On January 15th, Romeo Saganash, candidate for leadership of the NDP – and more historically, the first Indigenous person to run for leadership of a major party, and potentially, Prime minister of Canada – visited Waterloo Region. The Liberals had just elected a new party president and the next generation of healthcare funding in Canada was being debated in Victoria.
The next day the top-billed story on TheRecord.com was about Tim Horton’s new coffee cup sizes. Yikes.
This is not to pick on The Record – newspapers were quick to pick up this story. Instead, this speaks volumes both about the state of political reporting in Canada and about our national obsession with Timmies. Independent Kitchener coffee shops like Little Bean or Misty Mountain Coffee would have to pay through the nose for that kind of advertising; Tim’s gets it for free.
Tim Horton’s has long been an iconic brand in this country but somewhere along the way it was elevated to a higher status in the Canadian psyche. In the last decade it seems to have been elevated to a special status beyond a simple brand, and has become enmeshed in our very cultural fabric as a cherished national symbol.
For a corporation, it’s a good gig if you can get it.
To my fellow Canadians, I say enough with the Tim Horton’s patriotism. Tim Horton’s’ elevation to become a pillar of Canadian patriotism and values, is not patriotism, but branding of the worst kind. Our culture and pride in our nation should be organic and a creation of us, the people – not something branded and sold to us with cream and sugar.
What’s worse is to see our politicians jump aboard this marketing train and use this to their political advantage. To frequent Tim Horton’s is to pay one’s respects to the very essence of Canadiana, or so the theory goes. What we’ve really got is a large corporation which has intertwined itself with the very fabric of our culture. The fact that we are such a young country with a sometimes tenuous grip on our national identity should encourage care and tact with our national symbols.
Instead, politicians jump at the opportunity to employ this brand’s image for their own gain, further encouraging our hero worship of the double-double. Stephen Harper’s PR team loves getting him behind the counter of a Tim Horton’s. The unspoken subtext is that ‘real’ Canadians go to Tim’s. Therefore
Harper is a ‘real’ Canadian. It’s a sign of his patriotism.
But what is Tim’s? It’s long been separated from the legendary Maple Leafs forward. Tim’s today is a faceless corporate entity. For a brand that’s become a cultural staple they can be very set in their bottom-line thinking. They don’t go out of their way to create high-wage jobs. There isn’t any fair trade coffee brewing. They go to little effort to reduce waste, snubbing the cardboard sleeve and instead doubling up on cups for hot beverages. So what is it that’s actually patriotic about Tim Horton’s?
I drink the odd Tim’s coffee, sure. But when possible I’d rather support one of the many great independent coffee shops in my neighbourhood. There’s one I frequent where the owner knows my name and always has time for a chat. He’s just trying to make a living for him and his employees. There’s another that opens up their space to all sorts of community activities and even sells some food that’s grown locally. Is Tim Horton’s really more patriotic, more Canadian than them?
It’s time we take a good look at Tim Horton’s and recognize it for what it is: a brand. Nothing more, nothing less. So why not visit a local, independent coffee shop the next time you’re looking for a cruller?
Supporting a small business, supporting your neighbour – what could be more Canadian?