The Francophonie Games could cost taxpayers seven times more than expected.
The Moncton-Dieppe bid was selected to host the 2021 Games — considered the biggest sporting and cultural event in the French-speaking world — based on a $17-million budget submitted back in 2015.
But Radio-Canada has learned the request for funding by the Games’ organizing committee, first submitted to government back in April, is for $130 million, raising questions about whether hosting the games in New Brunswick is still a viable option.
The municipalities of Moncton and Dieppe were supposed to contribute $750,000 each, with the rest of the money split evenly between the federal and provincial governments.
But various levels of government are now saying they might not be able to afford the difference.
New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government said it was shocked to find out the price tag when it took office.
“To our surprise, there were no funds approved in the budget for the Games,” said Louis Léger, Premier Blaine Higgs’s chief of staff.
“We were incredibly surprised.
Léger said he is not ready to say the Games are in jeopardy, but he is unsure where the funds will come from.
“We have to recognize New Brunswick is a small province,” he said, leaving the ball in the court of the federal government.
But Ottawa said it will not contribute more than 50 per cent of the cost of running the Games.
“We’re obviously worried by the potential cost,” said Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
“It’s important now for New Brunswick to assume its responsibility, and we’ll be an important partner in the Games.”
LeBlanc said the federal government could pay 50 per cent of the new costs but, according to federal policy on funding for international sporting events, it would not go beyond half the overall price tag.
The minister said he is looking forward to continuing discussions with the province.
“I can’t imagine the provincial government would give up on the Games,” he said.
“I can’t imagine the Francophonie Games wouldn’t take place in New Brunswick in 2021.”
No false pretences
The $17-million bid was based on a suggested financial framework in the International Organization of the Francophonie Games guide, explained Eric Larocque, executive director of the 2021 Games organizing committee.
The $130-million price tag, he explained, is the full business plan, which the committee wasn’t required to submit as part of its bid.
In contrast, the City of Sherbrooke, Que., who also made a bid to host the games and lost, had a $50-million business plan as part of its application.
Larocque rejected the idea the committee won its bid under false pretences but agreed it would have been “the right thing to do” to submit the business plan from the get-go.
“Of course, yes,” said Larocque. “But it was not asked from us, so we didn’t.
“There were some volunteers, and there were some public servants. I’m not here to pinpoint or to blame somebody. It was a group decision, and that’s it.”
Larocque said he could not provide details about what items were part of the business plan, short of confirming a request for infrastructure was made.
When Moncton won the bid, the city said “the beauty” of its bid was that it already had all the infrastructure required — referring to the stadium at the University of Moncton and the new Avenir Centre — and there wouldn’t be any costs associated with that.
Larocque said governments could decide to provide only a portion of the money requested by the organizing committee.
“I don’t think we’re going to lose the Games. They need to talk and to find a solution,” he said.
“We’re going to do the best with the money we’re going to get.”
He said the funds would have to be approved by January for the committee to be on schedule.
The City of Moncton said it approved a financial contribution of $750,000 toward the Games, as part of its 2017 budget deliberations, and that no further request for funding has been made to the city by the local organizing committee.
The province meanwhile remains concerned.
“We inherited this situation,” said Léger. This worries us to the highest degree. To see that such an important event had not been as well planned as it should have…”
“It’s a 664 per cent increase. It’s not just forgetting a small element of the project.”
Since they were created in 1989, the Games have been held in Morocco, France, Lebanon, Ivory Coast, Madagascar and Niger.
Canada last hosted the event in 2001 when it was held in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.
The event is expected to draw more than 3,000 athletes and artists from around the world.