Plight of the polar bear
Who's going to get the licence plates?
by Derek Neary
NNSL (Apr 13/98) - After Nunavut becomes a separate territory in April, there's going to be a need for distinct licence plates. But who's going to keep the polar bear?
"Nunavut for sure. We've got lots of polar bears out here. I don't know about Yellowknife," said a laughing Meeka Kilabuk, chair of the Symbol Selection Committee for the Nunavut Implementation Commission.
Her sentiments were echoed by Mike Ferris, who stands to become the deputy minister of transport for Nunavut.
"I guess that I've been hopeful that we're going to end up with the polar bear, because the polar bears are in this part of the country," he said.
The polar bear plates have existed since 1970. They have proved to be extremely popular souvenirs for tourists.
"We sell literally thousands of plates. We get mail almost every day from collectors right around the world," said Richard MacDonald, director of motor vehicles for the Department of Transportation. "The polar bear plate is pretty well one of the most collectable plates in the world."
According to MacDonald, the polar bear plate is the only one worldwide that's not a standard rectangular design. The measurements are consistent with the required 30-by-15-centimetre specifications, but parts of it are cut out.
If one territory is forced to go with another plate and they want to use an animal design, it would have to be carefully crafted.
"There's problems with those types of designs, like where you place your stickers. We're lucky we ended up with a couple of little legs where we can put our stickers," MacDonald noted.
Personalized polar bear plates are also limited to six characters as opposed to seven in other provinces.
There have been plenty of suggestions towards a compromise. Some people have proposed bears facing opposite directions for each territory. Others have recommended the white bear for Nunavut and a brown bear for the western NWT.
MacDonald said the matter could be resolved by simply placing Nunavut in small print on new territorial plates.
"It's really a decision to be made by each respective government," MacDonald said, adding that he expects there will be a temporary arrangement allowing both territories to use the polar bear until an agreement is reached.