It is a case of ‘la troisieme fois sera la bonne’ for the Jeux de la francophonie canadienne receiving financial support from Saanich.
The municipality will become an official sponsor of the 2020 after council voted 7-2 with Couns. Susan Brice and Nathalie Chambers opposed to give organizers a one-time grant of $50,000, with the money itself comes from the council strategic initiative fund.
The games recognize one of Canada’s two official languages, and happen every three years. Victoria will be the eighth and most western community to host the games scheduled July 14-18, 2020. Quebec — the historic home of French-speaking Canada — and New Brunswick — Canada’s only province with official bilingualism — have each hosted the games twice since the inaugural competition in 1999. Organizers say the games will draw more than 1,000 competitors aged 14 to 18 from Canada’s ten provinces and three territories.
Saanich’s previous council had informally rejected a grant request of $10,000 during budget discussions in March 2018 by not acting on it. The question of whether Saanich should support the games returned in April 2019, when councillors received a funding request of $50,000 from the organizing society. While they issued a statement of support, opposition eventually forced Coun. Karen Harper to withdraw a motion to fund the event, with councillors questioning the process.
The public heard some of these concerns again on Monday, when Brice questioned the substance and process of the request.
Brice said the request is a “pretty significant ask,” especially when council had already reviewed it, in questioning the value of Saanich’s commitment.
Brice said she could see why the City of Victoria and the District Oak Bay would sponsor the event. Victoria would benefit from tourism dollars, while Oak Bay would also receive an economic and community boost by hosting the events themselves.
“I certainly hope that people find their way into Saanich, but it is a little bit less direct connection to this community,” she said. This said, Brice said she support spending $20,000. Chambers offered a similiar argument in proposing $10,000.
In the end, this argument did not carry the day, even as supporters of the request expressed reservations.
“So I do struggle with spending $50,000 at this time, not because of the $50,000, but rather the process that has got us here,” said Coun. Plant, who ended up supporting the motion along with Couns. Judy Brownoff, Colin Plant, Rebecca Mersereau, Ned Taylor, and Zac de Vries. “The only way that I can come to support this is by thinking we probably made a mistake in the first place.”
Mayor Fred Haynes said the games represent a “once-in-a-generational opportunity” for Saanich and the region.
Harper — who tabled the funding motion — said the games fit Saanich’s economic development, multi-culturalism, and youth strategy, respectively. Open to anyone, whether they speak French or not, the event will afford residents a chance to experience a different culture without leaving home, she said. “This is a very exciting event for the region, and this is an opportunity for Saanich to support an event that many of its residents will be attending,” said Harper.
Victoria will also be the host with the lowest share of residents, who speak French as their first language, when compared to the other host cities. They say they need about 600-French speaking volunteers from around Victoria to “ensure the success” of the games.
– With files from Devon Bidal