Small music venues in Canada are getting pinched by new regulations meant to protect Canadian workers from an influx of temporary foreign workers. It’s a legal area that usually brings to mind fruit pickers and farm workers, but the law is hitting musicians and club owners too. The change, which took effect in August, means that a coffee shop that wants to showcase an international string quartet or a bar with American metal ambitions will be on the hook for $275 for each band and crew member–and that’s just the application fee. Then it’s $150 for every approved musician. And each individual venue has to pay it, where as before the change, a one-time fee (with a limit of $450) allowed a band to enter Canada, diluting the cost across multiple venues.
Big venues like arenas are exempt from the fee, even though as a percentage of the gate the fees would be far less onerous for them. The big guy here is not only paying the same as the little guy–a virtual flat tax. The big guy doesn’t have to pay at all. A five-piece band from, say, Oslo (or San Francisco or Capetown) will set the club owner back $2,150 before a single ticket gets sold–and before the band gets paid. Whether this helps or hurts Canadian musicians, who will be less costly to book, is hard to say. Cross-fertilization is the lifeblood of the arts, perhaps music especially. You can see how the new law might be welcomed by Molson brewery workers who don’t want temps from Guatemala or the Philippines bottling the beer instead of them. But when they knock off work on Friday, it’s going to get to be a drag to see that same old local band again.