Province sets deadline for signal the Francophonie Games can be saved
Cost of games ballooned to $130 million from $17 million
The New Brunswick government has set a deadline of Jan. 30 for Ottawa and the province to "develop funding options" to save the troubled 2021 Francophonie Games.
Deputy premier Robert Gauvin says he has written to the four governments who are partners in the games, including the cities of Moncton and Dieppe, but that it's really up to the federal government to save the games.
In a recent meeting with federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc, "I was very encouraged," Gauvin said.
"I saw a glimmer of hope for the 2021 Francophonie Games that we haven't seen for a while."
The Blaine Higgs government doesn't need money on the table by Jan. 30, but "we just want the intentions," Gauvin said. "We want to know if all the financial partners want to go ahead. … If we're not going forward, we need to know sooner than later."
Without "positive intentions" by Jan. 30, the province would have to take steps to cancel the games, he said.
Until now, LeBlanc has been adamant that the federal government would only pay its original share of roughly half the total games budget.
With the cost of the event ballooning from $17 million in the original 2016 bid to $130 million last year, the province's share would be far beyond the original $10 million it planned to spend — a figure Gauvin said remains firm.
But he said LeBlanc suggested to him at their meeting that the federal government may be willing to pay more.
"They were not closed to the idea of maybe revisiting the financial situation of the games and the way Ottawa puts money in the games for this situation," he said. "I can't say yes, but I didn't get a yes, but I definitely did not get a no."
LeBlanc, however, issued a written statement reiterating that it's Ottawa's "long-standing policy" to match provincial funding "dollar-for-dollar."
And he said that despite a positive meeting last week, the province has not submitted a concrete proposal to federal officials, only an ultimatum.
"If the Conservatives are serious about their willingness to host the Jeux de la Francophonie, we expect them to put forward a formal plan that does not leave federal dollars on the table," said LeBlanc's statement.
"New Brunswickers deserve honesty from their provincial government if it intends to cancel these games."
Games could be $80M
The $130 million for the 2021 games, to be held in Moncton and Dieppe, includes a range of other costs, including potential infrastructure projects, not in the original bid.
The initial $17 million estimate was based on a template from the International Organization of La Francophonie. It did not include a business plan or any amounts for potential infrastructure projects.
Gauvin said Tuesday the latest revised figure he's heard for the potential cost of the games is $80 million.
The original plan was for the cities of Moncton and Dieppe to contribute $750,000 each and the provincial and federal government would split the remainder of the cost. Gauvin said Tuesday the two cities "were quite clear with their intentions" to not go above that.
Philippe Beaulieu of the Association of Professional Acadian Artists welcomed Gauvin's comments and said he hopes the federal government will back down.
"It would be nice for a small province like ours to have the federal government rethink its formula," he said, suggesting Ottawa cover 80 per cent and the province 20.
"It would make it a lot more viable for small provinces to make their mark on the world stage."
'We will fight against it'
Even with games pared down to Gauvin's $80-million figure, that would leave the province spending $16 million, a figure unacceptable to People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin.
"Spending tens of millions of dollars on games of any type is not proper fiscal management," he told reporters.
The Higgs minority government depends on the support of the three-member Alliance caucus to stay in power, but Austin warned that if the PCs allocate more than $10 million, "we will fight against it."
Asked if that meant voting against a provincial budget — which would trigger an election — Austin warned the Tories, "They don't want to put it in the budget, that's all I'll say."
Opposition Liberal MLA Monique LeBlanc attended Gauvin's news conference Tuesday but slipped away before reporters could speak to her. A spokesperson said she would not comment until Jan. 31.
Green Leader David Coon said it was good for the province to set a deadline and called on Ottawa to pick up the balance of the cost.
The province gave the organizing committee $930,000 for its operations this year.
New Brunswick was selected in 2016 to host the ninth edition of the games, which take place under the auspices of La Francophonie, an international organization of 58 governments with connections to the French language.
New Brunswick and Quebec have "participating government" status within the organization.
The games, open to New Brunswickers and Canadians regardless of the language they speak, would see about 3,000 participants take part in sport and cultural events in Moncton and Dieppe.
Higgs has called for a rethink of how the games are organized with Ottawa playing a greater role. He has argued that a large international event is beyond the ability of a small provincial government to organize.