Tuesday, 8 October 2013

September Songs and Tory Tax Grabs;

This past September the Conservative federal government, when it wasn't busy trying to explain it's way out of various ethical scandals, shilling for oil companies, throwing a hissy fit over Justin Trudeau's smoking pot a few times, throwing tax dollars at Rob Ford or strutting about like General Patton braying for war against Syria; quietly announced something that music fans might actually give a damn about.

They announced a new tax on international acts performing at small venues in Canada. Henceforth all acts would have to pay a fee of $275 per member, this would include not only each member of a band but also each member of their crew including drivers, merch girls, sound guys, road crew, road managers etc. Wait there's more; this tax would not be a one time entry fee that could be spread across a few promoters at a number of gigs in a multi city tour. No, this tax would be FOR EACH GIG! And one more thing, the tax would be non-refundable so that if any gigs were cancelled the promoters would still be on the hook for the tax regardless.

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So let's do the math here. Take a band, like say The Replacements, Black Flag, or Social Distortion, (who were all here in the summer) were to have four members, plus a sound guy, a merch guy, a driver and a road manager, which would not be an unreasonable crew size, the tax would be $2,200 PER GIG. If you add to this the band's guarantee which would certainly be no less than four or five grand per show you're looking at a least eight to ten grand per gig. This does not of course include the venue's own costs for staff etc. There is just no way it would be economically feasible to bring international acts to Canada anymore except for the biggest stars with a guaranteed draw who can fill large venues, which by the way are exempt from this new tax.

Oh wait; did I not mention that earlier? Yep, in their wisdom the Tories offered an exemption for the very venues that could actually afford to pay for this lunk-headed tax grab, namely large concert halls as well as symphonies, operas, ballets and theatres. This tax would therefore explicitly target the smaller clubs where most serious music fans actually see touring bands. For example I can actually count on both hands the number of large venue shows I have seen over the past twenty years. Every other of the thousands of gigs I've seen was at a small venue or club. Many of these were of international acts and it's a safe bet that most of these bands would have never came to town under this regime. Over the years I have also put on dozens of shows myself at various clubs.

It's worth noting that while this tax mostly targets music venues it would also affect small touring theatre groups as well as comedy and magic clubs and spoken word readings, although these would be affected less since those artists usually tour solo.


So what possible reason would the Tories, who can usually be counted on to self-righteously proclaim their self-proclaimed role as earnest "Tax Fighters" at any possible platform, give for dumping this shamelessly unfair and onerous tax grab on the "small businesses" they claim to represent?

Quite a few other people have had the same question and from the defensive and not terribly coherent answers we've gotten back it seems that the Tories have gotten it into their thick heads that international touring bands are "foreign workers" who are taking jobs away from good hard working Canadians. That's right according to our leaders if you are not allowed to see The Replacements, Black Flag, or Social Distortion you will have no choice but to go see some local band. Because as we all know Canadian bands are not good enough to compete with foreigners with their crafty Gibsons, Les Paul's, Marshall's and stuff.

An irony here is that Conservatives are free traders who have always ridiculed the 30% Cancon rules on radio by making the exact same argument that I just made. Now apparently they've decided we need protecting from those big bad American bands.

So what's behind the big change? As you might expect it's a combination of appalling ignorance about the music sector and crass political grandstanding, along with a typically Tory arrogant refusal to admit they came up with this half-assed policy without getting their facts straight.

First the grandstanding; Since Tories are always loud free traders who have absolutely no problem with jobs being outsourced to some low-wage, non-union, no environmental regulation place in the third world, they occasionally feel a need to prove their love for the working man by picking on an easy target close to home; the dastardly foreign worker taking away your job. In the last Provincial election in Ontario the Tory leader Tim Hudak attacked a Liberal plan to allow a fairly small group of landed immigrants with skilled labour to upgrade those skills to Ontario standards as a plan for "Foreign Workers" to take your jobs. That was a blatant lie but the right-wing media naturally ran with it using all the usual faux outrage.

More recently the banks were caught using actual foreign workers which the Tories were fine with, until the there was a less than amused public reaction which led to an empty Tory promise to get tough on the "foreign worker" scourge. Which brings to this farce.


The Tory position, ludicrous as it seems to anyone who knows anything at all about how the live music scene works, is that anytime Black Flag comes to town for example, they are taking jobs away from some Canadian band who would otherwise be headlining, cuz that's how we decide what to see. If there's nothing playing we actually want we'll settle for the local bar band. Perhaps they'll even play some Black Flag songs. That will be even better than the real thing.

