New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has announced the province is cancelling its plans to host the 2021 Francophonie Games, calling it a “very difficult decision” but saying the bill was “irresponsible.”
Last month, the Tory government announced the Games could prove too expensive for the province, as cost estimates ballooned to $130 million from the original bid of $17 million.
Five members of the organizing committee resigned when the numbers were released to the public.
During a news conference Wednesday, Higgs told reporters the decision to cancel the event was due to increased costs and a lack of funding from Ottawa. He went on to say that the games should be hosted by Canada and not just one individual province, adding he felt misled by the federal government about funding.
He says he will begin formal proceedings to cancel the games in the coming days.
Higgs adds that if the federal government wants to take over the games and hold them in New Brunswick, that would be acceptable.
People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin says in a statement that the government’s decision was the “fiscally responsible thing to do.”
“I’d much rather see federal money going to things that are needed in New Brunswick and I just don’t see games as one of them,” Austin is quoted as saying.
But Kevin Arseneau, a francophone and Green member of the provincial legislature, said the Tories did not seem to want the Games in the province.
“The message that Higgs just gave New Brunswickers is that we’re too small to do big things here,” Arseneau said.
WATCH: Host cities react to cancellation of Francophonie 2021 games.
In a statement, the National Organizing Committee of the Games of la Francophonie 2021 (CNJF) says the committee is disappointed with the province’s announcement.
“While the CNJF accepts the decision of the government of New Brunswick, we were hoping for a different outcome,” the committee wrote.
“While we await next steps from the government of Canada on the future of the games in Canada, we remain committed to ensuring their success and will work with them to assess any possible options to keep the games in Canada.”
Meanwhile, the province’s policy advocate for La Francophonie, Monique LeBlanc, had some harsh words for Higgs’ decision.
“The way the Higgs government has handled the Jeux de la Francophonie file is deplorable,” she said in a statement.
LeBlanc says the decision will have a negative impact on Moncton and Dieppe’s economy, as well as the career of many athletes and artists.
“Moreover, the failure to inform the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie is a diplomatic mistake that damages New Brunswick’s reputation abroad. At a time of globalization, Higgs is closing the door on the only international organization in which New Brunswick has a seat. It’s irresponsible,” she wrote.
Kirsty Duncan, the federal sports minister, said they had hoped for further discussions on a funding proposal, but the province never offered one.
“Unfortunately despite productive talks at officials’ level yesterday, they have chosen not to bring forth any resolutions to be a willing and open partner, and instead have allowed their self-imposed deadline to expire for their own bid,” she said in a statement Wednesday.
“Once again, the Higgs government is leaving federal dollars on the table.”
She noted that New Brunswick is an independent member of the Francophonie and said she hopes it is taking steps to ensure the Games can occur elsewhere.
Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, who is the MP for the Moncton area, said it’s a lost opportunity to showcase the region.
“The federal government is not in a position to pay 100 per cent of the Games because it just doesn’t meet our funding formula.”
The New Brunswick Acadian Society said the announcement represents a fundamental challenge not only to New Brunswick’s place in Canada, but also Acadie’s place in the Francophonie.
Earlier this month, New Brunswick’s minister responsible for La Francophonie, Robert Gauvin, said if the partners behind the Games couldn’t draft a plan to find more funding by today’s deadline, the province would be unable to host the event.
WATCH: N.B. government issues funding ultimatum for Francophonie Games
The original bid would have seen Ottawa and the province paying up to $10 million each, with the two host municipalities, Moncton and Dieppe, paying $750,000 each and the balance coming from ticket sales.
However, a federal consultant’s report pegged a reasonable cost at between $72 million and $115 million.
The ninth Games of La Francophonie were scheduled to be held in the summer of 2021, attracting 3,000 athletes and artists from more than 50 member states that have French as a common language.
New Brunswick – one of 84 member states and governments that belong to the International Organization of the Francophonie – was awarded the Games in 2015.
The Games include eight sporting events and 12 cultural events, including singing, storytelling, traditional dance, poetry, painting, photography and sculpture.
The Games, which Canada hosted in the Ottawa-Gatineau area in 2001, are held every four years in the year following the Olympic Summer Games.
— With files from the Canadian Press