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Is the metric system a communist plot?

Depending on your perspective, it was either a sensible scientific shift, an annoying unnecessary change or a sinister communist plot. Canada's decision to go metric in 1970 definitely sparked some passionate debates. It even drove some Canadians to civil disobedience. CBC Archives explores the history of Canada's gradual and sometimes shaky transition to the metric system — a transition that, to this day, has yet to be fully completed.

Dean Krakel thinks metric is more about Marxism than measurement. As director of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma, Krakel is waging a war against metric on political grounds. In this 1977 clip from As It Happens, he says it reflects "the philosophical way communists want one of everything" - one world, one monetary system, one educational system and, now, one measurement system. "We're Americans, we're different. We're individualistic, we're strong," he says with passion. 
. Krakel wasn't alone in his beliefs that metric was linked with communism or socialism. Conservative Nova Scotia Premier John Buchanan said in a 1983 speech, "Did you ever look around at the countries in the world today with metric?. the socialist countries of the world today. That's who the metric system is. That's why Mr. Trudeau determined that he was going to impose the metric system on the people of Canada against their will."

. In a 1983 CBC Radio News report on Buchanan's political objections to metric, Nova Scotia NDP leader Alexa McDonough dismissed Buchanan's claims that metric was linked to socialism. She noted that metric countries range anywhere from the far left-wing to extreme reactionary right-wing countries. McDonough said Buchanan's claims were simply "a distraction" from the myriad of much more important issues affecting the province. (See additional clip from this topic.)

. Philosophical opposition to the metric system was nothing new. Frank Donovan's 1970 book Prepare Now for a Metric Future explains that in 19th-century America, metric was vehemently rejected on religious grounds. The French developed metric, and many Americans believed France to be a godless nation. "Everybody knew, said metric opponents, that the French were atheists," wrote Donovan. "This attack on the godless basis of the metric system was never moderate."

. For some people, metric continues to be ideologically linked to left-wing ways. In the 1995 book Reinventing Marxism, for instance, American author Howard J. Sherman writes: "I was a heretic in more than political ideology. I believed in and campaigned for: democracy, socialism, communism, the metric system, phonetic spelling, atheism, racial equality, sexual equality, environmental quality, world government, a single world language, nudism...vegetarianism...and an end to white collars and ties."
Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: Jan. 3, 1977
Guest(s): Dean Krakel
Host: Alan Maitland
Interviewer: Barbara Frum
Duration: 4:12

Last updated: August 30, 2012

Page consulted on February 28, 2014

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