When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bought doughnuts this January from a local bakery instead of from Tim Hortons, it prompted some on social media to criticize his choice in sugary treats.
But while Trudeau’s own loyalty to the iconic doughnut chain has been called into question, Tim Hortons remains one of the most popular choices for politicians grabbing a bite out on the taxpayer’s dime, behind the Parliament Hill food service and Costco.
Collectively, Canada’s 42nd Parliament spent $116,415 at various Tim Hortons locations over last term, making it the only restaurant to crack the top 10 most popular places for which MPs claimed food-related expenses.
In total, that $116,415 could have bought 582,075 Timbits, or 37,729 litres of coffee. That’s enough to form a trail of Timbits between Parliament Hill and the prime minister’s official residence on 24 Sussex Drive eight times over, or enough coffee to fill a backyard swimming pool.
But what MPs were actually expensing was less extravagant: usually food and drinks for non-partisan events hosted by members of Parliament, such as meetings with constituents and meal tickets for MPs attending functions.
Members are allowed to use up to three per cent of their office budget for hospitality and gift expenses.
Former Alberta Liberal cabinet minister Kent Hehr is the top spender with $4,373 in Tims expenses from 90 trips over the last four years.
Nova Scotia Liberal MP Darrell Samson spent $2,349 at Tim Hortons last term providing coffee and snacks for community outreach events.
For Samson, Tim Hortons restaurants are an ideal catering option.
“They’re accessible,” he said. “They have a presence in each community I go in when I host things.”
The choice has less to do with where he personally likes to eat.
“I never drank a cup of coffee in my entire life.”
Justin Trudeau, whose own expense reports reveal a preference for Quebec patisseries, such as Patisserie Tillemont and Le P’tit Atelier, spent only $89.90 at Tim Hortons from four trips over the last four years of his majority mandate.
But the prime minister looks like a frequent customer compared to Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who are among 52 members of Parliament with no Tim Hortons expenses during the last mandate.
Use the interactive link below to see where your MP ranks on the list.
Conservative MP Bruce Stanton, who represents the Simcoe North riding, also had $0 in Tim Hortons hospitality expenses but was quick to point out that he’s a fan of the brand.
“Tim Hortons is my preferred cup of joe,” he says, “I’m always a fan of well-run businesses and restaurants.”
For Stanton, the hospitality allowance is a valuable tool for helping MPs connect with voters, but he cautions MPs against spending their entire budget in one place.
“Tims is one of those great brands that we have here in the country, but it’s not the only one,” Stanton says, suggesting it’s better to “spread the business around to make sure you support the members in your local riding.”
10 most popular businesses for MPs
From expense reports between Dec. 3, 2015 and Sept. 11, 2019
- Parliament Hill Food Services: $508,740
- Costco: $238,003
- Tim Hortons: $116,415
- IGA: $43,296
- Fire It Up BBQ: $42,009
- Walmart: $38,469
- Sobeys: $37,479
- Metro: $34,045
- Safeway: $23,898
- Wholesale Club: $24,475
Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a government spending watchdog, is not overly concerned by Parliament’s predilection for Tims.
“I would rather see members of Parliament expensing coffee than steak dinners,” he says.
For Wudrick, what’s most important is transparency.
“If you’re a constituent of an MP that’s spending $10,000 a year on doughnuts, you might have some questions about that,” he says, “but the transparency itself is sort of the built-in check.”
Yet while the government does publish general info about each hospitality expense, Wudrick advocates for greater disclosure.
“The actual receipts should be scanned and posted,” he says. “They do this in the City of Toronto, they do this in the government of Alberta, and it’s certainly easy to do because when MPs submit their expenses to accounting, they have to provide the receipts.”
Liberals are by far and away the most loyal Tims patrons, even when we account for the fact that they’re the largest party in the House of Commons.
Liberal MPs on average spent 60 per cent more at Tim Hortons than Conservatives, and roughly twice as much as NDP members.
As to why this is, Samson speculates that since the Liberals are in government, “we might just be having a lot more outreach events than the other parties.”
Methodology: Global News obtained all hospitality expenses for sitting MPs over the course of the 42nd parliamentary term (Dec. 3, 2015 through Sept. 11, 2019) from the house of commons website. Data was coded to normalize alternate spellings of Tim Hortons. Totals represent the sum of all Tim Hortons expenses, registered for a given MP, over the course of the term. Each MP was ranked according to their spending and assigned a score from zero to five based on the percentile they fell within that ranking.