StudentsFirst’s promise to build a UTSU-run undergraduate bar on campus has been a hot topic ever since the debate, but is a bar really possible?
Building a bar would require finding space, which St. George lacks, said food and beverages manager Clayton Hillis.
“An institution that is as tight for educational labs and office space as the University of Toronto is wouldn’t want to dedicate space to a non-educational forum like a bar when there are so many off-campus places within walking distance.”
But StudentsFirst presidential candidate Brent Schmidt disagreed, saying that while student space is limited, “if UTSU made the [bar] a priority, it could be done.”
“There’s been a proposal that’s been forwarded by the UTSU for the last few years to have a student commons. There is actually a space where this is going to happen,” he said.
Another issue would be the great amount of liability that comes with running a licensed establishment.
In September 2001, the Hangar, a licensed bar run by the Students’ Administrative Council — UTSU’s former name — was shut down.
An article from The Strand reported that U of T terminated its agreement with SAC due to an incident involving underage drinking. This incident, though over 10 years old, will likely cause U of T admin to hesitate in approving another student-run licensed establishment.
UTM currently has an on-campus bar called The Blind Duck, but according to Munib Sajjad, UTMSU’s VP of external affairs and Team Unity’s VP university affairs candidate, admin recently took away the establishment’s independent liquor licence.
The pub is now signed with Chartwells, a university and college catering service. Though it still serves alcohol, Chartwells receives revenue from the sales.
Despite U of T’s sour history with student-run watering holes, Schmidt said that the main problem lies with being able to provide adequate security for student-run bars — something that StudentsFirst has a solution to.
“If we get outside security and let the rest of the bar be student-run, that would essentially mitigate all concerns,” he explained.
Elected candidates would also have trouble because of time constraints. UTSU executives only have one year in office, while a bar would take more than one year to finish.
The union has to go through the necessary protocols including negotiating an agreement with the university, finding a location, obtaining a liquor licence — or applying to be covered under the university’s present licence — and dealing with policing. They would also need a sizable budget.
“It’s clearly ridiculous for us to suggest that by the end of a first term, the bar will naturally manifest itself,” Schmidt said. “This would obviously be a multi-year project, but we would dedicate ourselves to try and get it done.”
The slate said that an on-campus bar would create an easily accessible and equitable space for students to hang out, but two objections were brought up against the proposal.
Shaun Shepherd, Team Unity’s presidential candidate and UTSU’s current VP external, pointed out that U of T already has several campus bars and others that are located in close proximity to the St. George campus.
During the debate, some students said that having a bar would exclude those who can’t drink for religious reasons.
“Can you please explain how a campus bar would fit into a framework of equity?” questioned Katharine Ball, Arts & Science Student Union president.
Schmidt said he understands that some students wouldn’t want their student fees used for a bar and they shouldn’t be forced to pay. Due to this, StudentsFirst plans to introduce an opt-out option for the bar.
“People don’t want to pay dues to the union for a list of different things, and they shouldn’t have to because we don’t believe people should have no consent,” he said.
Independent candidate Rohail Tanoli, who at the debate raised the point that he himself is a Muslim, supported the bar’s creation, saying that it could boost school spirit.
Candidates from Team Unity, on the other hand, said they would consider building one if there’s demand.
With files from Sarah Taguiam.