I think we’ve already clearly established that I am never going to be an influential political blogger, but once again our election campaign has stirred me to write a few lines about politics. Apparently our Prime Minister, Stephen “Antichrist in a Sweater Vest” Harper, views himself and his Conservative government as appealing to the “Tim Horton’s crowd” while the Liberals and NDP appeal to the “Starbucks crowd.”
I was hoping to find an actual interview or press release in which the PM made this comparison, but I can’t find the words from his own lips (fill me in if you can) — what I have found are loads of references by columnists and bloggers going back over the past two years, using this Tim’s/Starbuck’s dichotomy to define the Harper-Conservative supporters versus All the Rest of Us.
Our local CBC drive-home show yesterday conducted a little unscientific poll of people they found drinking either Tim’s or Starbucks coffee around town, and lo and behold, turns out the PM and his strategists are correct. Everyone they found drinking Tim’s coffee was voting Tory, while all the Starbucks drinkers were voting either Liberal or NDP.
For those outside Canada, I’ll try to put this into perspective, but it’s hard to draw comparisons because there’s nothing in any other country that even roughly approxmates the role of Tim Horton’s coffee and donut shops in Canadian culture. You can say that you are as American as McDonald’s or WalMart or Coca-Cola, but even that doesn’t come close to being as Canadian as Tim Horton’s. They are on every other street corner, and they occupy a role in the Canadian psyche that is as close to flag-waving patriotism as we ever come — even for people who don’t actually eat many donuts or drink much coffee.
For Harper’s purposes, he seems to be defining Tim Horton’s patrons as solid, salt-of-the-earth, average, everyday Canadians. The American import Starbucks, on the other hand, with their $4.50 lattes and other fancy stuff, stands for everything that is pretentious, high-brow, and self-absorbed. It’s a rural/small-town versus urban, working-class versus professional-class, small-c conservative versus small-l liberal dichotomy that’s being established here, with an innocent cup of coffee symbolizing an entire range of values. And, of course, the centrality of Tim Horton’s in Canadian culture means that the Conservatives are defining “their kind” of people as the true (blue) Canadians.
So, I’m sad to say I fit right into the PM’s stereotype. I am an urban (well, as urban as we get in Newfoundland), professional, pretentious, artsy, Starbucks-nonfat-no-whip-raspberry-mocha drinking snob who usually votes NDP, is strategically voting Liberal in this election, and who rarely drinks a Tim Horton’s coffee if I can help it (though I will admit their chocolate danish is the height of hedonistic pleasure and the one thing I truly love to spoil myself with when I really want to splurge). But is that just random, or is there any actual correlation between my coffee-shop habits and my politics? Are the Conservatives on to something, or are they just trying to smear their opponents in the time-honoured tradition of politicians everywhere?
Well, first, I don’t really like coffee all that much. Which means that if I go to a coffee shop, I’m probably going for the ambience, and I’m going to drink something that doesn’t taste too much like coffee (and not at all like tea, which I loathe). My nearest Starbucks is IN A BOOKSTORE, which really says everything about the ambience and why I go there. If they’d put a Tim Horton’s a bookstore I’d probably start drinking my coffee there. But would a Tim’s ever go in a bookstore? Does the fact that I love to read label me as a small-l liberal who would never vote for Stephen Harper?
Also, if I’m going to meet someone in a coffee shop to chat and hang out, I like the living-room-like atmosphere of a Starbucks more than the sterile, fast-food-like atmosphere of a Tim’s. I’m not sure what that says about my politics. Probably that I’m an effete, lazy parasite whiling away the hours in comfy chairs rather than a hard-working, honest Canadian whipping in for a double-double and back out to business again.
The only truly political aspect to my Starbucks preference is that this summer I started boycotting the one drink I do like at Tim’s, the iced cappucino, because they wouldn’t put it in a reusable mug for me. As far as I know (correct me if I’m wrong), Tim’s doesn’t encourage the use of reusable mugs, while Starbucks not only caters to them, but gives me a discount for bringing in my own mug. (Admittedly, after the discount I’m still paying twice what I would for a coffee at Tim’s). So I do feel that they support my efforts to reduce waste and be more environmentally aware — which is also why I’m voting Liberal this time around.
So there ya go. I fall right into the demographic the Conservatives have identified for me. How predictable.
But what I really resent in this is not that I’m being characterized as a useless parasite on society, a snobbish, pretentious, upper-middle-class, artsy-fartsy dilettante who’s out of touch with the needs and concerns of “real people.” No, I can handle that. Give me a nonfat, no-whip raspberry mocha with it and I can even enjoy it.
What I resent is the correlation the Conservatives are making between their “conservative” values and being a true Canadian, a patriot. Because even if I don’t particularly like Tim’s coffee, waving the Tim Horton’s logo at a Canadian is the equivalent of waving the Stars and Stripes at an American. The fact is that all my raspberry-mocha-Starbucks values — social democracy, universal medical care, concern for the environment, support for the arts — these are the quintessentially Canadian values that I grew up with, as a child of the Trudeau era. These are the things that make us who we are. These are the things that make me, dare I say it, proud to be Canadian (and, yes, this is in keeping with the statement on my sidebar that I’m a Newfoundlander first and a Canadian second, because nothing is more truly Canadian than regionalism!)
Starbucks Coffee may be a US company, but the real American import here is Stephen Harper’s Republican, George-Bush-licking, right-wing “family values” conservatism. And slapping a Tim Horton’s logo on that does not make it “truly Canadian.”