If this week were a menu item at Tim Hortons, it would have to be called "the crispy hot mess sandwich." There it was, our secular church, our carbohydrate campground, caught in the cruel pincers of fate – or, if you prefer a metaphor more pertinent to its dilemma, mired in tar sands. I like to think of it as a tempest in a Tims cup.
It should have been a good week for Tims. Wednesday was devoted to its admirable project of sending underprivileged kids to summer camp. Friday was National Doughnut Day and while the holiest day in the fried-pastry calendar has its roots in the United States, it has celebrants in Canada as well.
Unfortunately, the sacrament of the Timbit was interrupted by a schism that rocked the church. A group of activists took umbrage at glossy Enbridge ads extolling the wonders of fossil fuel, which Tims customers could choose to watch (or not) as they waited for their neon confectionary. Some 28,000 people signed a petition asking Tims to remove the ads from their restaurants – or else. "A public outcry will let Timmies know that it can't get away with shilling tar sands without us coming together to stop it," the petition read. Bowing to this pressure, Tim Hortons agreed to stop running the Enbridge ads.
Quite wonderfully, at least for lovers of farce, Canada's conservatives decided that they had found a cause worth fighting for; Tims was the hill they would die on. It was D-Day all over again, except here "d" would stand for double-glazed, or possibly double-double.
As Buzzfeed Canada revealed, it was conservative political strategist Stephen Taylor who hyped the hashtag #BoycottTims on Twitter, enlisting the high-profile support of three ministers of the government, Pierre Poilievre, Michelle Rempel and Jason Kenney. It was actually a bit of a relief to see them speak out; in the deafening silence following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, I was a bit worried that all Tory ministers were felled by some wasting disease and lost their voices. But once a truly important matter arose in public debate, they made themselves heard; it was a Tims miracle.
The coffee-crushing juggernaut did not end there. Other powerful fans of the oil sands and the Alberta energy sector vowed they would also take snit leave, and not darken Tims' doors again. Rebel Media's Ezra Levant organized a Boycott Tims rally in Calgary, which appeared to draw more journalists than protesters; Brian Jean, the Leader of Alberta's Wildrose Party, channelled the spirit of Thomas Paine: "I'll pick up my Tims coffee again when they decide to apologize for taking jabs at our industry, which is so important to Albertans."
It may not have occurred to the organizers of the Tims boycott that it could very well backfire. A certain number of Canadians will find Tim Hortons infinitely more welcoming if they are unlikely to encounter Mr. Levant or Conservative cabinet members there. In fact, Tims could adapt this as an advertising slogan, in the way that some candy manufacturers lure allergy-alert parents with the promise "100 per cent nut-free."
The Boycott Tims movement now has a petition of its own, which is quite sweet. It is raising money to buy radio ads, and perhaps those ads will warn of the dangers of marijuana use and national child care, thus killing a bunch of birds with one stone. Most valiantly, it is recommending alternatives to Tims, including Starbucks. This cannot be easy, for everyone knows that crossing Starbucks's threshold increases the likelihood of turning a regular joe-drinking Joe into a latte-lover, with its commitment risks of listening to the CBC and reading Margaret Atwood. Careful, fellas, is all I would say. It's a foamy slope out there.
The land of boycotts is a crowded one – so crowded, in fact, that there is an app called Buycott that you can swipe over a barcode to determine just how morally soiled or pristine a particular product is. The Ethical Consumer website lists dozens of ongoing boycotts, against everything from Air France to Coca-Cola to the country of Botswana, for a variety of transgressions against animal rights, labour rights, equality rights and more. I honestly have no idea how the site's curators will fit the Tims boycott into that list. My feeling is that they will stare at it for a while, shake their heads and mutter: "Canada. What the hell."
As well, boycotts are a notoriously useless gimmick, unless the target is large, plain and evil (e.g. South Africa's apartheid regime). I'm not sure the obscure corner where Canadian culture, politics and snacking meet will fit those criteria.
A quick glance at my local Tims revealed that it was as packed as ever. The chatty elderly colonized one corner, as they always do until the manager hustles them out the door at night and locks it quickly behind them. There were hooky-playing teens and exhausted new parents and happy new Canadians. The church will survive. When the wafers are this good, why go elsewhere?