Vaughn Palmer: Transparency is excluded from the debate on World Cup costs

Opinion: Is FIFA making arbitrary, costly, last-minute demands when it’s too late for BC to back down? Say you’re not such a minister.

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VICTORIA – Prime Minister David Eby promised this week that the New Democrats will be as open and transparent as possible about the costs and commitments of hosting the World Cup.

“Absolutely,” as he told reporters during a news conference Monday.

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The BC United Opposition put that promise to the test the next day with cabinet member Lana Popham. Its Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sports is responsible for the BC Place stadium, the venue chosen for seven Cup matches in 2026.

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But opposition MLA Trevor Halford mostly learned what Popham still doesn’t know or won’t say about the cost of BC’s commitments to FIFA, the Cup’s parent organization.

Popham confirmed during Tuesday’s debate on his ministry’s budget that BC is committed to a substantial renovation of the stadium.

Subject to FIFA specifications, BC Place will add elevators, VIP suites, more concession stands, restrooms, a third-floor hospitality space and a connecting walkway to the adjacent hotel and casino.

Other potential costs include a backup power supply and replacing the stadium’s artificial turf with grass that will be approved, planted and maintained to FIFA’s exacting standards.

Furthermore, as Popham admitted in his closing comments on the debate, FIFA may have more demands that BC is not yet aware of.

All this work must be completed before May 13, 2026, when FIFA takes exclusive control of BC Place, one month before the start of the tournament.

But just over two years in, there are many things Popham and his colleagues in the NDP government still haven’t resolved.

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“There is no construction schedule at this time,” Popham told the House.

PavCo, the provincial government’s Crown corporation that operates BC Place, is still trying to hire a construction manager for the renovation.

“One of the manager’s roles will be to create that construction schedule.”

While waiting for the manager to come on board, BC Place has started some preliminary work on the bathrooms, hospitality space and the like.

“But there is no definitive timetable,” Popham said. “They’re just getting on with it.”

I’m getting to work. And without a definitive budget, according to the responsible minister. That will also depend on the construction manager yet to be hired.

The minister did clarify a point of confusion regarding the cost of hosting the Cup.

Early last year, the province announced a cost of $230 million for the city of Vancouver alone. It has sometimes been mistakenly assumed that the amount also includes provincial government costs.

Not so, Popham reminded the House. “None of that is a PavCo cost.”

Halford: “So the $230 million that people are talking about, that figure doesn’t include anything to do with the improvements at BC Place. Will all of those be additional costs?

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Popham: “That’s right.”

Did the minister have a rough estimate of those additional costs, which were not covered by last year’s $230 million estimate?

“PavCo’s overhead costs are being updated right now,” he responded.

Operating costs have increased because BC will host seven games, up from initial expectations of five.

“It is the construction manager’s role to refine capital cost estimates. “We’re going to wait for that.”

It would be the construction manager who, according to her, has not yet been hired.

You better know how to get started.

As the debate progressed, Popham began to play.

The province “had not signed any agreement with FIFA,” he told the House.
“The agreement was with PavCo.”

Halford: “Your ministry is responsible for PavCo. So if PavCo signs the agreement with FIFA, then the province signed an agreement with FIFA, right?”

Popham did not argue. He went on to state that neither his ministry nor PavCo were bound by any confidentiality agreement.

“There are no numbers that are withheld because of an NDA,” Popham said.

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However, the figures are kept confidential. While Seattle made its agreement with FIFA public last year, the Ministry of Tourism, BC Place and the City of Vancouver rejected multiple media requests for the bid book, hosting agreement and economic model for the event. .

For all that, Popham insists that full accountability to the public is imminent.

“The numbers will come very soon,” he promised the legislature. “In the next little while, when we can release some updated numbers, we will be confident that they are solid numbers for where we are.”

Then she ran away.

“But let me also make it clear that there are other things that will change the number. We still don’t know how much the federal contribution will be.”

Then there is the relentless scrutiny of FIFA.

“FIFA still has to make some visits to the site,” he revealed. “They may have other requirements. Your requirements may change.”

Does FIFA make arbitrary, costly, last-minute demands when it is too late for the BC to back down? Say you’re not such a minister.

Why would that be like the province giving FIFA “a blank check,” something the New Democrats said they would never do.

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