much. That would be gauche (from the French for 'left.' Coincidence??)
~ tourism: we're not so attractive now that we've lost our banana-republic-with-skiing status. American tourists have gotten used to becoming millionaires just by driving a few miles north; they may have second thoughts about vacationing in what is essentially exactly like home, but with indiscriminate use of needless 'u's.
~ impact on the GNP (yes, I know what that is. I may be an English teacher, but I'm not completely clueless): a lot of Canadian manufacturers have been exploiting the exchange rate for years now, making a tidy profit on American sales paid in American dollars for products made with cheaper Canadian raw materials by cheaper Canadian workers. Ditto the movie industry - every city in Canada calls itself 'Hollywood North' because loads of U.S. films are made here (Mira Sorvino was in our neighbours' house, for instance) because the location fees are cheap, the equipment is cheap, the labour is cheap, the tax incentives are, well, incentive... you get the idea. Except now, all of this is true in the past tense - our unionized key grips are still making $18 Canadian an hour, but two years ago, that was about $13 U.S. - now it's $18 U.S.
~ political ramifications: we achieved parity under Stephen Harper's Conservatives, albeit with a minority. But c'mon, they're going to milk this economic upswing for every drop of political punch - and if they're really smart, they'll call an election ASAP, which means a winter vote, which means that the annoying holiday advertisement will have to compete for space with annoying campaigning. And they'll win.
~ at-home shopping! This is the big one for the average individual Canadian. For example, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows is listed at $34.99 US at Barnes & Noble, but the Canadian list price at Chapters is $45. The Gazette compared a few items in an article in yesterday's paper, including a Honda that was about $3,000 more in Canada than in the U.S., albeit with a different sound system. I doubt we're talking about a sound system worth 3K, though.
Now, having said that, when I did some quick surfing to back up my price-gouging rant, I discovered that we GWN's seem to be getting a pretty good deal on some things. The ubiquitous iPod nano, f'rintstance, retails on the American Best Buy site for $129, but only $119 on the Canadian site. The two Amazons both carry the about-to-be-released Blue Rodeo album Small Miracles, which we can pre-order for $14.96 - but Americans have to buy the same album as an import for $31.99.
Still, the book thing - which also applies to magazines, which are typically about 30% more in Canadian dollars - sucks.
*explanatory note for non-Canadians. Our dollar coin (the paper dollar is a thing of the ancient past) features a loon, one of our notable water fowl. Since it's introduction, this coin has been called the Loonie. When the two-dollar coin was introduced a couple of years later, we naturally called it the Toonie. No one can say that, as a nation, we take ourselves too seriously.