New Brunswick

The 2021 Francophonie Games mess, explained

For more than a week, stories have unfurled about how the 2021 Francophonie Games in Dieppe and Moncton grew in price by 664 per cent to $130 million. Here is what we know so far about how it happened.

A week of stories have explored the exploding costs of hosting the 2021 games — here's what you need to know

The Francophonie Games are the largest sporting and cultural event in the French-speaking world, though Moncton-Dieppe's ability to host them may be in jeopardy after the estimated cost exploded to $130 million. (Hussein Malla/Associated Press)

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.

The games

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.

Previous Francophonie Games have been held in France, Morocco, Niger and Ivory Coast and have included thousands of participants. (AFP/Issouf Sanogo)

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.

The bid

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 budget doesn't take up much space in the 104-page initial bid document. (CBC)

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.

The planning

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.

Eric Mathieu Doucet, an early volunteer on the bid committee, later became president of the organizing committee board of directors before he resigned Wednesday. (Shane Magee/CBC)

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.

The connections

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.

"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 funding

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.

Politicians gather at the stadium at the University of Moncton to announce the province would bid for the 2021 Francophonie Games. The site was to host a portion of the event. (University of Moncton/Twitter)

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.

An estimated budget from the organizing committee provided to the provincial government in fall 2017 pegs the cost at $45 million. (CBC)

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.

The plan was released late Friday afternoon.

None of the cost increases became public until December 2018.

The review

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.

The stadium at the University of Moncton, one of the main locations for the games, requires almost $1 million in 'essential' upgrades, a review of the games business plan states. (CBC)

The politics

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.

Robert Gauvin, New Brunswick's deputy premier and tourism minister, says the province won't spend more than $10 million to host the games. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Meanwhile, Higgs and the deputy premier said they want a legislative committee with power to call witnesses to investigate the growing cost.

The withdrawal

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

With files from Gabrielle Fahmy, Jacques Poitras and Radio-Canada

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