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Self-owns don't solve the student population boom

This week's Market Squared talks about how a Queen's Park slap fight exposes a key deficiency in housing plans
Doug ford and Mike Schreiner

In the five years they’ve both sat in the Ontario Legislature, I can only think of one time that Premier Doug Ford has seen fit to rise from his seat and swat at the nuisance fly that’s our own MPP, Green Party leader Mike Schreiner.

Answering Schreiner’s occasional pesky gotcha questions is usually a responsibility that falls to one of the cabinet ministers, but on this September day in 2018, Ford knew he had a wicked awesome comeback for Schreiner when the Guelph rep asked about Ford’s threat to use the notwithstanding clause to uphold his changes to the composition of Toronto city council.

"We had a company come to us, a company from China that wants to employ 400 people, a window manufacturer, and guess what Mr. Speaker, they wanted to go to Guelph but Guelph refused them. Who refuses 400 jobs?" Ford asked rhetorically.

Ford was half-right. It was a municipality with “Guelph” in the name that turned down 400 jobs, but it was the Guelph/Eramosa Township that told Chinese glass manufacturer Xinyi to look somewhere else to build their glass plant.

Now one would think that there’s a lesson here. Despite the rare occasion when Ford comes to town, touts our awesomeness, hails our mayor as an “absolute champion” and gives our local Timmies some business, he doesn’t know Jack about the Royal City.

And yet…

As covered in GuelphToday this week, Schreiner’s jabs forced Ford to rise once more and the results were predictable. No lessons were learned from 2018 as Ford once again fumbled his Guelph facts in an attempt to own the Green leader in front of the scorching rabble of political journalists, school kids visiting the legislature and the five people watching live on the Queen’s Park YouTube channel.

“Mr. Speaker, do you know what really irks me? I really like the leader of the Green Party but let me tell you something. It’s a little rich when he gets up and he says housing, housing. As the Minister of Municipal Affairs says, ‘It’s all talk, no action,’” Ford said.

At this point, Schreiner had already gone two rounds with Steve Clark as he demanded answers about expanding affordable housing. Clark deployed the favoured talking point that Schreiner was "all talk and no action" because the Guelph MPP hasn’t voted in favour of any of the government’s initiatives.

"I don’t vote for legislation that doesn’t work. That’s just kind of how I roll over here," Schreiner retorted.

That’s when Ford got off the bench.

“The member didn’t stand up – and we have a housing crisis for students at the University of Guelph – on the University of Guelph’s property. Guess what? They voted it down. They won’t even give the kids – and he was in favour of it. That is terrible. He talks a good game ...."

To say that Ford lost the thread is to assume that there was ever any thread in the first place. What got voted down? Who voted it down? What won’t they give the kids? And did Ford say Schreiner was in favour of it? Sadly, time was up, Schreiner had his three cracks at the bat and it was on to the next question.

Let me take a stab at translating.

First, I think Ford got his geography wrong. Again. Since no plan for a student residence has originated from the University of Guelph, I can only assume that he meant the proposed 10-storey student apartment complex that a developer wants to build on the Days Inn property. The one that council near unanimously voted against.

I suppose it sounded good in Ford’s head (or, more likely, in the head of one of his advisors) to slam Schreiner for a decision of city council to stop the construction of housing, but it ignores a couple of key facts.

First, this same developer has a very similar plan for a near identical development barely a block up the street, and despite the fact that the zoning’s approved, it’s still an empty lot. Two, at the statutory planning meeting, the developer was told that they had issues with the plan, and issues with the neighbours, and they opted to pass “Go” and get a council decision without even trying to make accommodations.

Critically though, this was not a University of Guelph development. The U of G, despite the yearly influx of bigger and bigger classes of new students, has not kept up with housing them. Indeed, this past fall was the first time that the university could not guarantee a placement for all incoming first-year students.

And we know what happened next. We saw it in a viral photo shared this passed winter with a line-up of young people 30 or 40 deep all waiting to see the same little neighbourhood home. With the school year over, you’ve got to wonder how many of those now second years are still searching for off-campus accommodation, and how many first years will be left out in the cold again in the fall.

And now Conestoga College is beefing up their local enrollment.

Last week, it was announced that Conestoga is investing in a downtown campus at the current Co-operators building which should draw about 5,000 more students for various programs. Conestoga President John Tibbits acknowledged that student housing is an issue, but when pressed on how his institution will create solutions he didn’t have many specifics to offer.

This is a problem. Guelph’s near zero vacancy rate has long been tied to the university population, and while that’s not to say that the U of G students are to blame, they are, generally speaking, one of the biggest drivers of demand.

Frankly, there are no housing solutions without the U of G and they’ve been frustratingly missing from the table this whole time. Now we’re about to add what’s essentially a whole year’s worth of new students to our local compliment in one go, and we’re going to need a plan that’s a helluva lot better than “We’re working on it.”

Maybe that’s something Doug Ford can help us with. It would certainly be more helpful than sharpening his tight five on Schreiner.


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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