Canada may slow its conversion to metric system but won't count it out

Canada may slow its drive to be an all-metric country. But nearly everyone - from teachers to businessmen - warns that any move from centimeters and kilograms back to inches and pounds would be both expensive and confusing.

Metric is a political problem. Many members of the new Conservative government in Ottawa have been anti-metric since the Liberal Party under Pierre Trudeau introduced the new system of measurement 12 years ago.

William Domm, the member of Parliament for Peterborough, a small town about 80 miles (130 kilometers) northeast of Toronto, has made a political career of the metric issue.

Metric has been a big issue here. Peterborough was one of three towns where the metric system was test-marketed. There has been a lot of local opposition.

When the Conservatives were in opposition, they thought criticizing metric was a good idea. Now reality has set in. Getting rid of metric or even running a dual system would be difficult.

Business in Canada has already paid to switch to metric and business organizations are saying keep one system, metric.

''It would be too confusing to switch back,'' says William Fisher, the president of Fisher Gauge, a company that exports parts for aircraft.

To enforce the metric standard, the Trudeau government fined supermarkets that sold meat in pounds and gas stations that pumped gas by the gallon. Many small business men fought back.

Len Welch still sells meat in pounds and ounces at his grocery store. ''I have nothing against metric but it's confusing for people who grew up with the other system,'' he says.

He doesn't like metric but admits that sooner or later kilograms will win out over pounds.

The way of the future can be seen at the Westmount Public School in Peterborough. Here the children learn metric only. When asked, most give their height in feet and their weight in pounds because that's what they learn at home. But they think metric and don't understand the old imperial system.

We asked a 10-year-old, ''How many inches in a yard?'' He thought, then shot back, ''Fifty-three.'' He did know how many grams there were in a kilogram.

Minister of Consumer and Corporate Relations Michel Cote must decide soon whether to make concessions to back-bench MPs who love their inches and pounds. The guess is that metric will remain but the Tory government will not be so heavy-handed in enforcing the rules, and that if someone wants to sell in pounds , fine, as long as the price is also posted in kilograms. Otherwise that boy who thinks there are 53 inches in a yard might have a hard time figuring out the price.

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