When Stephen Harper snubbed Gaddafi by avoiding a UN meeting to preside over the return of Tim Hortons from American to Canadian hands, he shone a spotlight on two significant national problems: one resolved, and one exacerbated. Resolved was the foreign ownership of a company so strongly linked to Canadian identity. Exacerbated was the fact that the link existed in the first place.
As a nation, we are not big on nationalism. This is perhaps our greatest strength. Placing minimal emphasis on national identity makes for a more open minded and relaxed culture, far less malleable to the militaristic machinations that have propelled so many others into pointless conflict (it took American nationalism to bring us to Afghanistan). In the absence of a stringent and narrow-minded patriotism, we have opted instead for a vast cultural space to rival our geographical ones, in which we are free as individuals to decide for ourselves what it means to be Canadian. In such a land, it is peculiar that a place of pride reserved by most nations for their history, culture, and highest ideals, could be so easily claimed by a chain of donut shops with a passable cup of coffee.
Of course, Tim Hortons is not alone in this respect; NHL Hockey, Molson, the CBC, and to a lesser extent, Canadian Tire, have all planted flags in the vast tundra of Canadian identity. “Welcome to Canada”, “I Am Canadian”, “Canada Lives Here (!)”. Each trumpet their own audacious rallying cries in an attempt to convince us that they are the source and stewards of our pride and spirit as a nation. Why is it working? Surely, if any of us were to think on it, we would prefer not to look upon our nation as a commercial for a donut shop, but many of us seem to do just that. If you were to ask a patriotic American what it meant to be one, he or she might speak of independence or democracy; it is unlikely that McDonald’s, however American, would be invoked. A Canadian, on the other hand, might well be inclined to speak of hockey, beer, and Tim Horton’s (“Whoo!”).
We live in a land of unparalleled cultural liberty and freedom. Our identities are not infringed upon by our flag. If we, as a people, are to have a patriotic constant, then let it be that; for it is not our laws or our government, but our spirit as a people that makes it so. It is why we are unique among nations, and it is far more worthy of pride than an oddball cluster of corporations, and self-deprecating beaver jokes. It is the source of our cool, and we shouldn’t give it up for all the timbits in Oakville.