You Always Got Time for the Casual Belittling of the Common Man


(According to some people, you’d expect the two cups to gang up on the carton and rip out its insides, but noooo…)

A phrase I fervently wish would be retired from the Canadian political lexicon is “The Tim Horton’s constituency”.

It’s cropped up in the last few elections, asking whether Stephen Harper, Stephane Dion or Michael Ignatieff would be more or less likely to be caught dead in a Tim Horton’s. It’s cropped up in the recent Toronto mayoralty race, both as an explanation of Rob Ford’s supposed connection to the common man, and also as an unfortunate quip about his weight. And it is seen as a counterpoint to the “Starbucks” constituency, where it is implied that people who are willing to pay $3 or more for their cups of joe are somehow pretentious, elitist and, ultimately, not real Canadians.

I find this such a blatant and inaccurate compartmentalization of a person’s thought processes that it’s insulting. I mean, I drink Tim Horton’s coffee too, and Stephen Harper and I are unlikely to agree about, well, anything. I also have been known to partake of the Starbucks coffee. So, what do you call those individuals who drink both Starbucks and Tim Hortons? Besides over-caffeinated? And what about those people who drink at one of Tim’s many competitors, like Coffee Time, or Country Style? Are they closet NDPers or Green Party supporters, or do they even have a political party?

Yes, Tim Hortons’ locations are basically ubiquitous, and Canadians do love their doughnuts. If a politician ever found an issue that united the majority of people who ever drank at Timmy’s, he or she would ride a wave to power that none could withstand, but the likelihood of that ever happening is minimal. If everybody who ever drank coffee at one of the literally thousands of Tim Horton’s across the country had exactly the same political opinions and thought processes as everybody else, do you know what you’d hear at every Tim Horton’s establishment you’d visit? Silence.

I have heard plenty of people badmouthing Harper as well as McGuinty in Tim Horton’s. I’ve heard people praising McGuinty’s full day kindergarten initiative while sipping from Tim’s cups. Go into a teacher’s staff room and count the number of paper cups there; I guarantee you that more than half would be Timmy cups. And yet teacher unions are one of the groups that some Conservatives like to peg as being out of touch with the “Tim Horton’s crowd.”

As a writer, I do head to a Tim Horton’s to hear Canadians talk, and the reason it’s a good writing exercise is because Canadians are a diverse bunch. You’ll find no shortage of characters at these establishments and characters are, by definition, individuals. Individuals are, by and large, unique. The number of people who actually drink at Tim Hortons probably outnumber Conservative voters by at least two-to-one. How presumptuous is it that any political leader could claim an affinity for this great body of individuals?

The American equivalent to this Canadian phenomenon is “Joe and Jane six-pack” and is an attempt by politicians to try and lay claim to being in touch with the “average” individual. I think this fundamentally undersells what the average individual is capable of thinking of, and it’s laughable that politicians, some of whom spend $20 million of their own personal fortune to try and win elections, try to claim a commonality with people far less affluent than themselves, as the sole basis of their suitability for public office. It is linked to a self-destructive distrust of elitism, as if this country shouldn’t be run by people eminently qualified to do the job well.

It is another in a long list of examples of politicians attempting to dodge the argument. Rather than defend the merits of their policies in an open debate, they attempt to shut down discussion by saying “well, this is what the average person thinks, and so there!” It’s a citation to authority in the absence of a credible argument, and is another example of the political process of this continent, and the people it serves, being short changed.

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