Tim Hortons' Enbridge Reaction - The Real Issue

By: David Yager, National Leader Oilfield Services

Originally published in MNP's Oilfield Services News - June 9, 2015

The story was impossible to miss. Oil and pipeline haters used the internet (social media and email) to demand Tim Horton's drop its paid advertising from Enbridge from their in-store TV information service. Based on 29,000 electronic signatures on some sort of online petition, Tim Horton's (now owned by global conglomerate Burger King) wilted and dumped the ads immediately. 

This caused predictable outrage from all manner of commentators. The theme was that Tim Horton's is the working oilpatch's favourite coffee and donut outlet, but Tim Horton's fears the online oil haters more than a negative reaction from its own blue collar clientele. This will be a news story for a day or so, another in a seemingly endless stream of corporations having their activities driven and shaped by organized but largely anonymous citizens who threaten their top and bottom lines if their behaviour isn't satisfactory. 

The problem is not the action, but the numbers. It's a free society. Sign petitions. Issue news releases. Say whatever you want. The issue is the number of people - real or alleged - who are able to shape a corporation or society's agenda without names, addresses or actual appearances. 

If Tim Horton's did indeed receive 29,000 real names from real people on this petition, this only accounts for 7/1000 of 1% of the population in Canada and the U.S., the major markets in which Tim Horton's operates. It is 7/100 of 1% of the population of Canada. It is 7/10 of 1% of the population of Alberta, the province in which all that nasty bitumen is produced. This is nobody. Twice that many people were at the Women's World Cup soccer game in Edmonton on June 6. This is not representative of anything but some corporate public relations hack at Burger King freaking out because one of its operating units got a bit of negative publicity. 

While many in Canada regularly complain about the activities of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, at least he has a huge and legitimate mandate from Canadians to go about shaping the country compared to the Tim Horton's fiasco. In the 2011 election over 5.8 million Canadians voted for the PCs and nearly 15 million people of half the population voted. These are the sort of numbers that should be required to change direction of a society or civilization, not 29,000. 

Which is the root of the problem. Corporations and politicians are becoming increasingly sensitive to increasingly smaller groups of people who have figured out how to use the internet to advance causes. Canada's bruised bitumen producers and pipeline operators must figure out how to fight back and separate hijack tactics from legitimate public concern or dissent. 

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