Collateral Damage

Conservatives foreign worker regulation changes whack live music

by Amber Goodwyn

On July 31 Employment and Social Development Canada made changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program, adding new regulations that call for employers to pay $275 per worker to work in their facilities, an additional cost on top of the $150 work permit that foreign workers need to be able work in Canada.

This change affects all sectors across the board (except for primary agriculture), including smaller music venues — and thus, the independent music industry.

The result: don’t expect to see an American band at a pub, restaurant or coffee shop, anytime soon.

Dedicated music venues and festivals are exempt from the regulations; those that are affected (nay, gutted!) by the change are establishments with a primary business other than putting on concerts — namely bars, restaurants and cafes (think O’Hanlon’s and The Pump in Regina and Amigos in Saskatoon). These small businesses feature small and mid-level bands, fairly tiny operations that rely on a non-musical primary business to keep afloat.

The new fees must be paid for each member of a touring, foreign band, along with any other personnel (technicians, managers, drivers, roadies) they need to play these venues. And they need to be paid for every single gig at a pub, restaurant or coffee shop.

Some folks have interpreted these new regulations as positive, thinking that they create more opportunities for Canadian musicians who will replace the interloping American and international competition in our national market.

Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true.

The reality on the ground is that small and mid-sized bands Canadian bands regularly rely on, and benefit from, opportunities to share bills with (usually) more popular, touring foreign bands who need local openers.

That means Canadian bands just lost both greater exposure and pay.

n addition to that, the grassroots economy of American and Canadian independent bands typically use these bill-sharing opportunities to set up show exchanges in each other’s countries, allowing for both sides to be able to build tours to benefit from each other’s audiences and contacts.

Touring opportunities for both Canadian and foreign bands — along with music workers like promoters and venue employees — are both adversely impacted by these changes.

And then there’s audiences who will miss out on seeing exciting, up-and-coming music talent.

A petition against the change is online at change.org (search “ruin live music”).

Look for more coverage of this nonsense in the Sept. 19 Prairie Dog.

2013-09-05