At the risk of stating the obvious to these idiots; ALL BANDS ARE NOT INTERCHANGEABLE! People want to see the originals regardless of where they came from. And I guarantee you that this includes every single musician I have ever met, which is more than the entire Tory caucus. Musicians have a myriad of influences and they feed those influences by being able to see their heroes in the flesh. Something your cynical, asinine tax is designed to stop. Good musicians do not simply listen to their friend's bands, which is all this narrow-mined plan allows. Plus all Canadian bands got their start building their audiences by sharing a bill with a better known international band, thus reaching a larger following then they could have built by staying insular and isolated. In this huge country even bands which have a local buzz may be completely unknown elsewhere and unable to get a gig on their own. In a country as hard to tour as Canada this is a major issue. This is something this tax grab actively discourages. The very club scene which allows Canadian bands to tour outside their town is subsidized by having a variety of bands constantly playing both Canadian and international. This tax is a direct attack on this foundation. Furthermore Canadian bands make international contacts by playing with those bands here which can lead to tours together in the USA or Europe, how exactly do the Tories think this whole system works anyway?


Incidentally you might ask why, if it's so important to support Canadian artists they gave an exemption for symphonies, and operas? Is it because the Tories think Canadian classical music is so robust that it doesn't need any help? Or is it that this is the type of music that Tories might actually listen to and therefore worth giving a favour to?

It's entirely possible that the Tories came up with this idiotic monstrosity without thinking it through, but now we have the next problem; getting this government known for being arrogant, cynical, overly partisan control freaks, to admit they fucked up and back down. So far they've shown no willingness to do so and are instead wrapping themselves in the flag, which has been called the last refuge of the scoundrel, except when it's the first.


Thankfully the opposition has a better idea of how stupid and destructive this tax grab is, in particular NDP Multicultural critic Andrew Cash who used to be an actual musician back in the 1980's along with fellow NDP MP Chuck Angus in their respected post punk band Le'Tranger. Therefore we can assume they know first hand how the music business actually works.


On the other hand the Tories' International Trade Minister. Ed Fast, was actually a musician as well. That's right; he had a Christian Pop group with his daughters called, appropriately if unimaginatively, "Father's Daughter", who toured and recorded professionally so he should know better. So what's his excuse for going along with this nonsense? As Trade Minister he must have been consulted on this so he has no excuse for not speaking up.


This past week I did an interview with NDP MP and Multi-Cultural Affairs Critic Andrew Cash who has been sounding the alarm to those in the arts sector over this issue. Stating that;
“This extra fee is the difference between local promoters making a profit and closing up shop,” said NDP Multiculturalism critic Andrew Cash (Davenport). “This is really an attack on small businesses, and will impact not only the local live music scene but our multicultural communities who often bring international touring acts to Canada as well.”

He reiterated the basic belief that the Tories put forward this policy too quickly without considering the effects it would have on the arts sector which he points out could be easily fixed without junking the entire law as it affects the economy as a whole by simply adding in an exemption for the arts as a whole. Especially since, as has been pointed out, they already gave such an exemption to the big ticket stadium shows and "High Art" shows like symphonies, ballets and operas. In other words; those who could actually afford to pay it.

However that might mean having to admit that they made an eensy weensy mistake and we know that Stephen Harper doesn't make mistakes. So this response from Multi-Culturalism Minister Jason Kenny's office was predictable; “The vast majority of Canadians don't like the idea of foreign workers being subsidized.”

Nice to see he's really on top of things. Personally I don't much care for the millions of tax-payer subsidies that professional sports teams have always been able to extort. And then there's the millions in tax dollars that go quietly every year to QMI; the parent company that owns Sun News, the propaganda arm of the Conservative Parties, but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for the Tories to stop that one.

At any rate in what universe are the sacred tax-payers "subsidizing" touring musicians and artists? They already have to pay an entrance and filing fees. And if this is such a burden then why an exemption for the very stadium acts and symphonies that are best able to pay?

According to a report in the Calgary Herald;

