If the Francophonie Games are cancelled, New Brunswick could still have to pay

Premier Blaine Higgs remained firm on Thursday that his Progressive Conservative government won’t spend more than $10 million on the games — and conceded they are in jeopardy if Ottawa doesn’t make up the rest of the ballooning cost.

A host government that cancels the event must cover related costs incurred by the governing body

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says the games won't happen without Ottawa taking it over, but the province could still have to be pay if the event is cancelled. (James West/Canadian Press)

New Brunswick could be on the hook for hefty costs for the 2021 Francophonie Games even if the Higgs government pulls the plug on the event.

Premier Blaine Higgs remained firm on Thursday that his Progressive Conservative government won't spend more than $10 million on the games — and conceded they are in jeopardy if Ottawa doesn't make up the rest of the ballooning cost.

"It won't be happening without the federal government taking it over," he said.

But Article 24 of the "Statuts du Comité international des Jeux de la Francophonie" — the statutes of the games' governing body, the CJIF — says a host government that cancels the event must cover all related costs incurred by the committee.

New Brunswick is the host for the 2021 games, to be held in Moncton and Dieppe.

"When the state or government that was designated to organize an edition of the games decides not to go ahead with the games," the rules say, "expenses either made or promised by the CIJF as well as any financial claims related to a commitment by the CJIF … are assumed by the state or government."

While most of the 58 members of the Francophonie are countries, Quebec and New Brunswick each have "participating government" status within the organization.

The cover of the Statuts du Comité international des Jeux de la Francophonie, the statutes of the games' governing body. (CJIF)

That's why the bid to host the games in Dieppe and Moncton in 2021 was made by the province, not the federal government.

It's not known how much money has already been spent or committed by the international committee.

It was revealed last week that the original cost estimate for the Moncton-Dieppe games when New Brunswick won the bid, $17 million, has soared to $130 million.

Shifting responsibility

Higgs suggested again Thursday that it's time to rethink the whole idea of a province bidding for and hosting the games.

"This is a chance for us to change the model, so let's take advantage of that," he said.

"We should have a game structure that involves the province, Quebec, the federal government, so it is kind of a national event being held in different provinces.

"This whole concept that provinces can take on something of this magnitude I think has to be part of this analysis."

Blaine Higgs said again New Brunswick would not pay more than $10 million towards the cost of the Francophonie Games. (CBC)

Higgs made the comments when he was asked if he'll replace five provincially-nominated members of the local organizing committee, named by the previous Liberal government, who resigned Wednesday. The premier did not commit to new provincial appointments.

Shifting responsibility for the games to the federal government may not be possible in the midst of planning for the 2021 games, given the province has already committed to them. New Brunswick won the bid to host the games in April 2016.

'It's a whole different horse'

Former Liberal ministers said this week that they had not signed a "cahier des charges" — a binding document laying out the province's commitment to the games — as expected in June.

Roger Melanson and Francine Landry both said the Gallant government held off on signing because they wanted the $130 million cost reduced.

Higgs suggested that the province's commitment to host the games is reversible.

"The horse is not out of the barn," he said. "We had a bid that was 17 million. Now it's 130. It's a whole different horse."

The premier said he wants to see the games happen but he would not budge from his spending limit of $10 million. "That's where we are," he said. "That's the limit."

Scaling back spending

The controversy over the cost of the games comes as the new PC government has slashed more than $200 million in projected infrastructure spending in its 2019-20 capital budget.

Projects ranging from a new courthouse in Fredericton, a replacement New Brunswick Museum in Saint John and a new west end school in Moncton have been postponed indefinitely.

Premier Blaine Higgs responds to questions about the cost of hosting the 2021 Francophonie Games. 6:59

The original funding plan for the 2021 games was for the federal and provincial government to divide most of the $17 million cost, with the cities of Moncton and Dieppe contributing $750,000 each.

Federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc said earlier this week that Ottawa will not fund more than half the balance. He said if New Brunswick increases its commitment, the federal government will as well.

"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," he said Wednesday.

But Higgs repeatedly ruled that out Thursday. "The federal government has to be a big component here and basically take this on."

Listen to New Brunswick's four main political parties discuss how the province should handle the Francophonie Games controversy on this week's CBC New Brunswick Political Panel podcast.

You can listen by clicking below or by downloading from the CBC Podcast page or subscribing to the podcast in iTunes.

The proposed budget for the 2021 Francophonie Games is Moncton and Dieppe is coming under increased scrutiny. What should be done with the international event? PC cabinet minister Robert Gauvin, Liberal MLA Roger Melanson, Green Party Leader David Coon and People's Alliance MLA Rick DeSaulnier join the weekly CBC political panel. 49:57


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