FREDERICTON — The 2021 Francophonie Games, expected to attract athletes from around the world, may prove too costly for New Brunswick’s new Tory government.

Cost estimates have ballooned to $130 million from the original bid of $17 million, and new Premier Blaine Higgs says his government won’t cover the extra costs. 

He said he wants the games — they are to be held in Moncton and Dieppe — but will only abide by the previous Liberal government’s $10 million commitment, and no more.

“This is becoming, as we’ve seen with Olympic games, winter games, and the recent decision with Calgary, these are becoming so expensive that communities can’t afford them,” Higgs said.

“If you look at the size of New Brunswick, population-wise and economically, it becomes more than this province can bear on its own.”

The Francophonie Games, which Canada last hosted in Ottawa-Gatineau in 2001, are expected to attract roughly 3,000 athletes from 80 member states that have French as a common language.

The premier said the escalating cost should have been resolved by the previous Liberal government.

He’s turning to the federal government to come up with a solution for the rest, but those relations are a bit frosty after Higgs cancelled a number of federal-provincial projects.

“We know what we’re committed to and we said we’d abide by that, so it’s in the federal government’s court. That’s where it will be, and they can make that decision,” Higgs said.  

Five members of the games organizing committee resigned on Wednesday, with four explicitly citing the controversy.

“We hope that these resignations will allow the partners to return to the negotiating table in a healthier media and political climate. We remain very excited about New Brunswick’s opportunity to host the world,” the four said in a statement.

Many of the organizing members are friends with former premier Brian Gallant. Gallant said that’s why he recused himself from all discussions on the games when his party was still in power.

“I’ve recused myself, so I don’t want to talk too much, but hopefully all of the partners will come to the table and try to reduce the budget significantly,” Gallant, the Liberal opposition leader, said Friday.

The board of directors for the organizing committee issued a statement Thursday, saying they recognize the province’s economic challenges and are open to evaluating different financing options.

“We continue to invite funders to negotiate and find solutions as quickly as possible. The council is convinced that it is possible to get there for the games to succeed,” the board wrote.

“For 10 days the region and the province will be in the spotlight of the world.”

Robert Gauvin, New Brunswick’s minister responsible for the Francophonie, stressed language is not an issue for the athletes.

“These games are for francophones, anglophones, and First Nations. Actually the last games, four years ago, 60 per cent of our delegation were anglophones. These are New Brunswick games,” Gauvin said.  

Green Leader David Coon is calling for a legislature committee to examine how the costs escalated so much, and how the problems can be resolved.

“Obviously if we can’t afford it, we can’t do it, but in my opinion we have to find a way to afford it,” he said. 

The original bid would have seen the provincial and federal governments paying up to $10 million each, with the two municipalities paying $750,000 each and balance coming from ticket sales.

However a federal consultant’s report pegged a reasonable cost of between $72 million and $115 million.

On Friday it was revealed that $2.65 million had been spent so far.

People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said the province can’t afford to pay more than it has committed.

“I firmly believe that if they can be done within the $10 million price tag, have at it. If not, cut your losses and move on,” Austin said.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press