Controversy has erupted across the country over a new fee for foreign musicians playing in Canada, but the effects of the change are quite limited, especially here in the Yukon.
The new fee came as part of changes to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Under that program, employers who wish to hire a foreigner on a short-term basis must apply for a labour market opinion, in which they must prove that no Canadian could be found to do the job.
Before, there was no application fee to request a labour market opinion. Now, employers must pay a $275 processing fee for each employee they plan to hire.
“In the past it was really Canadians who were footing the bill for this, and we really don’t think that they should be the ones on the hook. It really should be the employer,” said Alexandra Fortier, press secretary for Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of employment and social development.
But very few foreign musicians require labour market opinions under the rules of the program.
Festivals and concert venues are exempt. Bars and restaurants, however, are not.
“In bars and restaurants, especially if it’s not a venue that is only destined for playing music, it’s always important to check if a Canadian band would not be available to do the same job,” said Fortier.
Patrick Singh, who runs Paddy’s Place in Whitehorse and occasionally hires foreign musicians, called the new fee “outrageous.”
“If it’s protectionism, what are you protecting? This is music. Music by nature is meant to be shared.”
He said he hoped the change was the result of some misunderstanding or oversight, and asked that the government explain itself.
In fact, even in bars and restaurants, there are ways to get around the new fee.
If an agent or promoter is booking a band for a Canadian tour at multiple bars and restaurants, the fee would only need to be paid once, since the promoter rather than each individual venue would be considered the employer.
Also, bands that are members of the American Federation of Musicians can be exempt under that group’s cultural exchange program. That union represents more than 90,000 performing artists.
The Canadian Federation of Musicians, which is a branch of the same organization, has come out in support of the changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
“If Canadian bar and restaurant owners wish to avoid these fees when importing musicians from the United States, they need simply hire AFM musicians and sign a union contract for their services. This is a procedure they should consider regardless to ensure professional quality, and the contract is their guarantee the band will appear and perform as agreed upon,” said Alan Willaert, vice-president of the organization, in a press release.
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