The 2021 Francophonie Games mess, explained
A week of stories have explored the exploding costs of hosting the 2021 games — here's what you need to know
Exploding costs, friends of the former premier and resignations.
For more than a week, stories have unfurled how the 2021 Francophonie Games in Dieppe and Moncton grew in price by 664 per cent to $130 million. The stories raise many questions about how the cost estimates were developed, who was involved and how to pay for the event.
This is what we know so far.
New Brunswick was picked by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie to host the 9th Jeux de la Francophonie.
Organizers say the international athletic and cultural event will feature eight sports, 12 cultural events and about 3,000 "participants," including top athletes from more than 50 countries. It is open to New Brunswickers and other Canadians regardless of their language.
The games are held every four years and previously occurred in Morocco, France, Madagascar, Ottawa, Niger, Lebanon and, most recently, the Ivory Coast.
While organizers say the 10-day event will generate more than $140 million in economic spinoffs in New Brunswick, economists question the figures.
On May 5, 2015, a federal report says the New Brunswick government launched a committee that included provincial civil servants and community volunteers to prepare the bid to host the games. The list of members has not yet been released, though Éric Mathieu Doucet and Éric Larocque were volunteer members.
The committee used a default budget of 10 million euros, included in a guide for applying to host the games, which at the time equated to $17.5 million Cdn. It's a figure a subsequent review has called "significantly underestimated."
The basic budget did not include any infrastructure costs and the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie did not require a complete business plan as part of the bid submission.
The Paris-based OIF has yet to comment.
Another city, Sherbrooke, Que., bid for the 2021 games and filed a $50 million business plan.
The application guide shows the OIF assigns significant weight to the bid budget.
The Moncton-Dieppe bid submitted by the province won in March 2016.
Larocque was hired as executive director in May 2016, a paid staff position to plan the games.
In April 2017, the National Organizing Committee of the 2021 Games of La Francophonie was formed. The 11-member board of directors oversees planning the games and drafted a business plan.
The committee has included Éric Mathieu Doucet, Éric Cormier, Mirelle Cyr, Kim Rayworth and Linda Schofield as provincial appointees. Moncton and Dieppe are represented by Sébastien Dupuis, a recent appointment, and Guy Duguay, respectively. The federal appointees are Mélanie McGrath, Mohamed Ali M'halla, Vicki Wallace-Godbout and Nathalie Wybouw.
Until Wednesday, Doucet was president of the board. That day, he and the other four provincially appointed members resigned, with four saying it was because they had lost the confidence of the provincial government. The fifth, Schofield, said the workload became too much amid the growing controversy.
There are 11 paid employees. The organizing committee's $1.7-million budget in 2017-18 included $452,000 in salaries.
The province says about $2.65 million in costs associated with the games have been incurred since 2015.
Larocque and a volunteer from the bid committee, Eddie Rutanga, now the organizing committee's head of government and community relations, are longtime friends of former Liberal premier Brian Gallant.
Gallant, elected in September 2014, was heavily involved in the early stages of the bid but says he recused himself in "winter or spring 2017" because of his close connections to organizing staff and board members.
Had a chance to discuss our shared excitement for the 2021 Games of La Francophonie with <a href="https://twitter.com/MichaelleJeanF?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MichaelleJeanF</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/eric_larocque?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Eric_Larocque</a>. <a href="https://t.co/y6fyEFM5U0">pic.twitter.com/y6fyEFM5U0</a>—@BrianGallantNB
"I think it's important that I would've decided along the way that I wanted to recuse myself not because I had to, but because it was the right thing to do," Gallant said Friday.
The initial bid called for the cities to provide $750,000 each and in-kind services, such as the use of municipal staff.
Several "legacy" projects would be split between three levels of government. Dieppe has said that could include two new soccer fields.
So far the cities have said they won't be increasing their funding contributions.
The bid set out that the remainder of government funding would be split 50-50 between the federal and provincial governments, initially estimated at $7 million each.
Federal policy for hosting international sporting events says the level of government "will not exceed 50% of the total public sector contribution to the event."
The cost increases
There were at least three times the province learned the cost of the games would be higher than $17.5 million.
The first was in late 2015, when the cost was upped to $19.5 million to cover increased lodging and meals expenses.
The second was in October 2017, when Tourism Department staff "became concerned with potential for escalating costs to organize and host the event" and sought a budget update.
A $45 million budget was sent in that month. The largest share of the budget — $11.7 million — was for human resources. It also shows communications and marketing costs jumped from $400,000 in the original bid to $6 million.
No money appeared to be budgeted for infrastructure.
The organizing committee filed its complete business plan March 30, 2018, as part of its request for funding from the province and federal governments. That plan called for $130 million in spending.
None of the cost increases became public until December 2018.
An independent accounting firm hired by the federal government reviewed the business plan. It found the $130 million spending plan could be shaved and laid out several budget scenarios, from $115 million to a minimum of $72 million.
The report said savings are possible in reduced infrastructure spending, though suggested a $72 million budget would affect the quality of the event.
Premier Blaine Higgs has said his PC government won't spend more than $10 million on the games.
The federal Liberals said they will stick to Ottawa's funding policy threshold.
Kris Austin, the People's Alliance leader, has said the party won't support the PCs spending a dollar above $10 million. The party's three MLAs committed to prop up the minority PC government for 18 months on confidence votes.
Organizers said they need a funding decision by next month to stay on schedule.
Meanwhile, Higgs and the deputy premier said they want a legislative committee with power to call witnesses to investigate the growing cost.
The province hasn't signed a contract to host the games and may decide to cancel the event.
That could be costly. Under the OIF rules, a host government that cancels the event must cover all related costs incurred by the games' governing body.
It's not yet clear how much that could be — and would be on top of money already spent by the host cities, province and federal government.
With files from Gabrielle Fahmy, Jacques Poitras and Radio-Canada