New Brunswick

Province pulls funding to Francophonie Games committee

The Higgs government has cut off funding to the organizing committee for the trouble-plagued Francophonie Games.

Final payment to group was made in December

A spokesperson for the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture confirmed that a final payment was made last month, but a spokesperson for the committee, Tracey Suley, said it is “currently operating” with “approved provincial funding for the entirety of the 2018-19 fiscal year.” (Hussein Malla/Associated Press)

The Higgs government has cut off funding to the organizing committee for the trouble-plagued Francophonie Games.

A spokesperson for the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture confirmed that a final payment was made last month.

"In December 2018, the province made its last payment to the Comité national organisateur des Jeux de la Francophonie 2021," Stephanie Bilodeau said in an email statement.

"Given the uncertainty surrounding the future of the 2021 Francophonie Games in New Brunswick, no further payments to the organizing committee are currently scheduled from the provincial government."

But a spokesperson for the committee, Tracey Suley, said it is "currently operating" with "approved provincial funding for the entirety of the 2018-19 fiscal year."

"We are still here … and are awaiting the results of discussions between our funders," she said.

Radio-Canada reported on Dec. 6 that the organizing committee was seeking $130 million for the 2021 Games, to be held in Moncton and Dieppe.

That budget is more than seven times the $17-million cost estimate the province submitted in its bid.

Split funding agreement

Premier Blaine Higgs said in December that despite the ballooning cost, his Progressive Conservative government would not spend more than the original $10 million it had committed.

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.

Blaine Higgs has said the province will not contribute more than its initial offer of $10 million. (CBC)

Higgs said in December the federal government would have to ante up the rest for the Games to proceed.

He also said "in the very near future" he would set a "cutoff date" by which Ottawa would have to commit more money or the Games would not go ahead.

He made the comments in the wake of his government's first capital budget, which trimmed more than $200 million from infrastructure spending and cancelled several high-profile projects in an effort to eliminate the deficit.

On Wednesday, federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Ottawa remains "ready" to be a funding partner.

"Although we have not received a formal proposal from New Brunswick, we remain committed to working with the province to find a solution," LeBlanc said in a statement to Radio-Canada after meeting with New Brunswick Deputy Premier Robert Gauvin on Wednesday.

Liberals learned of higher price tag in in 2017

Following the revelation of the higher cost estimate, five provincial appointees on the board of the organizing committee, appointed by the previous Liberal government, resigned.

Former Liberal cabinet minister Roger Melanson said last month the Gallant government first learned of the bloated $130 million budget last April. They were told in October 2017 that the cost had reached $45 million.

The Liberals decided in early 2018 to establish what Melanson called "safeguards." He said that included changing its funding for the committee from annual to monthly payments.

The Francophonie Games are the largest sporting and cultural event in the French-speaking world. (AFP/Issouf Sanogo)

But Bilodeau said the province has paid out its full $930,000 contribution for the current 2018-19 fiscal year. The province gave the committee $250,000 in 2017-18.

The committee's total budget for 2018-19 was $1.7 million and the province said about $2.65 million in costs had been incurred since 2015.

The initial $17-million budget was based on a template provided by the International Organization of La Francophonie. It did not include a business plan or any amounts for potential infrastructure projects.

A consultant's report for the federal government said the cost of the Games could be trimmed to $115 million, with a bare-bones version of the event possible for $72 million.

Cancellation fees

If New Brunswick cancels the Games, it could be on the hook for millions more dollars.

Article 24 of the statutes of the Games' governing body, the Comité international des Jeux de la Francophonie, says a host government that cancels the event must cover any expenses incurred by the international committee.

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.

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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