Coun. Karen Harper says Saanich will benefit economically and culturally from granting the 2020 Jeux de la Francophonie 2020 $50,000. (Submitted/Black Press).

Saanich sponsors Jeux de la Francophonie giving $50,000 for the French-language Games

Couns. Susan Brice and Nathalie Chambers opposed funding, citing substantive and procedural concerns

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.

RELATED: Saanich says ‘non’ to funding request for 2020 Victoria Francophone Games

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.

“This will put Saanich, Oak Bay and Victoria — all the sponsors — on a national and international stage,” said Haynes. “I think we are getting huge value.” Haynes also said that this use of council’s strategic fund is consistent with previous uses, such as $20,000 towards supporting supporting Greater Victoria’s bid for the 2022 Invictus Games and and $85,000 towards Aboriginal art. Should the regional bid for the 2022 Invictus Games succeed, Saanich would be on hook for another $200,000, he said.

“This the price for these types of games,” said Haynes.

RELATED: Invictus Games bid asks Saanich, Victoria and Langford for $20,000

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, including Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Sudbury, and organizers have already started the process of rounding up volunteers. They say they need about 600-French speaking volunteers from around Victoria to “ensure the success” of the games.

RELATED: Francophone Games coming to Victoria in 2020 need 600 French-speaking volunteers

According to the 2016 Census, the Greater Victoria is home to 5,890 people, who only 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 first language. About 36,460 residents — or about 10 per cent of all residents — claim to have knowledge of both English and French.

With files from Devon Bidal

wolfgang.depner@saanichnews.com

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