Tim Hortons’ possible closure deserves more student input

Setting aside whether or not it’s the ethical call, the thoughts of those affected most should be considered


As you might’ve heard, SFU’s sparking a hardcore internal makeover of its available set of eateries. This includes potentially canning the Burnaby campus Tim Hortons, a hotspot for hungry students at all hours.

Tim Hortons has fallen under the gun for its lack of a fair trade option, which doesn’t quite complement the “fair trade ‘utopia’” SFU’s been aiming to cultivate for years. Of course, SFU is doing what they can to stay true to their ideals, and will be removing Tim Hortons by the end of the spring 2018 semester if they fail to offer a fair trade choice.

Before I get too deep into this, I’d like to make it clear that I personally think fair trade is an incredibly important initiative, and SFU’s leadership and commitment to it should be celebrated. It’s a fight to protect and heal so many important things — the rights and lives of labourers along with the health of the earth itself being chief among those.

Putting my views aside, I wonder: when dealing with an establishment as big a cornerstone of SFU Burnaby’s student life as the campus Tim Hortons, wouldn’t it be good to get more of a sense for what the majority of students, who likely comprise the majority of the Tim Hortons’ consumers, want done?

To clarify, and to give credit where it’s due: SFU has gotten feedback on students’ opinions on fair trade in general. As previously reported by The Peak, a survey SFU conducted in fall 2016 showed that “40% of students said that fair trade at SFU was ‘Very important,’ [and] 44% said it was ‘Somewhat Important.’”

But with such a general question — and one which, let’s be real, has a very obvious ‘good’ and ‘bad’ answer — I find it difficult to accept that those results suggest that the student body at large would be anything like happy to see Tims go.

Why the scepticism? Because if that was the case, surely Tim Hortons would already be much less successful? Surely students would choose other options on campus of their own initiative, if they had enough of an ideological investment in fair trade to reject Tims?

I mean, before the SFSS closed down the food and beverage services, we had Higher Grounds as a fair trade option on campus for coffee. Even now, we have two Starbucks locations in the vicinity, which are incredibly popular in their own right, along with various other fair trade options.

Yet hundreds of students flocked, and still flock, to Tims for their affordable eating needs. So student opinions on how to go about becoming a fair trade campus might have changed slightly, if they were told exactly what sorts of campus resources they could lose in the process, and perhaps more importantly, how those losses would be executed.

Like I said, I personally agree with SFU getting serious about fair trade. But when charged with creating a campus for paying students, actions that directly, negatively affect the quality of student life deserve more thought and more research.

Sometimes, maintaining a community means making decisions that reflect the desires of the membership, not the ideals of the leadership. I’ll admit that I don’t, personally, know the exact breakdown of what every student at this campus thinks of losing Tim Hortons. But I don’t know if SFU does, either, and as the acting party in the scenario, they had an obligation to do more to at least try and find that out.

Consider the timing. We found out we could be losing Tim Hortons over fair trade (and lost Triple O’s) just weeks after the previously-mentioned food and beverage services closure came to light. While it’s true that two different parties made the respective decisions to either close down or give a closure deadline  — the SFSS being the second — the end result is still incredibly disappointing.

Yes, we’ve heard promises from Mark McLaughlin, director of SFU Ancillary Services, that these closures, would, as The Peak reported, be part of a “long-term vision for dining services that will see nearly the entire AQ second floor and Tim Hortons space renovated with new restaurants introduced.” That’s fair; any long-lasting changes for the better are obviously going to take time. I wholly respect McLaughlin, and I have confidence that the proposed changes will come into effect.

But more could be done to soothe the students who are attending the school throughout the not-so-short short term; a short term which seems like it’ll last a couple of years, at least. With Tims gone in a year and Higher Grounds closed, we’ve lost multiple choices with no immediately clear substitutes.

Finally, let’s be blunt: yes, this particular Tims is a big part of student life at Burnaby. But how strongly do people associate Tim Hortons as a franchise with SFU? It completely sucks that Tim Hortons isn’t all about the fair trade life, but they exist with or without SFU.

That being the case, I don’t feel their presence in the school reflects SFU’s own philosophies and political stances the way an SFU-original restaurant might, any more than a landlord is held responsible for their tenants’ beliefs. The possibility of removing them entirely, for failing to conform to what the school wants, seems a little petulant to me, even if it’s in pursuit of a noble cause.

Bottom line: whether or not removing Tim Hortons is the right choice, it’s a choice that I wish SFU would consult us on more directly, and after the announcement, I wish they’d give us more with which to soften the blow. While I see fair trade as an arguably worthy cause, this trend could someday lead to more and more changes on campus being invoked against the will of the student body, on less admirable grounds.