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B.C. minister defends secrecy over World Cup costs, cites business interests

Lana Popham testified at a budget estimate hearing at the provincial legislature
Vancouver is set to host multiple FIFA World Cup matches in 2026

The NDP cabinet minister responsible for FIFA World Cup 26 in B.C. suggested Tuesday there could be even more costs to the province than B.C. Place Stadium renovations.

Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Minister Lana Popham testified at a budget estimate hearing at the provincial legislature amid ongoing questions from reporters and opposition politicians to update the hosting budget.

In early 2023, the province said the City of Vancouver would spend $230 million to host matches in 2026, but outfitting B.C. Place would cost extra.

In June 2022, when FIFA named Vancouver one of the 16 host cities, the province originally estimated $240 million to $260 million in costs, split between stadium operator B.C. Pavilion Corporation and the city.

“Cost estimated did not include provincial essential service costs and other costs associated with maximizing the social and economic benefit of hosting,” Popham said at the committee hearing.

Popham has resisted calls for disclosure of the expected bill to taxpayers after the province’s Feb. 22 budget vaguely stated World Cup matches would be one of the programs funded from the estimated $10.6 billion in contingencies over the next three years. The next week, a report from Toronto’s city hall said its costs had risen more than $80 million to $380 million.

Popham has blamed the delay on the Feb. 4 FIFA announcement of seven matches at B.C. Place between June 13, 2026 and July 7, 2026. Vancouver had been expecting to evenly split 10 matches with Toronto, but FIFA announced in March 2023 that it expanded the U.S./Canada/Mexico-hosted tournament by 24 matches. Seattle and Toronto were each given six matches, but an official with Seattle’s host committee told city councillors there last August that it was planning for as many as eight.

Popham said construction to prepare for FIFA is underway at the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame and food courts, including demolition of some walls.

“Corner club, third-level hospitality space and washroom upgrades and much of that, most likely all of that, will be completed this year,” Popham said.

BC United shadow sport minister Trevor Halford was skeptical because the list of anticipated works for 2026 is longer.

“You're talking about putting in new elevators into a 40-year-old concrete building,” Halford said to Popham. “And there's no construction schedule for that. We're talking about VIP suites. We're talking about a new hospitality section on the third floor. And there's no time frame for that. We're 27 months out, and the minister and the premier both committed to at some point giving British Columbians a final cost of what the games are going to be.”

Popham said that the B.C. Place renovation schedule relies on PavCo hiring a construction manager and that any work would not disrupt regular operations. She said FIFA will have exclusive use of the stadium beginning 30 days before the first of match, which means May 13, 2026.

“It's the construction manager's role to refine the capital cost estimates. We're going to wait for that,” Popham said.

“I think I've been on the record many times now stating that we will release the updated numbers as a whole. But we want to make sure that the work is done, so that we have a solid number.”

Popham also said there is no agreement with FIFA to require the province withhold its budget. She denied several times that her Ministry or PavCo has required anyone to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Meanwhile, BC United shadow tourism minister Ben Stewart asked Popham whether she would commit to releasing any contractual details about the three Taylor Swift Eras Tour concerts coming in December.

“If that contract were to be disclosed, I think it probably would be the last concert we ever had at B.C. Place,” Popham said.

She testified that PavCo is subject to the freedom of information law that requires a public sector organization to keep confidential information that could harm the business interest of a third party.

However, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has ruled on several occasions that negotiated contracts between PavCo and event promoters must be released to freedom of information applicants.

Despite the wishes of promoters, adjudicators ordered public disclosure of contracts for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 and the 2014 NHL Heritage Classic at B.C. Place Stadium, and the annual TED Conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Both the province and Vancouver city hall are refusing to disclose proposals to and contracts with FIFA.

Seattle city council released its FIFA host city and stadium contracts last August. In January, Santa Clara, Calif., published a censored version of its contract with FIFA.