The Edmonton Journal has confirmed that Canada’s identity includes immigration. Citing a well-produced ad for Tim Horton’s that encapsulates an African family’s resettlement in Canada, Columnist Paula Simons concisely described the commercial as follows:
It begins so quietly. A man who seems to be an immigrant from Africa sits alone in a dingy apartment on a winter night, talking wistfully to someone on the phone in Zulu, while his finger gently strokes a family photograph. Then we see him at a department store, buying colourful parkas in different sizes, which he takes back to his apartment and carefully packs into weatherproof bags. He wakes to the sound of his alarm clock. It’s early, still pitch black, as he makes his way through the falling snow to the airport.
He heads to the Tim Hortons counter and orders two coffees. We watch his anxious face light up as he sees his wife and two daughters arrive. The couple exchange a kiss. He hands her a coffee and says, “Welcome to Canada.”
The family head out into the snow, dressed in their new winter wear, as the first winter morning light breaks.
“Welcome home,” he says.
The ubiquity of Tim Hortons all over Canada has spawned an entire sub-culture. I’m not talking about the phrase ‘double-double’, which originated not at any Tim Horton’s, but on an episode of the television show Dragnet that aired long before Tim’s became a nation-wide phenomenon. There are other terms brought on by the presence of Tims.
A couple of days ago, while walking on Bloor Street near the University of Toronto, I observed a gathering of protesters, (by the appearance of their hand-held placards, they were unionized workers asserting rights for minorities and women). There was a Tim’s just around the corner. One of the persons in a group said to another, “Are you going for a Timmie Run?” TRANSLATION: are you going to buy some of Tim Horton’s products for our group? Similarly, South Asians typically describe the spherical South Asian dessert ladoo as a being ‘like a Timbit’. Tim Horton’s is no longer the exclusive haunt of shift workers like policemen. On my way to the Immigration and Refugee Board this morning, I passed three Tims on foot.
I personally find some of this lingo corny or downright scary. When I hear the word ‘Timbit’, it brings to mind some dark vision like clones of the late Tim Horton secretly located at each Tim’s franchise, constituting a core ingredient at Tims, along the lines of the plot from the movie Soylent Green. Or, I think of pieces of the Ford Pantera that he drove at the time of his death being sold as metallic souvenirs like James Dean’s Porsche.
One element of immigration reality not alluded to is that skilled immigrants to Canada often start their Canadian work history working at low-level employment such as in service jobs provided by Tim Horton’s franchisees. Indeed, there is a low skill program administered by Canada’s immigration department that many Tim Horton’s franchises benefited from, especially those in Alberta prior to 2008, when the job market was hot, and local Canadians had no interest in working at or near minimum wage.
Indeed, when completing a labour market opinion for a Tim Horton’s franchisee in Calgary during 2007, a Tim’s franchisee confirmed that a sizeable number of their workers were recent immigrants who were well-educated and would consistently quit after a few months (for example, as soon as their credentials were recognized, or as soon as they commenced a course of study to have their credentials transferred to a Canadian setting).
The effectiveness of the ad was captured by Ms. Simons as follows:
What we’re being sold, of course, isn’t just coffee. We’re being sold a vision of Canada as a multicultural country that welcomes hardy refugees and immigrants from around the world, and absorbs them into its national fabric — one Timbit and double-double at a time.
Ms Simons contrasted the ad with the reality that faces many recent immigrants to Canada that is wholly absent in said ad:
In reality, plenty of newcomers have a difficult time making the economic and cultural transition to life here, never mind being accepted as Canadians. But the happy immigrant story is part of our national mythos. The ad works, in part, because it reminds many of us of our own family histories — but also because it allows us to pat ourselves on the back, just a little bit smugly, for being citizens of such a noble nation.
Ms Simons implicitly acknowledged the current government’s lack of vision by highlighting the fact that sophisticated corporate marketing is taking up the torch of multiculturalism:
How odd, that it should take the most “white bread” business imaginable — a multinational doughnut corporation! — to capture the authentic face of today’s urban Canada.
And how intriguing, too, that one of Canada’s corporate giants has chosen to make the immigration narrative such a large part of its brand identity.
By contrast, current Canadian government policy is more intent on atomizing Canada’s minorities by unduly ethnicizing politics in Canada. The intent appears to be pandering to ethnic minorities who are politically connected and/or politically active at the expense of other minorities. This could create a big rip in the cultural mosaic if Canada takes sides on contentious historical or current foreign policy issues like Greece/Macedonia, Kurdistan/Turkey, India/Pakistan, China/Tibet, and Israel/Palestine. A more principled approach would be to place less of a priority on the government’s reelection, but rather, to articulate a position on well-documented human rights issues (positions that are defensible should there be some complaint by one ethnic group or other).