“Canadians should have first crack at Canadian jobs”

Every time another friend’s band gets denied entry to Canada because they didn’t dot the i’s properly on some arcane government document, we are left scratching our heads. Who are these faceless bureaucrats throwing up roadblocks between us and a fantastic show?

Well now I know. Candice Bergen, Minister of State (Social Development) was on the CBC yesterday defending legislation that has been a thorn in our side for the entire 10 years that we’ve been a band. It’s been around for 35 years in fact, and just the other day it got much, much worse.

Of all the goals that we have as a band, there is no bigger impediment to reaching them than what happens at international borders. Every fee, regulation, visa requirement, or obscure document that needs to be filled out in triplicate is an obstacle to getting our music to people who want to hear it.

The legitimacy of borders and governments themselves is a subject for another post. This one is about how my blood is boiling from Bergen’s claim that these fees are in our best interest as an independent Canadian band.

Evan Solomon asked Bergen about the claim that there are not enough Canadian bands to fill slots in Canadian bars and she replied, “First of all, I think there would be a lot of Canadian bands that disagree.”

Ms. Bergen, we are an independent Canadian band, and the new fees, or any fees for that matter, on foreign bands that play here hurt us directly. The statements you made about how the music industry functions are profoundly ignorant, and your defense of the new policies even in the face of a 90,000 signature strong petition is absurd.

“Our belief is that Canadians should have first crack at every job that’s available here in Canada and that includes small bands that are playing in bars across the country,” says Bergen. We already do. Our scene is not a zero-sum, dog-eat-dog battle of the bands competition. There are only so many cities in Canada, and once we’ve played them all we want to play other cities as well. When foreign bands come here, they don’t take slots from us, they connect us.

Previously, the fees were low enough that bar owners could grudgingly swallow them. Now they are so exorbitant that they will keep a lot of minor indie bands out of the country. That means we can’t book a tour across Canada and bring our friends from Boston, Seattle or Dublin along for the ride. We might not even meet them in the first place, and they won’t be able to return the favor with a tour across Europe or the Eastern Seaboard, or take our cds back to their hometowns, or recommend a venue that we wouldn’t have otherwise heard of.

We need to play with bands from other towns, so that we can play other towns. This is profoundly different than the situation of Tim Horton’s cashiers and construction workers. Bars aren’t lowballing us because they can bring in vulnerable foreigners and exploit them for less. If a bar “hires”—and I take issue with that word—a foreign touring act, it doesn’t mean less shows for us, it means more.

It’s also different because a construction company will pay the fee once and have the worker for six months. A bar owner will pay the fee once and get the performer for one night. For a four person band plus a roadie, the fee is easily higher than the ticket sales on a 100 person room. It might even be higher than the bar sales on a rough night. That means that not only does the foreign band not get paid, neither does our Canadian band that played with them.

“He needs to pay the fee, not pass the cost onto the Canadian taxpayer,” Bergen states. Oh it’s so noble to want to take the burden off the poor, long suffering taxpayer, but I take issue with the first half of that statement. Why do bars “need” to pay the fee? Solomon asked if someone playing a few bar gigs is the same as a worker that stays for 6 months, and she replies they’ve been defined as temporary foreign workers for 35 years. So what? Do you know what the music industry of today has in common with the music industry of 35 years ago? Absolutely nothing. Frankly it’s not even the same as it was five years ago.

“Why should taxpayer resources be used for that kind of waste?” she said, referring to the 60% of unfulfilled applications. Why subject bar owners to that kind of wasteful red tape that serves nobody?

These new fees are coming at a time when musicians are earning less money than ever. Most touring bands that play bars and restaurants do not break even, let alone have enough to pay the rent, especially initially. Second incomes are mandatory. For some reason the type of venue that is more likely to afford the fee is exempt. Why not extend the exemption? To not do that is to punish not only bar owners, music fans and foreign bands, but also us, the working poor indie Canadian musicians that the fees ostensibly protect.

As Canadian indie musicians, if you really want to help us, instead of imposing barriers to keep foreign musicians out, you should lobby the US to get rid of their onerous fees and regulations that keep us in.


The online petition is at change.org. You can also write to your local MP, or Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment, Social Development and Multiculturalism. His email is jason.kenney@parl.gc.ca and his twitter handle is @kenneyjason