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Editorials Canada’s strategic assets: doughnuts deeper than potash

A Burger King sign and a Tim Hortons sign are displayed on St. Laurent Boulevard in Ottawa on Monday, August 25, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

What makes a national asset strategic? This is the difficult question the Harper government has wrestled to the ground several times. Potash? Check. The oil sands? Check. Telcos? Check-ish. Now, Ottawa is faced with its most complex foreign-investment challenge to date, one that goes to the core of the nation's identity, that strikes at the very heart of what it means to be part of this land and its people, one where the wrong decision could cost Canada its independence, its values, its soul.

Okay, we're exaggerating. But still – Tim Hortons, people! The American chain Burger King is in merger talks with Tim Hortons. How could that possibly be a net benefit for Canada? Why not just cancel hockey while we're at it?

Coffee and doughnuts sold by a Canadian company named after an iconic NHL hockey player are arguably as vital a national resource as any ever produced in this country. This is way bigger than Anne Murray, and if a government can make an argument in favour of protecting something as prosaic as potash, as the Harper government did in 2010, it can certainly come up with one in defence of our national hot beverage/dream purveyor.

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In preparing its decision to cancel the merger, the Harper government should note that a 2009 Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey found that one out of two Canadians self-identified as "Tim Hortons people." Only one in 10 said they preferred Starbucks. Mr. Harper should also remember that he has so assiduously aligned himself with the ordinary, troop-supporting, hockey-parenting, hard-working-Canadian vibe of Tim Hortons that he was once dubbed "the Tim Hortons prime minister."

And then there is the matter of his skipping an important United Nations meeting in 2009 to attend an event at a Tim Hortons "innovation centre" to celebrate the repatriation of the company's ownership (from Delaware) after an ill-fated merger with another U.S. burger chain, Wendy's. A merger, we might add, that occurred under a Liberal government. "'In so many ways, the story of Tim Hortons is the essential Canadian story,'" Mr. Harper said that day, quoting the historian Pierre Berton.

Is Canada's story for sale to Burger King? Of course not. We await with eagerness the government's tabling of "An Act to Protect Ordinary Canadians from Feeling Uncomfortable about Tim Hortons." It already has our endorsement.

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