Suffocated scene

First wave of effects felt by Winnipeg music scene from “Tour Tax”

 July 31 saw a change in policy to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program as a part of the Conservative Party’s Economic Action Plan.

Foreign workers have always had to apply for a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) before entering the country and prior to July 31, 2013, the LMO had no cost. Foreign workers applied for the LMO and if they received it, paid $150 for a work visa and entered the country. Now, people aspiring to work in Canada have to pay a $275 processing fee for each position they request.

International musicians fall into this group. The hike in prices – deemed the “tour tax” by some critics – means that when a non-Canadian band hopes to perform in a Canadian bar, restaurant, coffee house or anywhere else that isn’t solely a music venue, each member will have to shell out $150 for a work visa, as well as a non-refundable $275 application fee for each venue they’ll play in Canada.

Before rates went up, international musicians paid a maximum of $450 per band to perform in Canada, an amount the tour tax has tripled.

This is having crippling effects on small to mid-size bands according to Sam Smith, promoter at the Windsor Hotel, who already sees the toll of the new fees on artists.

“There was a local promoter bringing up blues diva Nellie Travis that just pulled the plug yesterday,” he contends. 

“Interestingly, Hugh Cornwell (ex-frontman of The Stranglers) was going to do a show at the Pyramid Cabaret. The Pyramid is an exempt venue, so no big deal, right? Unfortunately two other shows on Hugh’s tour were at non-exempt rooms like the Windsor. So the Western Canada leg of that tour is now cancelled. You’re going to hear more of that.”

Local musician Darcy Penner of the band Salinas is frustrated with the new fees, describing it as completely misplaced policy.

“It’s ostensibly supposed to help Canadian musicians, but under no circumstance or scenario will this benefit Canadian artists or touring musicians.” Especially since local artists rely on opening slots for more prominent visiting bands.

“It does not reflect the realities of the markets at all,” Penner says. “I want my favourite bands from the states. I want to see them play and I want to open for them.”

NDP multiculturalism critic, Andrew Cash, released a statement on the NDP website which described the new fees as the difference between “local promoters making a profit and closing up shop… This is really an attack on small businesses, and will impact not only the local live music scene but our multicultural communities who bring international touring acts to Canada as well.”

Carlyle Doherty – who started a chance.org petition to retract the new fees – notes that there are a few things that can be done, including signing the petition.

“We’ve got over 10,000 signatures in the first week,” he says. “With all those signatures, there’s a lot we can do.”

He plans on using social media for leverage, encouraging others too as well, implying that “a Twitter attack on Jason Kenney” (the MP responsible for the new law) might suffice.

A disturbing aspect of the new fees is that agricultural corporations bringing in foreign workers are the only businesses exempt from them. While small to midsize bands have less opportunity for exposure and success because of the new fees, the agriculture sector is bringing in cheap labour from abroad with impunity.

If the point of the law is to put Canadians in a better position for jobs across all sectors, both it’s application and  exemption deserve to be reexamined.

Published in Volume 68, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 18, 2013)

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