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BEHIND THE SCENES: Conestoga College president fires back at allegations of being a 'bad actor'

CambridgeToday's Joe McGinty takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on reporter Joe McGinty, whose story "Conestoga College president fires back at allegations of being a 'bad actor'" was published on Feb.14.

Below is the full story, in case you missed it.

Tension is rising between the province's post-secondary institutions as they prepare to fight for their share of international student permits handed out by the province this fall under a 35 per cent cap initiated by the federal government.

Those emotions flared up Tuesday afternoon as Conestoga president John Tibbits and University of Waterloo economist Larry Smith defended the school against allegations of being a bad actor amid the international student crisis. 

"We've hired 500 full-time people in the last three years and this won't make the front page. Meanwhile, you get some MP meet somebody at a food bank and they're all starving, they're dying, who knows what's going on, but it's BS a lot of it," said a fired-up Tibbits. 

Comments made by Sault College president David Orazietti in a recent podcast on 'Inside the Village' accused Conestoga of being one of the bad actors the federal government was talking about when implementing the cap. 

"How do you take 20,000 students into your community and have housing for them, services and everything they need without creating chaos?," Orazietti questioned. 

Tibbits took exception to these allegations as he fired back noting Orazietti had only been on the job for a few months and needed to learn to "shut his mouth." 

"Like Orazietti, why are his goddamn students in Toronto? Why not up there? Talk about a whore, I mean, he's taking a percentage of the profits of an operation," said Tibbits. "I can't stand the guy by the way." 



While discussing a report recently published by Smith and the team at Conestoga that aimed at proving the school's impact on the local community, both men were adamant the school was doing nothing wrong. 

"I'm not into public relations, I will not alter a single fact, for any version of marketing. And there was no need to do so. This story is rock solid. Don't believe it, read the technical notes," said Smith. 

The report argues that Conestoga is the single largest service provider in the region, having educated at least 50 per cent of the adult population in Waterloo region. 

Smith notes that rising misinformation about the college has taken over social media and has started to paint the college in a negative light, dismissing all of the positives the school brings to the community. 

The college is reporting that its graduates add more than $6.2 billion annually to the province's economy and nearly 85 per cent of both international and domestic graduates are employed. 

"We are the most popular college in Canada for international students. Now, why would that be? Are they all fools?" asked Tibbits. "If we were a disaster, the applications would dry out." 

One of the college's biggest criticisms is that they admitted close to 30,000 international students and only had 900 residential units available. 

Tibbits admits that the school grew faster than what they were expecting, but maintains that students are finding places to live and are choosing to live in packed houses. 

"Why are they all applying here? Why are they applying if there was no place to live?" he asked. "Some of them live like that because they don't want to pay more than $400."

Tibbits said students choose to live like this to keep their costs down and avoid paying high rents. 

International students have started to break their silence on the conditions they are living in here in Cambridge and the rest of the region.

The housing situations students are forced to live in are often overcrowded and ripe for slumlords who are taking advantage of the students. 

"The problem is you get someone who goes and talks to an international student, and he said, I had a tough time finding a house, but the truth of the matter is not one international student could not find housing. Not one," Tibbits said.

He blames the federal government for allowing this many students to come in knowing the housing system could not support this many newcomers in such a short amount of time. 

"We've cut our admissions by 9,000 and they still let in more students, we're not asking for this many," added Tibbits. "If the feds are so worried about housing, this is their government, why are admitting so many people." 

Tibbits and Smith both took aim at colleges in Northern Ontario that are outsourcing their programs to places like Toronto and handing out diplomas like "puppy mills."

"You should ask Orazietti what he's doing up in Toronto. Ask him how many beds he built in Toronto? How many beds have they got in Toronto? Zero," said Tibbits. 

"This guy has been on the job eight bloody months up there and he's offering project management in a couple of programs like that in Toronto and he's offering no services." 

The college said they are willing to work with the province on a deal to cut their international student admissions, but will not disclose the number of positions they are willing to lose. 

There are currently thousands of students at Conestoga who have come to the college from abroad and are now in limbo, unsure if their study permits for next year will be approved. 

Tibbits noted they should have a better idea of the number of study permits in six to eight weeks, but in the meantime, the country is looking foolish for making a rushed decision without ironing out the details. 

"This is a world business and we're operating like this is a banana republic."