Tim Hortons protests: Why the controversy has hit such a nerve with Canadians

Tim Hortons’ customers boycott the coffee/food chain
ABOVE: The controversy with Tim Hortons' unfair wages has caused a boycott campaign and multiple protests against the restaurant giant.

The controversy surrounding Tim Hortons and Ontario’s minimum wage hike continues to stir as protesters gather outside restaurants across the province Wednesday, demanding justice for employees.

The consumer anger comes after franchise owners in Cobourg and Kingston, Ont., recently told their workers they’re eliminating paid breaks and some benefits in response to the province’s minimum wage hike.

READ MORE: Tim Hortons protests planned across Ontario over employees’ benefit cuts

This caused a major backlash across social media and prompted an online movement called “No Timmys Tuesday” that encouraged Canadians to buy their brew from independent coffee shops.

Protests are planned throughout the day across Ontario, including Toronto, Guelph, London, Peterborough and Windsor.

WATCH: Protest planned at Tim Hortons in Cobourg, Ont.

Protest planned at Tim Hortons in Cobourg
Protest planned at Tim Hortons in Cobourg

Why do people care so much?

Christo Aivalis, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s department of history, believes there are several factors that caused the backlash.

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On Jan. 1., the minimum wage hike in Ontario increased to $14 an hour, up from $11.60. After this, the Tim Hortons in Cobourg decided to cut employee benefits.

READ MORE: Tim Hortons vs. minimum wage hike by the numbers

But this particular franchise is owned by the married son and daughter of the chain’s co-founders: Jeri Horton-Joyce — daughter of Tim Horton, and Ron Joyce Jr. — son of co-founder Ron Joyce.

“They are part of the Tim Hortons dynasty rather than a random investor,” Aivalis said.

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This adds an element of “corporate greed” as Tim Hortons has an image of a wholesome Canadian company, he said.

WATCH: Children of Tim Hortons founders called bullies by Ontario premier 

Tim Hortons parent company calls franchisees complaining about minimum wage ‘rogue’
Tim Hortons parent company calls franchisees complaining about minimum wage ‘rogue’

The doughnut giant is also one the most trusted brands in the country, according to a 2015 report. It embraces Canadian pasttimes, like hockey.

“It has a big cultural cachet here. I think a lot of people hold it to a higher standard than maybe a Walmart or McDonald’s,” Aivalis said.

What is Tim Hortons doing?

Tim Hortons’ corporate head office has lashed out online at the owners of the Cobourg restaurant.

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“These recent actions by a few restaurant owners, and the unauthorized statements made to the media by a ‘rogue group’ claiming to speak on behalf of Tim Hortons, do not reflect the values of our brand, the views of our company or the views of the overwhelming majority of our dedicated and hard working restaurant owners,” the statement read.

WATCH: How Tim Hortons became the flashpoint in fight over higher minimum wage. Alan Carter has more

How Tim Hortons became the flashpoint in fight over higher minimum wage
How Tim Hortons became the flashpoint in fight over higher minimum wage

Aivalis said that although the corporate head office said it “has nothing to do with this,” the company does have a lot of control over its franchises.

“A lot of people aren’t buying that they cannot control this,” Aivalis said. “Tim Hortons could make sure its franchises do not make these decisions.”

Protests gaining momentum

Aivalis said consumer protests usually fade within 24 hours, but the Tim Hortons backlash seems to be gaining momentum.

“It’s big on Canadian social media and people are tuning into the labour questions from coast-to-coast,” he said. “People realize this is symbolic of employee benefits and salary.”

READ MORE: Cuts similar to some Ontario Tim Hortons locations could come to B.C., says analyst

Not only is this sparking debate on minimum wage, but there is also an election coming up in Ontario in June.

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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, whose government brought in the province’s minimum wage increase, was quick to jump into the Tim Hortons debate, criticizing the owners for bulling its employees.

COMMENTARY: Wynne double-doubles down in brew-ha-ha over minimum wage

Aivalis believes the upcoming election is sure to add more fuel to the protests, meaning it may not go away anytime soon.