New Brunswick has decided to cancel its plan to host the 2021 Francophonie Games after anticipated costs ballooned to more than seven times the expected price tag.
“We understand that this is a very difficult decision for the individuals and the communities who wanted the games to move forward,” Premier Blaine Higgs said at a news conference on Wednesday. “This was not an easy decision.”
The cost of hosting the games soared in November to $113 million from the original $17 million figure used when the province was awarded the the ninth Games of La Francophonie in 2015. A revised estimate put the cost at $80 million.
Higgs said the added cost of the games were always going to be a “very steep hill” to climb, and that the pledged support from Ottawa to match funds was not enough. He called for changes to the federal government’s funding formula for major sporting events.
“We could not in good conscience invest more than we had already committed,” Higgs said.
He said the province will be naming a representative to begin the cancellation process. The province has already spent $2.65 million on the event so far.
The games, which would have brought 3,000 participants to Moncton and Dieppe, are organized by La Francophonie, an international organization of 58 governments with French language ties. New Brunswick and Quebec have “participating government” status within the organization.
Deputy Premier Robert Gauvin had previously set a Jan. 30 deadline for trying to develop a plan in collaboration with the federal government to save the event.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal cabinet ministers pledged to match provincial investment in the games but would not cover more.
In a statement on Tuesday, federal sports minister Kirsty Duncan said there had been “productive meetings” with the province and seemed to indicate the games had not been lost.
Higgs said he had spoken with Trudeau and MP Dominic LeBlanc about his position on keeping the provincial expenditures to $10 million.
The premier said Canada should be viewed as a country within La Francophonie, rather New Brunswick’s current position which allows it to participate more independently and host the games themselves.
When asked if he is concerned about linguistic tension resulting from this issue, Higgs said anglophones and francophones both believe the province cannot afford the games.
Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau said he understands the province’s financial situation, but believes a bit more could have been contributed to make an event happen that’s important for a large portion of the population.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Arseneau said, speaking in French. “There is clearly an absence of willingness.”
Gauvin, who is also the minister responsible for La Francophonie, was noticeably absent from Wednesday’s news conference. He was spotted in Fredericton Wednesday morning.
“I think there were efforts made to try to save the games, but the provincial government was never at the table,” Arseneau said. “And the fact that the minister for La Francophonie is not even here today to participate in this announcement is unacceptable.”
“I can’t say I’m disappointed,” People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said after the announcement. “I’d rather see federal money go into things that are needed in New Brunswick, and I just don’t see games as one of them.”
Liberal MLA Monique LeBlanc, the opposition shadow minister for La Francophonie, criticized the decision.
“Rather than working to find a solution, Blaine Higgs has played the blaming game for weeks and walked away,” LeBlanc said. “This decision will have a negative impact on the Moncton and Dieppe region's economy, on the development and career of many athletes and artists, both Anglophone and Francophone.”