I mentioned yesterday that I missed a lot of metal news over the last 10 days due to the head-wrecking week-long visit to Seattle by the rest of the NCS staff. This post is about one of the things I missed, and it seems kind of important.
On August 28 the Calgary Herald published a widely read article about a new set of Canadian government rules that went quietly into effect on July 31. The new rules were announced on August 7 by Jason Kenney (above), the Minister of Employment, Social Development & Multiculturalism. They change the fees required under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program for applications for a Labour Market Opinion (LMO). Although it doesn’t appear that the new rules were specifically targeted at local music venues in Canada or the touring bands from other countries that they book for shows, the impact of the rules will directly and dramatically impact those activities.
In essence, local Canadian businesses who want to the ability to have foreign workers work at their establishments on a temporary basis must apply for an LMO, which gives them permission to do that. This requirement applies to Canadian bars, restaurants, and other venues who want to book international artists for performances. This has been true for a long time, but before the recent rule change, as the article explains, “the fee was simply $150 per band member, maxing out at $450, and that was a one-time fee for them to simply enter the country, which allowed venue owners across Canada to share the nominal cost or book them separately at no extra charge.”
Under the new rules, however, “any venue with a primary business other than music but which also books bands or performers must now pay an application fee of $275 per musician and those travelling with the band (tour manager, sound person, guitar tech, etc.) when it applies for a Labour Market Opinion, or LMO, to allow those outside workers to perform and work in their establishment. That’s also in addition to an extra $150 for each approved musician and crew member’s work permit.”
The article quotes Spencer Brown, the longtime booker for downtown Calgary venue The Palomino — which hosts a mix of local, national and out-of-country acts:
“If I have a one 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,” Brown says, explaining there have been tweaks to the LMO in the past, but nothing this drastic or, in his eyes, damaging.
“Concert promotion at this level is, in itself, a high-risk occupation. So this has just put it through the roof. There’s no way to start already $1,700 in the hole and break even. It’s impossible.”
Perhaps making matters even more precarious is that should the application be rejected, for whatever reason, the money is non-refundable and would once again be required upon resubmission.
Government officials have pointed out there are exemptions under the new rules that include “musicians in a band performing several tour dates in Canada” and “musicians and buskers coming to Canada to perform in festivals”. The problem is that such musicians “must not perform in bars and restaurants”. That means, as a practical matter, that larger venues which exist solely for concerts and festivals get off the hook, but smaller venues that provide opportunities for less well-known bands — i.e., almost all metal bands — will take the hit.
Although the rules seem geared to give Canadian businesses an incentive to hire Canadian workers instead of temporary foreign workers (can you say “protectionism”?), it’s pretty obvious to those of us in the metal scene that it will wind up damaging local Canadian bands, in addition to the bands from other countries who will see their opportunities for Canadian tours dwindling. The article quotes Leanne Harrison, owner of a Calgary-based artist management and booking company, the SIN Agency:
As she sees it, the previous, more liberal LMO was actually a benefit to the indie artists of the country, providing them opportunities for greater exposure by performing as an opening act for mid-range international bands.
“It’s going to impact us in a lot of different ways,” says Harrison, who found out about the changes from another popular Calgary venue that will be adversely affected, Dickens Pub.
“Bigger agencies are now going to stack their tours even more with their own artists and there will be less and less opportunities for young up-and-coming bands to get what we call resume builder gigs. . . . It’s an opportunity to say, ‘We shared the stage with.’ They get in front of a bigger crowd, they can build new fans that way, they get their name out there that way.”
This really does seem like a poorly conceived idea, at least insofar as it applies to touring musicians. And before any Canadian chauvinists jump my ass, let me say that I am well aware of the ridiculous American visa policies which routinely prevent non-US metal bands from crossing our own borders. When it comes to protectionism, the US bows to no one.
So what can we do about this? Well, one thing we can do is to sign a petition at Change.org that was launched by Carlyle Doherty, a man who has worked in the Canadian music business for years. He makes a pretty compelling case, in addition to the arguments summarized above, that the new rules will be bad for Canadian bands and for Canadian music fans. I encourage you to go HERE to read what he has to say and to sign the petition — it’s not limited to Canadians.
And if you’re the cautious type who would like to hear both sides of the argument before signing, here are links to a counterpoint I found, as well as the Canadian government’s August 7 press release making the announcement of the rule change. I don’t find the counter-arguments convincing at all as they apply to touring bands, but you can make up your own minds.