B.C. bars and restaurants can now book foreign musicians without heavy work-permit fees
The federal government’s ongoing overhaul of its Temporary Foreign Workers Program has brought well-received changes to the B.C. music industry.
New rules introduced in August 2013 effectively penalized small restaurants and bars, forcing them to pay new, higher fees to bring in performers from outside Canada. Music-primary venues such as theatres, concert halls and festivals were exempt.
At the end of June 2014, the government levelled the playing field by removing the tariff on musicians performing in bars and restaurants. Now, all foreign-based musicians will be eligible for a work-permit exemption, regardless of the venue where they’re performing.
“I think it’s a fantastic regulation,” says jazz impresario Cory Weeds. He closed his Cellar Jazz Club earlier this year but remains involved in the industry as a presenter, record label owner and musician himself. “It allows me to bring some added value to a place like 1789 Restaurant and Lounge, which has demonstrated a commitment to live local music.
“Now, instead of bringing a New York artist in and putting them at (VSO School of Music’s) Pyatt Hall, which is a theatre that was exempt, I can put them in a restaurant or a nightclub in a more cabaret-style seating situation, which my people have indicated is a real plus for them. I still book local musicians to play with my jazz headliners so if anything, it’ll increase their profile. Everybody’s going to get paid. Local musicians are going to get gigs.”
The rule changes came about thanks to strong advocacy from industry groups across Canada, such as the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) and Music BC.
“We need our small venues—there's not enough of them,” says Music BC executive director Bob D’Eith. “By making it hard or impossible for them to book foreign artists, it totally threw the whole ecosystem out. That's why all the national music industry associations have been pushing hard for this change.”
Stuart Johnston, president of CIMA, says the government understood the music industry's viewpoint and argument, and that last summer's blanket changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program didn't work for the Canadian music industry. “When we presented the facts to them, to the government's credit, they understood that they had inadvertently made an error and took the time needed to correct that error. We're very happy about it,” he says.