Ottawa Citizen


By Canadian Press

     COURTENAY, BC - Joy Dryburgh is an unemployed single mother
on welfare, but she wears silk scarves, hand-woven jackets and
original painting hang in her home. Her three pre-school children
have beautiful wooden toys and are well-dressed.
     Dryburgh is not abusing her social assistance. She is just
one of almost 1,000 Vancouver Island residents supplementing
their cash income with "green dollars," a quasi-currency earned
through a unique bartering system called Local Exchange
(jct:Employment) Trading System.
     LETS started more than a year ago here as a means of
generating income within the community particularly hard hit by
the recession.
     Michael Linton, one of the founders of the system, has
helped set up nine new systems in island communities in the last
     "The more people that are involved in it, the greater the
number of services that can be offered and the more effective it
     The system operates like a bank. Users open accounts
through a central office in the community and transactions are
recorded through a main computer.
     But money isn't necessary. If someone wants to buy goods or
services, they find someone within the system offering what they
need and negotiate a price in green dollars (which Linton said
are equal to the current value of federal dollars). Once the deal
is completed, the green dollars are deducted from the purchaser's
LETS account and added to the supplier's account.
     Each transaction is recorded at the central office and it
doesn't matter how long a person keeps their account in the
negative, as long as they offer something that can be bought by
people within the system.
     The difference between LETS and the traditional barter
system is that deals don't have to operate strictly between two
     "You can find someone with something you want, but they
don't have to want or need what you have to offer," Linton said.
     Once the green dollars exchanged are recorded in each
party's account by the central office, each party can then
continue to trade their green dollars or service with any other
user of the system.
     "It's great when you don't have much money or are
unemployed," Dryburgh, 29, said.
     "It really gives you a sense of community spirit because
every time you buy something, you're not only getting something
you like but you're improving someone else's cash situation.
     Dryburgh sells some crafts through LETS and offers hair cuts
to members for green dollars.
     "You don't need to have a lot of training to be able to
contribute," she said. "And it doesn't matter whether you have
green dollars or not if you want to buy something."
     Linton said government agencies that distribute welfare and
unemployment cheques haven't got a policy for green dollars yet,
but he adds that many of the things that can be bought through
LETS are luxuries, rather than essentials.
     "I wrote to (BC Finance Minister) Hugh Curtis and requested
that the only things that be deducted from benefits be essentials
obtained through the system," Linton said. "We're still waiting
for their policy."
     Members pay $15 to join and 20 cents a month to advertise on
a computerized list mailed out to members monthly, in addition to
a small transaction cost, but Linton said there are no interest
charges or limits as to how much a person can spend.
     "When a person uses green dollars, they're not really
accumulating debt because they can take the rest of their lives
to pay back the system if they want to."
     He said no one individual suffers if someone forfeits on
their commitment to the system because all the members can help
absorb the loss.
     And the government gets its cut too. Linton said all
transactions are recorded so that members can calculate how much
income tax they must pay on earnings.

Send a comment to John Turmel