Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Influential Political Blogger, Part 2: Tim’s vs. Starbucks


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.”


20 thoughts on “Influential Political Blogger, Part 2: Tim’s vs. Starbucks

  1. You need to video this blog while you walk through stacks of shipping crates or something.

  2. What if I like Second Cup? It’s Canadian, but has the chat-friendly atmosphere you describe…

    I don’t drink coffee, but like the richer hot chocolate I get at Starbucks/Second Cup instead of the watery stuff at Tim’s.

    (I linked this post on my LJ, you might get a few hits from that.)

  3. Steph, I’m not sure where Second Cup fits into the political paradigm. Our Second Cup here is in the mall so I virtually never go there … I’m not sure where they stand on the reusable-mug issue either!

    Jason, that is just the nicest thing you could have said to me…

  4. I drink Tim Horton’s. Occasionally, I remember to bring in my reuseable mug and get about 10 cents off my XL2C1S coffee…

    But vote Conservative? I dunno. I have voted for them in the past, back when they still had ‘Progressive’ as part of their party name. And taking that word out seemed to me to be a little ominous, and along with that word went any trust I may have had in the party (as much as I feel I can trust any political party, which admittedly, isn’t much).

    I think I’ll keep drinking my Tim’s coffee for now, though. I don’t get much choice in Beamsville anyway. And I still don’t know who to vote for. I don’t think it will be my Conservative rep, though…

  5. I think your instincts about the Conservatives are right-on, Jamie, and at the risk of sounding even more cynical than usual I’d say that if Harper could get away with calling it the “Non-Progressive Conservative Party” he’d probably do it. But I also know you’re a Tim’s drinker — do they encourage reusable mugs at Tim’s in Beamsville?

  6. There is a sign outside of the Tim Horton’s (and presumeably inside too) that says the coffee costs less if you use a reuseable mug…it’s only 9 or 10 cents, but it’s something. Usually my mug is dirty or I forget it, so I don’t do it that often (though the cups are apparently compostable…but not the lids).

    I’ve got 3 reuseable mugs, though. I should try harder.

  7. All I could think of when I finished reading your entry today was a very heartfelt “Testify, sister!!”. Must be the Salvationist in my background 🙂

    Now, to buck the stereotype, I do admit that I drink more Timmie’s than Starbucks but am exactly the sort of artsy, New Democratic, PFLAG-wavin’ liberal bleeding heart that Mr H loves to hate. They have me in thrall because they sell the only good coffee in the HSC…so perhaps not bucking the Conservative wisdom, eh?

    Apropos of Starbucks and bookstores, one of my favorite Mom and son moments was walking in the door of said bookstore and, in perfect unison, stopping dead in our tracks for a long, appreciative sniff and a big ol’ sigh of pure pleasure. “The smell of coffee and fresh books, “, Chris says to me with a smile. And he doesn’t even DRINK the stuff. Coffee, I mean. We both know how he is with books 🙂

  8. But hey – it’s nice that we get to be so shocked and annoyed when a politician starts using patriotism to manipulate us. South of the border they get that stuff served up with their morning coffee every day.

  9. i’m a tea drinking starbucks goer… i vote liberal every time, not because i wouldn’t LOVE an ndp government, but because liberals have a better chance. i have a secret crush on chretien.:) but i’m in alberta where the conservatives reign, i am a minority and we pay monthly for our government health coverage. money flows out here… nothing but jobs as far as the eye can see! and you have to work two of them to afford to go to the dentist and pay your rent! god help you if you lose your glasses. but AM i an albertan? i was born here. but no, my heart is in toronto… dear, sweet, smoggy toronto… home, sweet, home… yes, i’d agree that regionalism is a very canadian attitude!:)

  10. Here in the UK, I’m fascinated to read about your Canadian politics, and especially the connection with which coffee you drink!
    I haven’t heard of re-using coffee mugs for a small reduction in the price of the coffee before – it hasn’t reached the UK yet, or at least not the bit of it that I live in.
    It sounds like a great contribution to reducing the quantity of rubbish that has to be dealt with. Here we would bury in landfill. Is it the same with you?
    Do many people take up the offer of re-using their mug, or is it a new idea that they have to get used to?

  11. Not many do that I’ve seen…and even I usually don’t because I don’t think of it until I’m actually in line at Tim Hortons (who needs Zen when you can’t think farther ahead than a second anyway).

  12. I’m in your camp of Starbucks values, but also have another (I suppose) Canadian tendency: I’m cheap. Not to mention, if I’m on Water Street anyway I’ll head for Auntie Crae’s (how’s that for regionalism?), who charge the same price for a smallish paper cup as a large reusable mug.

    Reminds me, I must head for Chapters soonish before it gets wet and muddy (oops, not today) and it’s harder to get up that bank from the Mall bus stop. I might splurge on a latte while I’m there, but only if the book budget is not trampled again.

  13. Thanks for the comments, everyone! Katie-Rose, I find that bringing reusable mugs to coffee shops, just like bringing reusable bags to supermarkets, is an idea that’s taking people a long time to catch onto — silly really, as it’s such an easy to way to reduce waste. But as Jamie says it’s mainly about remembering to do it.

    Heather, I was discussing the topic of this blog with someone on Facebook and she said she thought the NDP voter would more likely be found at a local independent coffee shop. I suggested, for St. John’s, Coffee & Company, but actually, having read your comment, I think Auntie Crae’s is the definitive NDP coffee-drinker’s destination. And Hava Java represents the Green vote!! (references completely opaque to anyone from outside St. John’s…)

  14. Hi Trudy,

    So would you take any mug to your favourite coffee shop – such as a china one from home, or are they suggesting that you wash and re-use their own disposable mugs?
    I can’t wait for this idea to reach the UK – it sounds such fun – and so sensible!

  15. I’ve never seen anyone bring in a regular mug — usually it’s the “travel mug” type of mug with a lid on it so you can take it out of the store. Some of the coffee shops, like Starbucks, sell their own travel mugs which you can take in, take home, wash and re-use.

    It’s interesting they don’t have them in the UK yet since generally I think of the UK and Europe as being much more environmentally aware and less wasteful than we are here in North America.

  16. Hmmm…have you been to a Dunkin Donuts here in the States? I think that is what I might compare Tim Hortons. Sharon (who drinks DD coffee because she has low brow tastes and a small pocketbook but has liberal politics)

  17. Oh ..on the Dunkin Donuts website they have an ad spoofing Starbucks…


  18. Sharon, I agree that Dunkin’ Donuts is more or less equivalent to Tim’s in cost, product, ambience and status. But it doesn’t occupy anything like the significance in the American psyche that Tim Horton’s does in the Canadian collective unconscious.

  19. I don’t think that Calling the Prime Minister the antichrist in a sweater vest is very Chrisitan like.and i think it is judgemental. shame on you. I was very offended.

  20. Fair enough, Jorlene. I was being flippant, but I also do think that the very policies that Harper and other neo-conservatives promote as “Christian” are actually very anti-Christlike — lack of tolerance, lack of concern for the poor and the environment. While I obviously don’t think Harper is literally the anti-Christ, I did want to point out his anti-Christian (as I see them) values and I didn’t use the phrase without some thought.

    As for being judgemental, I agree we are called on not to judge our fellow human beings. I do think there is somewhat of a different standard for people in power though, as there is a long Christian tradition (going back to Jesus and the religious leaders of His day) of using strong language to denounce the abuses of those in power, especially when those abuses are cloaked in religious trappings to make them look godly.

    Sorry you were offended, but thanks for taking time to comment, as it allowed me to clarify a point that was important to me, and I did wonder if anyone would pick up on it.

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