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A Tim Hortons location

Chris Youn

It is, presumably, not how Tim Hortons wanted to mark international doughnut day on Friday.

The popular coffee-and-doughnut chain is facing a growing backlash over its decision to pull ads for Enbridge Inc. from its in-store screens in the face of a social-media campaign organized by the Vancouver office of a U.S.-based environmental group. The company remained silent, clearly hoping the tempest would blow over, while pro-industry partisans are determined not to let that happen.

In Alberta, Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean said he would skip his usual morning stop at Tims until the company apologized and restored the right of Enbridge to advertise in its stores. A small group of protesters – urged on by conservative social media – picketed a Tims in downtown Calgary, while organizer Ezra Levant planned to air anti-Tim Hortons ads and placed some on a network of small, Christian radio stations in Northern Ontario.

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The chain – long extolled by Conservatives as embodying Canadian values – now finds itself mired in a bitter battle for "hearts and minds" being waged across Canada by oil companies which have launched major advertising campaigns, and environmental groups which rely on social media networks.

The stakes are enormous. Alberta producers are desperate for pipeline projects to access new markets, but have run into a wall of opposition from environmentalists, First Nations and, in some cases, municipal politicians. The sector is even concerned about challenges in its own backyard, fearing the potential imposition of higher taxes and tougher environmental rules by Alberta's new NDP government.

In an interview, Mr. Jean said he felt the need to defend the province's largest industry, which is the ongoing target of environmentalists' campaigns within Canada and around North America and Europe aimed at blocking its expansion.

"People need to stand up and say what's going on," he said. "The truth is: Every job in Alberta is clearly dependent on the oil industry and the natural-resources industry here – every single job."

The Wildrose leader echoed the frequent claim from industry supporters that the critics are foreign-funded radicals determined to undermine Canada's economy, a view espoused by federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver when, as natural resources minister, he condemned opponents of Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. Mr. Jean said Tim Hortons simply played into their hands.

"I'm not going to tell anybody what to do with their coffee habit or tea habit. But I will say I'll pick up my Tims coffee again when they decide to apologize for taking jobs out of our industry, and they stop listening to American lobbyists and American people who have no interest in our oil or our economy."

In Calgary, about two dozen oil-sands-industry supporters answered the call via social media to attend a rally at a downtown Calgary Tim Hortons location, which disrupted the regular lunch rush. Some wore buttons emblazoned with "I Love Canada's Energy," and a few carried placards urging a boycott of the coffee and doughnut chain.

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Don Sharpe, a paramedic who was dressed in coveralls and hard hat, said he has grown tired of the Canadian energy industry being demonized for perceived environmental misdoings. "I've drunk a lot of Tim Hortons coffee in my life, but where's it going to stop? Who are they going to go after next?" he said.

The organizer of the anti-Enbridge campaign, Emma Pullman, said the industry was creating a smoke screen by suggesting the campaign was the work of American activists. "I'm from Alberta and this campaign was started by Canadians and 30,000 Canadians signed it," she said. "I'm kind of sick of the legitimate concerns of Canadian being drowned out by all the mudslinging around that."

Ms. Pullman is Vancouver-based organizer for SumOfUs, a U.S.-based group that mounts social-media campaigns around the world, often taking on multinational companies over global environmental issues.

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