How Jason Kenney’s new rules for foreign workers screw up Canada’s music economy

This is what an $1100 one-night venue ownership fee looks like.

At the start of August, Minister of Terrible Garbage Jason Kenney announced a number of changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program that, basically, boil down to pasting a bumper sticker reading “Foreigners Don’t Take Our Jobs” above a set of Truck Nutz.

The thing about the Temporary Foreign Worker program, though, is that part-time venues – think everything from the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto to the Palomino Smokehouse in Kenney’s base of operations, Calgary – have to apply for something called a Labour Market Opinion in order to have international artists perform at their venue. And these venues will now be made to pay $275 per person – not per act – to even apply to bring those international performers to their stages. The band members in the photo at the head of this article, for example – Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – would cost a venue $1100 in non-refundable one-night venue ownership fees; were there a fifth member, it would bring the total up to $1375.

Understandably, Canadian promoters are upset:

“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,” [Palomino booker Spencer] 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.”

All of this was lost on Jason Kenney, who, when confronted with the fact that the new fees have devastating ramifications for promoters, audiences, and artists alike, glibly tweeted that this was a cost recovery job protection blurbly blorple:

Apparently Minister Kenney does not understand the nuances of this particular new set of regulations! Giving him the benefit of the doubt (read: suspending one’s disbelief), nobody can be so obtuse as to ignore the ways in which discouraging international bands from touring can hurt local Canadian economies. So, in an effort to help Minister Kenney – a grown-ass man who serves in his elected capacity as a minister with a paid staff who surely could have had this explained to him at some point prior to this mess – understand exactly what it is his new laws will be affecting, here’s a quick rundown of who international performers actually help, economy-wise:

    Promoters – Duh. But these promoters aren’t faceless, and promoters don’t just pop out of the ether in order to put on one show featuring exclusively foreign bands before taking all the profits and depositing them in a Swiss bank account or whatever. They’re often employees of the venues, and when they aren’t, they’re regular folks who are interested in the development of culture on a grassroots level. They also, as Mr. Brown explains in the link above, don’t have a rosy view of concert promotion; promoters can easily wind up taking a bath, personally, to put on shows they really want to see. Can easily and are occasionally willing to. If promoters are less willing to do that, it’s going to have an impact on the entire economic ecosystem of shows. Speaking of which!
    Venue employees – I can’t believe I need to explain this to Jason Kenney, a ten-plus-year veteran of the House of Commons with a university degree, but foreign bands playing local venues actually helps create and sustain local jobs, in a way that arts-and-culture-based initiatives governments are fond of supporting (sports stadiums &c.) often are not. So long as the venue is operational, it will need people to work the bar and clean the place, at the very least. The venue will then proceed to sell goods – usually alcoholic beverages, but occasionally non-alcoholic beverages and food, too. Profits from these goods will then spread out to the rest of the economy. Fewer foreign shows means fewer full shifts for the people staffing the venue, and fewer sales for the venue’s supplier.
    Canadian bands – This is the part that drives me, personally, actually insane. Even arguing by accident that American bands are somehow taking Canadian jobs shows a fundamental, deep misunderstanding of the sorts of venues this legislation affects. I say this because I’ve been in bands that have actually been local openers for American touring acts (most recently, a band I was in opened for California punk band Ceremony). Opening shows for touring foreign bands creates all sorts of opportunities for Canadian musicians – sometimes a paycheque, sometimes money from merch sales, and frequently a chance to meet like-minded artistic folks from other countries and make the sort of connection that could wind up being really valuable and worthwhile if you’re ever to tour a foreign country. (Or, in other words, function as a musical “export,” which is an economic thing that you want your economy to do, usually.)

Making the act of booking foreign bands prohibitively expensive hurts all of these people, to say nothing of the sort of people who are genuinely interested in music and who will be deprived of dozens of opportunities to see not only bands they’re interested in but also bands they might never have heard of otherwise, bands who they might go on to draw inspiration from and subsequently form a band themselves, feeding the entire Canadian artistic economy on a basic but vital level.

Unfortunately, Jason Kenney doesn’t really seem to understand that, and at press time was busy retweeting dumb bullshit about how free market ideology helps the poor, because Jason Kenney understands the economy real good.

UPDATE (12:00 AM, 29/08/13): A petition on to remove the $275 fee reached 40,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

[Calgary Herald. Photo by Mason Pitzel.]

, , dick move, explaining things to a 45 year-old man, , , weirdly protectionist policies