A national competition recognizing one of Canada’s official languages will not receive any financial support from Saanich for the time being, with the event little more than a year away from coming to Greater Victoria.
Council Monday approved a statement in support of the Victoria 2020 Francophones Games, but stopped short of putting $50,000 towards the event scheduled for July 14-18, 2020 across several municipalities, including Saanich.
Coun. Karen Harper had proposed the financial support, which she said have hinge on the provincial government raising its contribution towards the Games by another $250,000 to $500,000.
But Harper eventually withdrew her funding motion after several councillors signalled their opposition.
“The ink is hardly dry on our budget,” said Coun. Susan Brice, who said she was conflicted about the request. “But I find that I am unable to give it my support, because basically it is a $50,000 decision with no notice other than what was stated a few minutes ago.”
Coun. Judy Brownoff agreed, with both Brice and Brownoff leaving open the possibility of funding the Games at a later stage. Saanich’s previous council had rejected an earlier funding request.
Casey Edmunds, executive director of the Games, said Monday’s discussion showed general support, but admitted Harper’s motion came as a “shock and surprise” for her colleagues.
Edmunds called Harper a “great ally” for the Games, who understands their benefits, and he plans to meet with her in the future.
“We are still hopeful that council will see the value of the project,” he said.
Harper called the event a “once-in-a-life-time opportunity” that would benefit youth from across the country, much the same that the Invictus Games benefit Canadian veterans, show Saanich’s inclusiveness, increase the visibility of the local Francophone community, and generally raise Saanich’s national profile.
According to Edmunds, the games have a budget of $4.4 million, with the federal government contributing $1.98 million in confirmed funding. Organizers have also asked the provincial government for $650,000. Within this context, Edmunds could not confirm the figures cited by Harper. “We [the organizers] are awaiting a public announcement from the province concerning any funds towards the Games,” he said.
Victoria and Oak Bay have announced that each of them would contribute $50,000. Other identified sources of funding include athletes’ registration fees as well as local and national corporate sources among others.
The public also heard Monday that the Games will need to find up to 700 French-speaking volunteers. Edmunds said in an interview that organizers have already reached out to a number of potential partners including universities, schools and parents. They will also step up recruitment efforts in the coming months at various community events inside and outside of Saanich such the Music in the Park program and Canada Day celebrations.
Victoria would be the eighth and most western community to host the Games. Compared to other host cities, it would also have the lowest share of residents who identify French as their mother tongue. According to the 2016 census, Greater Victoria is home to 5,890 people who consider French their first language. Another 975 consider English and French their first spoken languages. This means 6,375 — or 1.8 per cent — of the regional population consider French their primary language. About 36,460 residents — or about 10 per cent of all residents — claim to have knowledge of both English and French, but the figures do not say anything about their fluency.
Edmunds remains confident that the Games will be a success for all involved parties. The French-speaking community in Greater Victoria is larger and more diverse than many might think, he said. The games, he said, would not only strengthen current ties within this community, but also highlight its historic contributions to the region.
“Who is telling that story right now?” he asked.