Canadian music scene’s border barriers

By: Meghan O’Neil

They say music is the universal language, but it might just sound like gibberish if you don’t have enough money when you get to the border.

Yesterday’s news of the “improvement to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program” sparked outrage and a petition with over 15,000 signatures in less than 10 hours. The campaign has banded together music lovers, bookers/promoters and musicians.

rachel sermanni

Rachel Sermanni is a Scottish musician playing the Halifax Carleton next month. The Carleton is not an ‘exempt venue,’ so she’ll be subject to the increase of fees.

Why? Because these new regulations will impact the Canadian music scene and fan’s accessibility to seeing international artists live.

Prior to the change, the fee was $150 per band member and it was simply a one-time charge to enter the country. Now, the fee is $275 per musician and those traveling with the band, (a tour manager, sound person, manager). This fee is on top of the $150 for each person to enter the country on a work permit.

It’s important to note that these fees aren’t only subject to musicians. Musicians are categorized as “Temporary Foreign Workers,” meaning they apply for a work visa like any other contract foreign employee. If the visa application isn’t accepted, there’s no refund.

The Government of Canada news release reads, “In 2012, 60 per cent of positive LMOs (Labour Market Opinions) did not lead to a work permit being issued to a temporary foreign worker.  This means that Canadian taxpayers’ dollars were being spent to process applications that were never used, rather could have been used on useful initiatives.”

The Calgary Herald first broke the story yesterday and listed many of their local venues like Broken City, Ship & Anchor and the Palomino which will be subject to the fee increase.

The fees only apply to venues that operate a primary business separate from putting on live music (pubs, restaurants, clubs). So, the fees don’t apply to venues that exist exclusively for concerts and other events. In Fredericton, generally these venues would include spaces like The Playhouse, The Exhibition Centre or Charlotte Street Arts Centre.

But this is where it gets interesting. The Capital Bar (downstairs) is only open for the presentation of music (Thursday-Saturday) and is therefore exempt from the increase in fee because that’s the bar’s primary business. However, upstairs in the Wilser’s Room (open throughout the week), the fee would apply. The grey area is even though the Capital Complex is comprised of three separate rooms with different hours of operation, it can be considered one bar.

Other venues which will suffer the same fate would include Dolans, Cedar Tree Café, Café Loka, Gallery Connexion, Beaverbook Art Gallery, Reneu Boutique, James Joyce, LAVA Lounge, newly opened Roxstone Café, the Cellar and many more.

Thankfully, festivals are in the clear. You could only imagine if Fredericton’s upcoming Harvest Jazz & Blues had to face that fee. The September festival certainly has a place for Canadian artists (Galaxie Rising Star Competition provides emerging Canadian artists with the opportunity to be seen by industry professionals), but also features many high profile international headliners.

It’s hard to argue that the Harvest festival is a point of pride for many Frederictonians. It’s a chance for us to show tourists from around the world how great our city is. Visitors to Fredericton benefit from having a great experience and taking in some memorable shows, and the city benefits from that revenue.

But the bottom line is international artists are getting paid for a job Canadians may have wanted.

These “improvement to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program” have many implications for artists when all factors are considered. Now, music fans may have to spend the money on travel outside of Canada to catch their favourite acts instead of at local small businesses.

Updates to come as the story unfolds!
For more information/to sign the petition, click HERE!
To read the full Calgary Herald story, click HERE!





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