Granted, the Liberal Party under the pretentious leadership of Michael Ignatieff was more like the Starbucks of Canadian politics. With Ignatieff, however, Canadians were able to see past the pseudo- cosmopolitanism and faux-intellectualism, and identify the American import for what it was. The Trudeau Liberals, on the other hand, are a more deceptive brand: their hollow, and occasionally militaristic, nationalism is much more akin to the marketing style of Tim Hortons.
Of course, Tim Hortons’ appeals to our nationalist sentiments appear increasingly hollow considering the corporation is now owned by Burger King, which is, incidentally, a fairly accurate anthropomorphism of corporate America. Yet long before Tim Hortons officially became American it had been a typical example of corporate America’s fast-food model, complete with flat screen fast-food marquees, frozen food from a box and under-payed workers.
The Liberal party, too, appeals to our nationalist sentiments; yet they fall short of offering something that will reverse the Americanization of our politics and culture. Indeed, the Liberals are offering solutions to the problems facing Canadians that feel distinctly American. For example, their solution to stagnating wages and growing inequality appears to be little more than encouraging investment (read: corporate tax cuts), promoting entrepreneurialism and awaiting the coming knowledge economy. Of course, corporate tax cuts have not resulted in more investment, most people don’t have the capital to become entrepreneurs, and the knowledge economy never seems to arrive (unless it’s just a euphemism for the service economy that is already here). This is the kind of thinking that is produced by the myth of progress that has long characterized American liberalism.
Tim Hortons and the Liberals have more in common than just a false nationalism, however. They both share a desire to peddle dark sludge over the border to unreceptive Americans. And, frankly, who can blame the Americans for not being interested? I do not say this simply because of the likely similar flavours of tar sands bitumen and Tim Hortons coffee — it’s because Americans already have lots of what’s on offer.
Both Tim Hortons and the Liberal Party have been successful in Canada, however, because of effective advertising and the ‘brand loyalty’ that results from it, not because they are offering people a particularly good deal—they’re not. In fact, the Liberal policies that were enacted when they were last in government, like cutting funding to popular social programs to pay for corporate tax cuts, are somewhat analogous to a roll up the rim to win contest: most people lose, some get something minor like a coffee or a doughnut, and a tiny minority get the real prizes.
Yet the contest continues, and this is likely because both entities are effective at convincing consumers — or as I like to call them, citizens — that somehow their brands are ineluctably bound up with Canadian identity. Indeed, the impression one gets from their respective PR onslaughts is that Real Canadians drink Tim Hortons coffee and vote for the Liberal Party (Canada’s “natural governing party”). I, for one, find this about as convincing as Molson Coors’ assurances that I’m not drinking American micturition out of a beer shaped Canadian flag.
Trudeau’s mantra in the speech he delivered to Calgary’s petroleum club in February was that we need to “get our goods to market.” This is imbued with about as much meaning as the “always fresh at Tim Hortons” jingle, and could be accurately reformulated as “always raw with the Liberals,” though it admittedly doesn’t have the same ring to it. Like the Tim Hortons employee, Trudeau appears ill positioned to question which goods ought to be sold, and how refined they ought to be before reaching the market—perhaps this has something to do with his chief of staff, a former lobbyist for big oil.
In the case of Canada’s exported goods, the trend since the turn of the century has been favouring the export of raw resources at the expense of refined or upgraded resources, as well as manufactured goods. This means less value added for Canadians, who not only have to buy back their resources after they are refined elsewhere, but also lose out on the jobs in manufacturing and the refinement process.
Even though this trend may be reversing with the recent fall in the price of oil, and the corollary fall in the value of the loonie, Trudeau has already declared that “transitioning away” from manufacturing (not from oil!) is a pressing issue. This coupled with his promise to be a better Keystone XL salesman than Harper means that Trudeau is doubling down on the ‘strip it and ship it’ approach of the current government. Like Tim Hortons, the Trudeau Liberals offer Canadians a menu that is ultimately limited by their appreciation of American business.
Miles Krauter is a Masters student at Carleton University in Ottawa where he studies Political Economy. He can be followed on Twitter at @MilesKrauter.