Fees for international acts prompt concerns for Vancouver music venues
New application fees implemented this summer under Canada’s temporary foreign worker program are being criticized as “ludicrous” and "devastating" by some local music promoters.
As of July 31, employers applying to hire temporary foreign workers are required to pay a $275 fee for a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) for each worker.
According to Alexandra Fortier, press secretary for Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney, the Canadian government wanted to ensure that the fee was paid for by the employer instead of taxpayers.
“This fee already existed, it’s just that the taxpayer would pay it and not the employer,” Fortier told the Straight by phone. “This is for any temporary foreign worker application that requires an LMO. So be it…an employer who requests a temporary foreign worker to work in a factory, or in this case, musicians from a U.S. band.”
But promoter Aaron Schubert of NightHeat Entertainment said the changes are likely to adversely affect some small venues in Vancouver that bring in international acts.
“It’s the idea of a band from the U.S. comes in, right when they’re about to blow up, and they’re still only selling about 150 tickets, it’s those early days of that band playing those small venues,” said Schubert. “It’s going to wipe out those small bars or restaurants that want to be venues as well.”
David Duprey, whose venue the Rickshaw Theatre will not be impacted by the fees, also criticized the change. He questioned what impetus it will give bands touring the West Coast to come up to Vancouver from Seattle and perform at a small venue.
“It’s devastating,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s a lot of money…For the 100, 150-people venues, it’s just not economically viable.”
Fortier said the federal government’s main concern is to ensure that Canadians are considered first.
“That’s the whole point of the Labour Market Opinion,” she said. “We want to make sure that the employer did his due diligence, that he went to see if Canadians were available first, before asking an American band to come play at their bar or restaurant.”
Schubert said many venues depend on booking some international acts, and Canadian bands can gain valuable exposure by opening for higher-profile touring groups.
“If there were enough Canadian bands to pull that off, I would say great, but there aren’t,” he said. “There’s not enough Canadian bands touring that can actually sell out a medium-sized venue.”
He added that musicians shouldn't be compared with workers in other sectors.
"Musicians are not workers, they are artists," he said. "Canadian musicians improve by seeing international artists perform and interacting with them, gaining inspiration from them and of course gaining exposure from their audience."
A request to Employment and Social Development Canada for details on what types of music venues will be affected by the fees was not returned by the Straight’s deadline.
According to the ministry’s website, international musicians in a band performing multiple dates in Canada do not need to apply for a work permit or a Labour Market Opinion—but that exemption does not apply to musicians performing in bars and restaurants.
A petition against the new fees has been launched, drawing signatures from over 80,000 people as of Thursday evening.