Since the news broke last December of the skyrocketing costs of the 2021 Francophonie Games, many articles and thought-provoking musings on the feasibility of the Games have been published in both Francophone and Anglophone media throughout the province, and even throughout the country. While the controversy can be dissected with from many angles, the bulk of the analyses published have centered around economic and political arguments for either the outright cancellation or a reigned-in version of the Games. However, one perspective that has thus far been omitted from the general cost-benefit centric discourse is the importance of international diplomacy, and the opportunities afforded by the Games in this regard.
The State has four tools at its disposal with which to engage foreign entities: the soldier, the diplomat, the artist and the athlete. In the age of globalisation, diplomacy is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal for fostering cultural, social and economic exchanges, all the while helping our province have its voice heard on the world stage. Although the Acadian and Francophone population of the Atlantic provinces can boast its fair share of artists acting as cultural ambassadors abroad, one thing that it lacks is its own official diplomatic corps. That being said, the Société nationale de l’Acadie (SNA), a non-profit organisation founded in 1881 to represent the interests of the Acadian populations of the Atlantic provinces, has often acted as the bone fide representative of the Acadian people on the international stage, in the absence of a centralised Acadian government.
Through its different diplomatic efforts, the SNA has successfully negotiated a variety of agreements and partnership throughout the years with different foreign and provincial governments, most notably in France, Belgium and Quebec, centered around the promotion of Acadian and francophone culture. However, the SNA has also taken great strides to ensure that it’s efforts have served a higher calling in terms of promoting the broader provincial and often economic interests of its member provinces, including New Brunswick. Perhaps the most striking example of such a diplomatic undertaking was in 1968, when four Acadian emissaries were greeted in Paris by the General Charles de Gaulle with all the pomp, circumstance and celebration usually reserved to foreign Heads of State. This fateful turn of events helped put l’Acadie on the map and paved the way for New Brunswick’s greater integration of into the world of international diplomacy.
New Brunswick has been an official member of the la Francophonie internationale since its acceptance into the Agence de coopération culturelle et technique (ACCT), a precursor to the International Organisation of La Francophonie, in 1977. This budding provincial awareness of New Brunswick’s potential on the international scene was largely prompted by the “Summary of Conclusions” signed between the SNA and the Republic of France in 1968. If New Brunswick was accepted into the ACCT, it was in large part thanks to the influence of the Acadian intelligentsia of the time: Without them, our province would never have been accepted as a full member into the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF), an organisation comprised of 88 states and governments representing more than 900 million people spread over five continents. In the interest of comparison, it would be hard to imagine that the Province of New-Brunswick would be bestowed the equivalent courtesy of a full membership within the Commonwealth.
New Brunswick’s integration into the broader international francosphere benefits not only its Acadian and Francophone population, but the entirety of the province. It is the New Brunswick flag that flies during such international events and congresses; a flag that represents both our Anglophone and Francophone communities. The legacy of Acadian diplomacy has brought much recognition to our province on the international stage and its visionaries and architects deserve our utmost respect. The various agreements and exchanges established between l’Acadie and la Francophonie internationale have benefited generations of New Brunswickers, some of whom have gone on to become some of our leading business people, academics, doctors, lawyers, and politicians. Needless to say, we all benefit from their vision and their involvement in our communities, not to mention their hard-earned personal and corporate tax dollars.
We all understand that our international ambitions are limited by our province’s economic and fiscal reality. However, if the government of New Brunswick limits its cost-benefit analysis of the Francophonie Games strictly to financial considerations, we are potentially jeopardising l’Acadie and New Brunswick’s hard-earned stature on the international stage. Further, at a national level, does our status as a “have not” province within Canada mean that we will never be worthy of hosting international events within our borders? Do we live in a two-tier federation; one where well-off provinces can develop on the international stage while the “have nots” are eternally condemned to managing our slow decline and ultimate demise? In the Atlantic provinces, have we internalised the fact that we are, in reality, part of a peripheral Canada?
Let’s dare to dream a little. New Brunswick’s participation in the OIF is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss. We must seize this chance for the benefit of all New Brunswickers. The 2021 Francophonie Games, if held, would be the biggest athletic and cultural event ever seen in Eastern Canada. Let’s make sure our governments consider all the potential benefits of the Games for both l’Acadie and New Brunswick, because who knows when such an opportunity will present itself again.
Robert Melanson is the President, Société de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick.