Op-Ed

New fees for international musicians will hurt more Canadians than foreigners

Photo by Adam Feibel

THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT has made changes to the federal Temporary Foreign Worker program that will make it much more costly for Canadian music promoters and small-venue owners to book international performers.

Previously, international bands would be required to pay a one-time fee of $150 per band member, maxing out at $450, for the right to enter and work in Canada. New regulations will now charge each employer, the band promoter or venue owner, an additional $275 per musician and crew member—with no cap set on the total cost.

The new fees exempt international performers playing at larger venues, like the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, on the grounds that these venues are exclusively concert venues and do not require bands to obtain work permits. The fees will only affect the owners of local restaurants, pubs, and bars whose primary source of business are not music.

Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Employment, Social Development and Multiculturalism, recently justified the fees on his Twitter account as “part of our effort to ensure [Canadians] get 1st crack at jobs.” Kenney also defended the decision on the basis that, in the past, Canadian taxpayers were responsible for paying the costs of these foreign performers, but now it will fall solely on the business owners who temporarily employ them.

The argument that these new fees will ensure Canadians receive more opportunities for employment completely ignores the impact the fees will have on venue owners. Smaller bars and clubs will no longer be able to afford the best talent, jeopardizing their owners’ ability to attract people to their venues, and in turn stay operational. By instigating fees that punish only small venue owners, the government is also making a statement that the large corporations involved with booking arenas and stadiums across Canada are not equally responsible for the promotion of Canadian musicians. These new fees appear to punish only those involved at the grassroots level of music in this country, while the big companies get off scot-free.

From an economic perspective, the fees are just another example of the Conservative government impeding the cultivation of the arts in Canada. Mr. Kenney claims the new fees will shift the financial burden for international musicians away from the Canadian public, and instead to the business owners of the venues hiring them. However, basic microeconomic theory suggests that these higher production costs will be translated into a higher cost for the consumer, i.e. the portion of the Canadian population that enjoys live music.

Higher production costs for bars and clubs matched with fewer consumers willing to pay higher prices might lead to venues closing down, which will not only mean fewer job opportunities for the employees of these venues, but also for the international and Canadian bands who will have lost potential venues for their performances.

The new fees will transfer some of the cost for the promotion of Canadian music from all taxpayers to only those involved in the process—the venue operators, audiences, and musicians. Essentially, public funding of music is being privatized to those who are actually doing something to support it.

These new fees will not help Canadian bands gain a competitive edge on job opportunities within Canada. They will hurt the entire Canadian music industry because they will shrink the market for grassroots music in the country. The people who will suffer from these new fees are the very same people keeping the Canadian music scene alive—an endeavour our politicians should be supporting, not punishing.