Canada's smooth, stretchy, waterproof new money

Phuong Anh Ho Huu, senior representative for the Bank of Canada in Quebec, holds up a new $100 bank note as it is issued Monday, November 14, 2011 in Montreal. The $100 is Canada's first polymer bank note and features a wealth of anti-counterfeiting features such as partially-hidden numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

MONTREAL - Canada's new plastic, see-through currency feels a lot like the celluloid film you used to load into your old-fashioned camera.

The smooth, stretchy, polymer bills may prove popular with the beach crowd because you can easily tuck the water-proof money into your bathing suit and take it out for a swim.

The Bank of Canada officially put into circulation Monday the first of the new generation of bills — the $100 one. The $50 bill is coming next March, and the rest of the bills will be in circulation by 2013.

Officials are singing polymer's praises, saying the new bill has a lot of security features that will make it a challenge to counterfeit.

At a Toronto event, Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney said the new bills are better than the traditional paper notes on a number of counts. They'll save taxpayers money not only because they're sturdier, but also because they'll cut down on fraud, he said.

"They're more secure, they're more economical and they're better for the environment than any note we've previously issued," Carney said.

While the new money might look ultra-modern to Canadians, some other countries — Australia and New Zealand — have had polymer currency for well over a decade.

Canadian officials, however, say these new bills will have the most high-tech features.

Carney was at the site where Sir Frederick Banting conducted research that led to the discovery of insulin, an event honoured on the new $100 bill. He boasted that the polymer bank notes were developed by physicists, chemists, engineers and bank note experts from Canada and around the world.

But people interviewed by The Canadian Press expressed resistance to the change Monday and said they weren't keen to begin carrying around the plastic money.

Several pedestrians interviewed in Montreal said the new brown-coloured bill, with the face of former prime minister Robert Borden, doesn't look real.

"If they're more durable, it's a great thing — but it looks fake," said Paul Lemay as he raised the bill to check it in the sunshine.

"I don't know if I would use it. I would have to be clearly informed before using it."

Gordon Ewing called the new note "lovely," but said he never carries $100 bills: "A $20 bill is the biggest I use."

Nicole Corbett also said she tends to use smaller bills, but said she liked the new polymer: "It feels really cool, different and it looks like it will be hard to rip."

And don't expect people to go rushing into their local corner store waving around the newfangled currency. Several people said store owners won't even accept a $50 bill — let alone a $100 bill.

But Quebec provincial police Sgt. Yves Leblanc said he thinks the new plastic bill will be tougher to counterfeit, and therefore more popular with merchants. He said counterfeiting has gone down in recent years, and predicted the trend would continue with the new-generation money.

"Some people make it a living to find a way to defraud the public and they're going to try — but this is going to be a tougher challenge for them," he said.

Bank of Canada director Daniel Johnson predicted more people would start using the shiny new bill once they gain confidence in it and realize it's more secure.

"Its use is predicated on the confidence that people have that it's a genuine bill," he said in an interview.

"We are hoping, and we are sure, people will be willing to accept the bill because it's more secure than the other ones."

Johnson says the new bill will last two-and-a-half times longer than the current bank note: "A $100 bill circulates for about seven years before new ones have to be issued. This one will last maybe 20 years."

Bank of Canada research indicates that cash is still used for more than half of all shopping transactions.