New Brunswick

Liberals say they rejected price tag of 2021 Francophonie Games

The claim comes on the heels of news the budget for the 2021 Francophonie Games ballooned seven times

Francophonie committee was told to go back to the drawing board: Melanson

Roger Melanson, former Liberal chair of the Treasury Board, says he told the committee to go back to the drawing board. (CBC)

Former Liberal chair of the Treasury Board Roger Melanson says he was shocked when the request for funding by the organizing committee for the 2021 Francophonie Games ended up on his desk back in April with a price tag of $130 million.

Moncton-Dieppe won the bid to host the games — considered the largest sporting and cultural event in the French-speaking world — based on a $17 million financial framework presented to the International Organization of the Francophonie in 2015.

When the funding request came in, Melanson says he told the committee to go back to the drawing board.

"To our surprise, we saw the number of $130 million as a proposal. For us that was unacceptable, and we refused that," said Melanson.

Melanson said the federal government also hired an independent expert to prepare a report looking at how the costs could be reduced.

Who knew what?

People from the organizing committee either could not be reached on Friday or refused to talk about costs.

​The committee said late Friday in a press release it would not comment any further so as to maintain a favourable climate for negotiations.

On Thursday, Eric Larocque, executive director of the 2021 games organizing committee, said he could not go into the details about why the price tag for the games was suddenly higher or which items were in the request for funding.

Eric Larocque, executive director of the 2021 Games organizing committee. (CBC)

He rejected the idea the games had been won under false pretences.

The city of Sherbrooke, Que., also made a bid and lost. It was worth $50 million and included a detailed business plan, something Larocque said New Brunswick did not submit.

He said it was not required by the International Organization of the Francophonie, and so a decision was made not to submit it, though he agreed it may have been the right thing to do.

The committee said the host municipalities have been consulted in developing the business plan and many of the needs they expressed in terms of infrastructure — totalling some tens of millions of dollars — are reflected in the plan.

But there are questions about whether New Brunswick's bid was realistic.

The last games, held in 2017 in Ivory Coast, cost $50 million.

"The price of past games was much more than 20 million," said University of Moncton political science professor Roger Ouellette.

"How come New Brunswick decided in 2015, well … $15 to $20 million, it will do the job? The decision — the final decision, was a political decision, a decision from cabinet at that time," Ouellette said.

But Melanson denied the province or the committee thought the initial bid was not realistic.

"I think it was," said Melanson. "Because we have the infrastructure in place. We thought it was."

The City of Moncton also said at the time the "beauty" of its bid was that all the infrastructure needed was already in place. But Larocque did say a request for new infrastructure was made, refusing to go into further detail.

"When the more detailed business plan came in, it was a big surprise," he said.

As for former Premier Brian Gallant, a spokesperson from the opposition office told CBC on Friday he would not be commenting on the matter, as he had chosen to recuse himself from any Cabinet decisions about the Games when he was Premier, because some people involved in the games' organization were close friends of his.

In a bind or start of negotiations?

The federal, provincial and municipal governments all said the Games need to go ahead in New Brunswick in 2021, all the while refusing to commit to more funding.

Robert Gauvin, minister for the Francophonie, said this was just the start of negotiations and that he is optimistic.

But according to a document obtained by Radio-Canada, Blaine Higgs wrote to the federal government to say he would honour the initial agreement — which was for the province to pay up to $10 million — but that he had no intention to pay more.

And the federal government said Thursday it would not foot more than 50 per cent of the total bill, in accordance with the federal policy on international sporting events.

The mayor of Dieppe, meanwhile, said the city will not give more money than the initial $750,000 commitment, plus a third of the cost of any legacy projects, as agreed to. And most Moncton city councillors CBC News spoke to said the same.

The organizing committee would need a budget by January to be on schedule.

Corrections

  • University of Moncton political science professor Roger Ouellette was incorrectly identified in an earlier version the story. CBC apologizes for the error.
    Dec 08, 2018 1:34 PM AT

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