There is no doubt in Newmarket resident Lynn Rae’s mind that cash is king, but she’s concerned it has been dethroned by the “plastic” that some retailers and businesses prefer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Cash is legal tender and businesses should have to accept it,” she said when making an online deputation before council Aug. 24. “When they refuse cash, they are discriminating against people who don’t have access to credit and debit cards, and perhaps seniors who aren’t comfortable with paying with plastic.”
Rae had requested that the Town of Newmarket “lead the way in Canada” by being the first municipality to have a bylaw mandating businesses must accept cash.
“I just want to have a choice,” said Rae, who acknowledged she is a budget-conscious consumer who feels using credit and debit cards encourage overspending and impulse purchases.
She has been denied the ability to pay with cash at some local retailers, she said, including at a food outlet in Upper Canada Mall recently.
Other retailers “are making it harder for us to pay cash,” she said, recounting how she was sent to another location in a local grocery store to make a cash payment.
“I want to support our local businesses, she added, “But this really really bugs me.”
Some businesses were not accepting cash payments even prior to COVID-19, she said.
When Rae posed the question to a local Facebook group, she said opinions were equally divided on the issue.
The Bank of Canada issued a statement on May 28 urging retailers to continue accepting cash in response to concerns from some consumers.
“During this time of heightened public health measures intended to limit the transmission of COVID-19, some consumers and businesses are choosing not to use cash to limit potential exposure. The Bank recognizes that these measures are being taken with the safety and well-being of both staff and consumers in mind,” the statement said.
“However, the Bank strongly advocates that retailers continue to accept cash to ensure Canadians have access to the goods and services they need. Refusing cash purchases outright will put an undue burden on those who depend on cash and have limited payment options.”
The statement acknowledged that COVID-19 can remain on surfaces, whichmay include hard currency, for a few hours to a few days.
“Still, we can find ways to ensure that all Canadians have access to essential goods and services, even if they are using cash. Risk can be mitigated in retail settings using a variety of methods, including ensuring access to hand hygiene for all employees,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and scientist with the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute.
“Some cities in the USA have already implemented such a bylaw and I think the Town of Newmarket should follow suit,” Rae said.
However, under the Municipal Act, the town doesn’t have the authority to pass a bylaw on issues that fall under federal and provincial legislation.
Regional Councillor Tom Vegh questioned how many local retailers were denying cash payments, suggesting “99.9 per cent are accepting cash.”
Mayor John Taylor said businesses should have the right to decide what type of payment they will accept.
“During COVID, out of concern for employees, some want to be cashless,” he said. “I’m not aware of this issue creating any significant challenges.”