SHERBROOKE, Que. — After ballooning costs prompted New Brunswick to abandon the 2021 Francophonie Games, Sherbrooke, Que., has agreed to step in as host as long as spending can be kept under control.
It is now up to the Quebec government to submit Sherbrooke's candidacy to la Francophonie, the organization of states that have French as a common language. Negotiations will also be needed to determine how much the province and the federal government contribute.
In New Brunswick, where Moncton and Dieppe were going to share hosting duties, Premier Blaine Higgs last month 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 risen to $130 million from an original bid of $17 million.
At a special meeting Monday night, Sherbrooke city council adopted a motion expressing its support for holding the Games provided it can be done "within a financial framework established with the provincial and federal governments."
Sherbrooke says it is prepared to spend $5.5 million on the event, which brings together 3,000 athletes and artists from la Francophonie's more than 50 member states. It will seek guarantees from the other levels of government that they will assume their respective shares under an agreement to be negotiated.
In 2015, Sherbrooke lost out to New Brunswick in the race to hold the 2021 Games. At the time it estimated the total cost at $52 million and its contribution at $8.8 million.
Mayor Steve Lussier was initially reluctant to wade back into the project before agreeing last week to take another look. He insisted that the city would stick to its budget.
"There is no question of creating a special tax for the Games," he said. "They will not be held to the detriment of municipal projects and services."
Nadine Girault, Quebec's minister of international relations and la Francophonie, met with Lussier Monday in Sherbrooke. She said on Twitter that she would discuss the project with cabinet colleagues and assess the costs. "At this point, they remain high," she wrote.
In New Brunswick, Higgs said he welcomes Sherbrooke's decision. "I hope that the Games do proceed," the premier told reporters.
He noted that Sherbrooke is beginning with a more realistic estimate of the cost, but he said Quebec needs to keep close tabs on spending. "I would just have a good hard look at it, because it seems like Games of all kinds usually run over significantly," Higgs said.