Calgary's Ironwood Stage and Grill is among the venues required to pay the new fees. (Photo: Bill Longstaff/Flickr)
Canada's live music scene could soon get a whole lot quieter. That's because of new fees levied by the federal government for foreign touring acts hoping to play here.
Musicians from outside of Canada are governed by the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and as of July 31, the cost of hiring an act has effectively quadrupled in some cases, reports The Calgary Herald.
In order to book a foreign act, venue owners need to apply for what's called a Labour Market Opinion (LMO), which allows the band or artist to work legally in the country. Before the new rules, the application fee for an LMO was $150 per band member, and the total cost maxed out at $450. This was a one-time fee to enter the country, and could be shared by multiple venues in different cities.
Now that fee, which applies equally to performers and crew members, has been hiked to $275, in addition to an extra $150 for a work permit for each potential worker. There's no maximum, and the fee now applies for each venue that wants to hire the act.
Spencer Brown, who books performers for The Palomino in Calgary, told the Herald, "If I have a four-member American band at the Palomino, I'm looking at $1,700 Canadian just to get them on the bill -- and that's on top of paying out a sound tech, paying for posters, gear rental, paying the other bands, staffing.... There's no way to start already $1,700 in the hole and break even."
The new changes aren't actually meant to target the music business; they apply equally to all manner of temporary foreign workers, with the exception of those employed in agriculture. Indeed, there's a specific exemption for musicians and buskers — as long as they don't perform in a venue that's primarily a bar or restaurant. Unfortunately, that category includes many of the smaller venues which regularly book indie acts across the country.
Booking a large act like The Polyphonic Spree could cost a bar or restaurant upwards of $8,500 (Photo: Ian Muttoo/Flickr)
A petition has sprung up on activist site Change.org calling on federal Ministers Jason Kenney and Chris Alexander to amend the regulation to add bars, restaurants and coffee shops to the list of exempt employers. Although it's only two days old, the petition has already amassed more than 90,000 signatures.
While the regulation is designed to protect Canadian workers from foreign competition, it might actually have the opposite effect, as Leanne Harrison, owner of the booking company SIN Agency, explained to the Herald. Foreign touring acts often book smaller Canadian bands to open for them on their Canadian tours, giving them valuable exposure to the larger band's fan base.
Harrison also told the Herald that we're already seeing fallout from the change: Las Vegas hard rock group Hemlock has put a proposed Western Canadian tour on hold because too many of their dates were in non-exempt venues.