Thomas Mulcair made a bold political move in a CTV interview Tuesday, and it wasn't a policy announcement that would shake up the Canadian political establishment. The leader of the New Democratic Party talked about his favorite coffee. And it wasn't Tim Hortons, the safe choice of Canadian politicians everywhere.
On CTV's morning news show "Canada AM," Mulcair revealed that he prefers Starbucks over Tim Hortons. He added that trips to the American chain have made a major contribution to his party: "The espresso at Starbucks has really been fuelling this campaign."
And he's not ashamed to flaunt that:
Thomas Mulcair, NDP leader and barista, just came in to the Starbucks my friend @anwarfab works at! #mississauga pic.twitter.com/6Lg44PKh0U
— Ramna Shahzad (@ramna_s) August 24, 2015
Reflecting on Mulcair's favourite coffee may seem superficial compared to other, more important national issues. But take-out coffee has become a symbol of a politician's broader value set. As Glen McGregor of "The Ottawa Citizen" writes, "Tim Hortons reflects hard-working Canadian values, while Starbucks signifies out-of-touch elitists, or so goes the prevailing wisdom."
McGregor was echoing a Conservative strategy described by The Economist back in 2011 when Michael Ignatieff was still the Liberal Party leader: "They marked the Conservatives as the party of Tim Hortons, a popular blue-collar coffee-and-doughnuts chain; they tar Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal leader who is a writer and journalist, as an elitist kind of guy who would prefer Starbucks."
But is it all hype? A false dichotomy used to drive a wedge between voters?
If so, it's one that politicians are buying into. In 2009, Prime Minister Harper made headlines when he declined an invitation to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. His prior engagement? Attending the "repatriation of the Timbit," an event celebrating Tim Hortons as the company became Canadian once more after being purchased by Wendy's in the 1990s.
The donut chain - which was founded by, and named after a Canadian hockey legend - has also become a popular campaign stop during federal elections, and a backdrop for political announcements.
So has Mulcair fallen into a trap laid by Conservatives? Perhaps not. The NDP leader did cover his political bases by tell CTV he has a soft spot for a classic Tim Hortons product: "After a really busy night when we finish at 11...we can be seen sneaking off to Tim Hortons for a box of Timbits."