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MPs protest mandatory metric system

The Story

Prefer to buy your gas by the gallon? You still can at the Freedom to Measure gas station near Ottawa. For the past eight months, 37 Conservative MPs have been breaking the law by running this station in protest of mandatory metric. They can't wait to be taken to court on the issue, but so far the Liberal government hasn't charged them. And as this 1983 radio clip points out, the MP-run station is turning terrific profits. 

Medium: Radio
Program: The House
Broadcast Date: Oct. 1, 1983
Guest(s): Bill Domm, Judy Erola
Reporter: Jeannette Matthey
Duration: 8:44

Did You know?

• Although it had initially approved metric conversion in general in 1970, the federal Progressive Conservative party was opposed to the mandatory implementation of metric. The party spoke out frequently and vigorously against mandatory metric in Canada throughout the late 1970s and early '80s. In April 1982, the party presented Parliament with a massive anti-mandatory-metric petition that was 3.5 miles (or 5.6 kilometres) long. Because it was such a spectacle, this petition presentation was well covered by the media.

• Ironically, it was John A. Macdonald's Conservative government that made metric legal in Canada in the first place back in 1871. At that time, metric was initially opposed by the Liberals. Prime Minister Trudeau brought up John A. Macdonald's metric contribution a number of times when arguing for mandatory metric against the Conservatives in Parliament.

• The Freedom to Measure gas station had its official opening Feb. 1, 1983. MP Bill Domm, who was perhaps the most outspoken anti-metric Conservative MP, was the "ringleader" of the project according to a December 1982 Canadian Press story.
• The MPs involved initially invested $2,000 each to lease the service station, where they gave consumers the choice of buying gas in litres or gallons.

• In a February 1983 Toronto Star article, Domm said he and the other MPs were willing to go to jail on this if necessary, and that they hoped the case would be brought to the Supreme Court. Consumer Affairs Minister Andre Ouellet, however, said he was in no hurry to prosecute them. It seems he didn't want to make metric martyrs out of these MPs, since that was exactly what they wanted.

• When the MPs realized the Liberal government wasn't going to charge them, they stopped operating the gas station in January 1984 - almost a year after it was first opened.
• The station's exact profits for the year were not made public.

• The Freedom to Measure MPs had also started a trust fund to pay for their expected legal costs. But when their legal battle never materialized, they gave over $5,000 of that money to Jack Halpert and Ray Christianson - two Ontario gas station owners who were actually charged for selling gasoline in gallons - to help pay their legal fees in 1984.

• Jack Halpert and Ray Christianson had been charged under the Weights and Measures Act in 1983 for refusing to stop selling gasoline in gallons. They won their case in provincial court, but the federal government appealed this decision. In 1984, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the original decision, and the gas station owners were told they still had to use litres.

• During these gas station battles, owner Jack Halpert became quite well known as a "metric rebel" and was frequently interviewed in TV and radio reports looking at metric protests.
• Interestingly, Canadians soon warmed to the idea of buying gasoline in litres and came to prefer it. This may be because prices "looked" lower in litres as opposed to gallons, according to the website One Metre. Today (2005) gasoline in Canada is sold in litres.


For Good Measure: Canada Converts to Metric more