When the Queen was pushed off some Canadian currency

Not enough Canadians knew who their prime ministers were, and in 1969 the federal finance department planned to fix that.

Former PM John Diefenbaker complained the 1969 change was 'undermining the monarchy'

Queen out, PMs in on $5, $10, $50, $100 bills

3 years ago
Duration 1:59
Prime ministers don't get much recognition, and the Treasury Board's solution is to put their faces on more Canadian currency.

If you can recognize Canadian prime ministers of the past, it might be because they're in your wallet.

But until 1970, the Queen's face was the only one you were likely to see on your cash.

"Starting next year, the Queen will be replaced on $10 bills by Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister," said CBC newsreader Earl Cameron on Dec. 17, 1969.

Other denominations were to follow, with Sir Wilfrid Laurier on the $5 bill, Mackenzie King on the $50 bill and Robert Borden on the $100 banknote.

The Queen would remain on the $1, $2, and $20 bills. 

Why the change?

Finance Minister Edgar Benson wanted to honour prime ministers of the past and cut down on counterfeiting. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

The new bills would foil the efforts of counterfeiters, for one thing.

The denominations retaining the image of the Queen would be updated with a new portrait of her. According to the Globe and Mail, all the bills would retain their colours but otherwise get a redesign. 

Former prime ministers would get the recognition they deserved, said Finance Minister Edgar Benson. 

"I believe that in Canada we don't pay enough attention to our prime ministers who have done a great deal for our country," he said. "So we're going to simply going to put their portraits on other bills in our country."

But Dief had a beef

"Day to day and week to week, they're engaged in their activity of undermining the monarchy in Canada," said MP and former prime minister John Diefenbaker. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

John Diefenbaker, a former prime minister and still a sitting MP, didn't accept the rationale that new bills were needed so they'd be harder for criminals to fake.

"Do you know what their alibi is?" he asked reporters, in a mock-concerned voice. "Their alibi is the Queen's head is being counterfeited, and they're therefore losing money."

"That's just an alibi so clear, and so translucent, that even a person unsuspicious as I always am would understand it."

It was Diefenbaker's contention that the government's stated goal of combating counterfeiting was a cover for something more sinister.

"Day to day, and week to week, they're engaged in their activity of undermining the monarchy," he charged. 

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