Sherbrooke to consider holding Francophonie Games after N.B. pulls plug
The flag of Quebec flies in this undated file photo. (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)
SHERBROOKE, , Que. -- After losing out to New Brunswick in the race to hold the 2021 Francophonie Games and then seeing the winner withdraw last week, Sherbrooke, Que. is contemplating a pinch-hitting role.
Sherbrooke Mayor Steve Lussier, who had initially ruled out filling in as host over concerns about the cost, announced at a meeting Monday night that council will take another look.
Lussier said the council has asked a committee to review the financial implications to ensure taxpayers are not left with a hefty bill. The quadrennial event brings together 3,000 athletes and artists from more than 50 member states that have French as a common language.
In New Brunswick, where Moncton and Dieppe were going to share hosting duties, Premier Blaine Higgs blamed the province's decision to withdraw on the growing cost and a lack of financial support from Ottawa. The province said the budget had ballooned to $130 million from an original bid of $17 million.
Lussier said his city has been approached by the federal and provincial governments about staging the Games and will continue discussions. But first he wants the committee, which is due to report within a week, to thoroughly examine what it would cost his city.
"Obviously you don't go bungee jumping without an elastic," he said. "This is sort of the same situation. We are going to make sure the elastic is solid so the taxpayers don't end up stuck with the bill."
Marie-Claude Bibeau, the federal minister of international development and an MP in the Sherbrooke region, said Monday the federal government would support Sherbrooke if it decides to welcome the Games.
After Lussier said last week there was "no interest" in taking over from New Brunswick, Vincent Boutin, a Sherbrooke municipal councillor, asked the mayor to reconsider. Boutin said that in 2015 when Sherbrooke was a finalist to welcome the Games, the cost was evaluated at $52 million, but two-thirds of the bill would have been assumed by the federal and provincial governments.
On Sunday, the Opposition called on the province to get involved. Liberal MNA Paule Robitaille wants the province to provide funding for the Games and to pressure Ottawa to contribute. An aide to Nadine Girault, the Quebec minister responsible for la Francophonie, said the province will await a request from the municipality before declaring its position on funding.
Lussier said the prospect of having athletes and artists from more than 50 countries competing in Sherbrooke creates an interest for the city. He said that in addition to the federal and provincial governments, he has spoken to the mayors of Dieppe and Bathurst in New Brunswick after the province pulled the plug.
"It was sad news for them. I told them we would take a good look at it," he said.