New Brunswick

4 members of Francophonie Games committee resign over controversy

President of the board Eric Mathieu Doucet is resigning, along with members Mirelle Cyr, Eric Cormier and Kim Rayworth. Board vice-president Linda Schofield announced her resignation earlier in the day, citing personal reasons.

Members point to 'undue controversy' around planning for games

Costs for the 2021 games rose to $130 million, from an initial bid of $17.5 million by the province. (Hussein Malla/Associated Press)

Four members of the board of directors of the organizing committee of the 2021 Francophonie Games announced their resignation Wednesday afternoon, citing "undue controversy" around the planning of the games.

CBC News learned last Thursday that the cost of the games, to be hosted in Moncton-Dieppe, had ballooned more than sevenfold — from an initial bid of $17.5 million back in July 2015 to a request now for $130 million.

A detailed explanation of the rising costs hasn't been given.

The resignations were announced as provincial and federal politicians sparred in the media over funding for the games — something for which the New Brunswick government needs to "accept responsibility," Ottawa said.

Organizers have said the original bid was based on a number provided in the International Organization of the Francophonie guidebook, and a detailed business plan wasn't developed until after New Brunswick had won the bid to host the games.

"During the last few days, media reports and public reaction around the proposed business plan for the 2021 games have created what we believe to be undue controversy around the planning and delivery of the upcoming Jeux de la Francophonie," reads the news release.

"This shadow of a doubt is taking away from the real story — the amazing benefits and opportunities these games will bring to our region."

President Eric Mathieu Doucet announced his resignation Wednesday. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Eric Mathieu Doucet, the president of the board, is resigning, along with members Mirelle Cyr, Eric Cormier and Kim Rayworth.

Radio-Canada has learned board vice-president Linda Schofield announced her resignation earlier in the day, citing personal reasons.

The board is made up of 11 members — five chosen by the province, four by the federal government, one each by the cities of Moncton and Dieppe.

The five who resigned were the ones chosen by the province of New Brunswick in November 2017.

Resigning members said they believed they no longer had the confidence of the province to continue their mandate.

"We hope that these resignations will allow the partners to return to the negotiating table in a healthier media and political climate," they said.

Feds say province needs to 'accept responsibility'

The federal government went on the offensive Wednesday, saying New Brunswick needs to accept responsibility for the games.

It comes after Premier Blaine Higgs again said the province would not pay more than what the previous government had committed to, despite the soaring costs.

"The provincial government doesn't seem interested to go beyond $10 million," Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said in Ottawa.

"So we'll put $10 million on our end — that brings us to $20 million. I understand that's much, much less than what's needed.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the provincial government needs to 'accept responsibility' for the rising cost of the Francophonie Games. (Radio-Canada)

"If the provincial government, who submitted the demand to be the host of the Francophonie Games, accepts its responsibility and increases its contribution, obviously we will increase the federal contribution consequently."

Federal policy limits to 50 per cent Ottawa's contribution for international sporting events, and LeBlanc has said on several occasions that is what the government will stick to.

His office confirmed to CBC News on Wednesday that an independent expert hired to review the request for funding came back with a number lower than $130 million for putting on the games, but a copy of the report was not provided and the number wasn't disclosed.

That expert submitted the report to government in September, just days before the provincial elections.

'Didn't get here through any action of mine'

Higgs repeated again Wednesday that the province would not put in more than $10 million but was not as clear on what would happen if the costs could not be lowered enough.

"It's not my plug to pull," Higgs told reporters. "It didn't get here through any action of mine.

"We recognize the commitment had been made, and we said we'll honour our commitment. 

"I think there's an opportunity here, in relation to the federal government — it shouldn't be a provincial issue. I think it might move around from one province to another, but it should be a national event. A province can't afford to do this."

Moncton and Dieppe have agreed to a contribution of $750,000, plus a third of the cost of legacy projects, which consist of resurfacing the Centennial Park tennis courts, converting the CN Sportsplex soccer field from grass to synthetic, and constructing two new soccer fields in Dieppe — together totalling about $10 million.


Gabrielle Fahmy is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been a journalist with the CBC since 2014.