Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Dunking donut shops



Among news that caught my attention last week, the standout was neither an Italian neurosurgeon who pledged to attempt the world's first head transplant in the near future (seriously), nor the people busily packing their bags to colonize Mars. It was the absurd kerfuffle that ensued when Tim Hortons yanked Enbridge ads from its in-store video feed (a.k.a. Tims TV) only to suffer the rancorous bleating of flocks of Kool-Aid-drinking conservative sheep driven down across the Alberta steppe from the tar sands not by benevolent shepherds, but by alpha rams in pinstriped wolves' clothing (a.k.a. NeoCon politicians and industry cheerleaders). It stood out for one simple reason: unlike head transplants and moving to Mars, it was ludicrous.

Let's start at the beginning. After airing ads from many-times criminally convicted Enbridge in about 1,500 of its outlets across Canada, Tim Hortons hastily withdrew them when an online petition by social-justice organization SumOfUs asked them to do just that, suggesting the chain was shilling for the energy industry. Given the petition was but 28,000 strong — average daily numbers for any Tims in Saskatchewan — it was surprising the company responded at all. But it did, satisfying, as one con troll put it, "left-leaning, anti-corporate, environmentalist" double-double-chuggers who saw the ads — which struck a PR chord of empathy for average, hard-working Canadians in the energy industry — as little more than slick propaganda for an environmental villain.

Enbridge's $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline would ship diluted tar-sands bitumen ("dilbit") from Alberta to B.C.'s pristine coast. Approved in a sham review by the feds, the pipeline must still meet 209 conditions (<30 completed), bring aboriginal communities onside (26 of 45 so far), deal with court challenges (First Nations lawyers are smart enough to paper Enbridge into a 50-year court battle), and satisfy Crusty Clark's infamous five softball conditions.

To be fair, Tims wasn't the only venue airing Enbridge's odious ads. A steady diet of this desperate, manipulative, heartstring-tugging pap during hockey games already had most Canadians nauseous, so the last place they wanted to see more was when they dropped into Tims for what they hoped was a neutral coffee break. "Enbridge was using (a) trusted brand... to sell a skeptical public on a project," said Emma Pullman, Vancouver campaigner with SumOfUs.

Predictably, comically, Enbridge spokesman Graham White downplayed the end to its propaganda campaign: "We enjoyed working with Tims and respect its decision." This, of course, was a bullshit candy-coating as transparent as the one its ads enticed us to swallow. It was also code to circle the petroleum-powered wagons, and the Conservative Cavalry soon rode in to save the day. Leading the charge — farcically, given his abiding irrelevance — was ConBot mouthpiece Ezra Levant, erstwhile inventor of the oxymoron "ethical oil," who organized a protest and social-media campaign with the hashtag #BoycottTims. Oh-so-offensive Defence Minister Jason Kenney, representing the riding of Calgary Southeast, also took to Twitter: "I'm proud to represent thousands of constituents who work for Enbridge & other CDN energy companies."

If there was any doubt of the toxic collusion between big oil and the Harper government, it evaporated like the hydrocarbons that poisoned so many in Michigan after Enbridge's 2010 Kalamazoo River dilbit spill. But there was more schadenfreude.

"Disappointed in @TimHortons. AB energy companies fuel our economy, provide jobs, and adhere to strict environmental standards," tweeted Brian Jean, leader of Alberta's Wildrose Party (big surprise there). Following it up with an interview in which he — foolishly — called for an apology and proclaimed "I am pretty sure Tims will correct their mistake quickly, but I don't think it's appropriate what they have done."

Just what had they done? Well, apparently the company made a "business decision" to remove some ads based on customer feedback. Seemed reasonable, but lo the consequences: it clearly enraged another contingent that claimed the act demonized an industry that produces not only energy, but thousands of jobs. And herein lay the beating heart of the ad-debacle beast: Albertans' bizarre sense of entitlement. Do Newfoundlanders feel the need to celebrate their destruction of the cod fishery? Do British Columbians get upset when outsiders question our clear-cutting the last remaining old growth forests? Was I proud of my contribution to Great Lakes pollution by dint of being a citizen of Ontario? If every day you work in the tar sands for a mitt-full of money shortens someone's life somewhere else, how can you defend it?

Conservatives love to scream about government interference in business, but when it doesn't quite benefit their big-money interests, they happily interfere, cornering the market on sanctimonious hypocrisy. Thus, a business decision by Tim Hortons was immediately decried by the same politicians who otherwise preach that criticizing any Canadian business is treasonous.

A tweet directly to Brian Jean summed that up: "So the free market reigns supreme until it affects a company that donates to your party, then... Fascinating stuff."

Indeed. And ludicrous, too.