New Brunswick

Emails urged Higgs to cancel plans to host Francophonie Games

After cost of hosting the 2021 Francophonie Games ballooned by millions, some people vented to the premier directly, pushing for him to cancel plans to host.

After cost of hosting Games ballooned by millions, some people vented to the premier directly

Some members of the public vented directly to Premier Blaine Higgs via email, after learning of ballooning costs associated with hosting the 2021 Francophonie Games. The government later cancelled plans to host the games. (CBC)

A few hours after the public learned that hosting the 2021 Francophonie Games could cost taxpayers seven times more than expected, emails from the public began to flow into Premier Blaine Higgs's email account.

Over the next week, he would receive more than 40 email messages from members of the public, according to hundreds of pages of records from the Premier's Office obtained by CBC News through access to information.

All of the emails had a similar tone: the writers either urged Higgs to cancel the province's plans to host the games or questioned government spending on the games to date.

It wasn't hard for them to find out how to contact the premier, whose email is listed on the government's website. 

 The writer of that first email, whose name is redacted, described the ballooning cost of hosting the games as "absurd."

"As someone experienced in sporting events, they rarely generate additional revenues worthy of such an investment," the person warned Higgs.

After pledging not to spend more than $10 million, Higgs's Progressive Conservative government officially cancelled plans to host the Games on Jan. 30.

Friday was the deadline for another host to step up with a bid, but it's unclear whether anyone has showed serious interest.

Public feedback

After the government set a $10 million limit, one email writer from Moncton urged Higgs to "please stick to what's right for the people of NB as a whole."

"If scrapping the games altogether is what is best in the end, then it's what needs to be done," the person, whose name is redacted, wrote to Higgs.

The email writer told Higgs they are French Acadian but chose to write the email in English "in hopes [of] conveying that I'm not on any side of the division we have faced and still do due to language."

The last time the games were held in Canada was 2001. They cost Ottawa and Gatineau $32 million at the time. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Another writer, identified only as a French Immersion teacher originally from Edmundston, said they were initially excited to hear the games would be hosted in New Brunswick. But they changed their mind after hearing the price.

"For the past 21 years I've been working in the school system where our technology is outdated and have no funds to replace it," the person wrote on Dec. 14.

Some writers pointed to Calgary's decision last November to dump plans to bid on the 2026 Winter Olympics, encouraging Higgs to do the same. The abandoned Calgary bid still cost governments more than $17 million, according to a report earlier this week.

'This will be brought to the premier's attention'

Others reminded Higgs of the fiscally responsible promises he made during the 2018 election campaign.

"If you go ahead with allowing Moncton to host, then what you have been saying in your speeches about cutting back and getting NB to a balanced budget will no longer be true," said one email, dated Dec. 11.

With the government looking for places to find savings, cancelling the games fit "right in the Tories' wheelhouse," according to J.P. Lewis, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick Saint John.

It's not surprising to hear the feedback Higgs received about the Francophonie Games, according to J.P. Lewis, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

"Especially if [Higgs] had that anecdotal evidence from the public writing in to say that they wanted him to take this direction," Lewis said.

"To hear now that it was that type of response they got isn't really surprising, considering how it appeared to be playing out on the ground, especially as the expenses added up."

Most people who wrote the premier received a standard email response from a staff member that thanked them for writing.

"Please be assured this will be brought to the premier's attention," it says.

CBC News seeks more documents

CBC News obtained thousands of pages of records from provincial government departments about plans for Moncton and Dieppe to host the 2021 Francophonie Games, which have been described as the largest sporting and cultural event in the French-speaking world.

They reveal just how invested the former Liberal government, led by former Premier Brian Gallant, was in landing the games.

But finding records created by the games organizing committee wasn't easy. That's because the committee isn't subject to federal or provincial access to information legislation.

Documents reveal the extent of former Premier Brian Gallant's involvement in landing the 2021 Francophonie Games. (Photo: CBC)

Other public bodies that are subject to such legislation have refused access to records about the games.

CBC News asked the University of Moncton for records about improvements the university might have received if the games hadn't been cancelled.

The university refused the requests, saying the records are considered advice to a public body.

CBC News is appealing that refusal.

CCNB, the community college, has not yet responded to two requests about the games that were received in December.

About the Author

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.

With files from Gabrielle Fahmy and Shane Magee

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