"Spencer Brown, the longtime booker for downtown venue The Palomino — which hosts a mix of local, national and out-of-country acts — was surprised by the changes, saying there was “no consultation, no warning, nothing of the sort,” and only learned of them when an agency he works with “called him in a panic” at the beginning of the month in regards to an upcoming show.
He calls the new regulations, which Minister of Employment, Social Development & Multiculturalism Jason Kenney announced on Aug. 7, “anti arts and culture” and “anti small business.”
“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,” 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.”
“I don’t know if they think small venues are raking in the cash putting on bands that not a lot of people have heard of or they’re trying to keep small-time foreign bands out of the country for whatever reason,” he says, disregarding Citizenship and Immigration’s assertions that the new rules were designed, in part, “to ensure that owners and managers of those types of establishments look to hire Canadians first before hiring temporary foreign workers.”
“Me bringing in (American act) Redd Kross (Aug. 31) is not going to devastate Calgary’s garage rock scene. It’s not going to put anyone out of work. It’s going to inspire people to pick up a guitar and put out an album. The same thing when we bring in Orange Goblin from the U.K. in October, it’s not going to destroy the city’s stoner metal scene.”
In fact, argues Leanne Harrison, owner of locally based artist management and booking company SIN Agency, the opposite just might be true. As she sees it, the previous, more liberal LMO was actually a benefit to the indie artists of the country, providing them opportunities for greater exposure by performing as an opening act for mid-range international bands.
“It’s going to impact us in a lot of different ways,” says Harrison, who found out about the changes from another popular Calgary venue that will be adversely affected, Dickens Pub.
“Bigger agencies are now going to stack their tours even more with their own artists and there will be less and less opportunities for young up-and-coming bands to get what we call resume builder gigs. . . . It’s an opportunity to say, ‘We shared the stage with.’ They get in front of a bigger crowd, they can build new fans that way, they get their name out there that way.”
She also notes that if other nations follow Canada’s lead, this country’s music scene would suffer even further.
“I have bands that tour the U.S all the time,” she says. “If the U.S. started doing that to us, they’d never cross the border.”
Which, ultimately, may not only harm the artist but also those who support and appreciate live music, no matter the origin of the performer.
Harrison says that because of the new fees and regulations, she’s already seen the brakes put on one proposed western Canadian tour, that by veteran Las Vegas hard rock band Hemlock, due to the fact that some of those fall dates were in non-exempt venues. It’s hoped that it will be rescheduled for the New Year, but that would be, presumably, using only exempt rooms, if they can be found and booked at a price that makes sense to the venue, agent, artist and fan.
“There’s only so many Canadian artists, you can only tour your country so often,” she says. “If you’re limiting the international artists that we can bring in, well, to me, music is global. It shouldn’t have those kinds of doors on them.”

Remember when the Tories were the party of strident free trade? No big government barriers or interference? Me neither.

At this time their is a petition which Andrew Cash will be presenting to Parliament when ever the Tories get spare moment from ducking questions about whatever the latest scandals might be taking up all the attention. It's at;

And/Or you could fire off a letter of your own to Jason Kenny such as the one longtime Toronto promoter Richard Flohill did;

Re: New fees on foreign musicians performing in Canada
Dear Minister Kenney,
Briefly, sir, what WERE you thinking?
These unreasonable, punitive, excessive fees, instituted without any consultation with the music industry, rob Canadian audiences of the opportunity to hear, meet, and be influenced by creative musicians from neighbouring countries.
The following questions — which your aide said would be answered, but I have grave doubts that this will be the case — arise:
1) Why were these fees instituted in the first place?
2) Did you, in fact, consult anyone in the music industry before making the decision to impose these fees?
3) If you did, just which individuals and/or organizations did you consult with?
4) Do you seriously think more Canadian musicians will be employed as a result of effectively banishing low- and middle-range American artists from performing in Canada?
5) Was there consultation with Heritage Canada, and did you consider that the American authorities (who already think Canadian musicians are terrorists!) would match these fees, and thus end any reasonable cultural exchange possibilities in the popular music field? And, of course, ending the possibility that low- and mid-level Canadian artists can take their music into the United States.
6) Can these new fees be re-examined and rescinded? If not, why not?
I await your response, Minister, with bated breath. I am not, however, optimistic that a reasoned response to these questions is likely.
Richard Flohil

Personally I wouldn't wait up.

For the record I have always supported Radio Cancon and I would say that this is totally different because;
a) The airwaves in Canada are supposed to be public and since we grant licenses to radio stations for free to operate for profit it is not unreasonable to ask for something in return, like showing support for the communities whose airwaves are being used.
b) There is a limit to the number of radio frequencies in a given town and if you factor out those news/talk and sports stations there are even fewer to go around so setting some aside for a few 100% Canadian stations isn't really feasible.
c) Canadian record labels would not have survived without some radio support.
d) When radio stations were asked nicely back in the 1960's to play more Canadian artists they scornfully refused so fuck'em.

None of this applies in any way to the live music scene in Canada, as anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with music would know.

In the last few weeks I saw Pere Ubu, Big Country, Rayburn Anthony and had Robyn Hitchcock down to record at CIUT. I had no idea I was undermining Canadian music, sorry about that. But that gives me an idea for a couple of questions for our Dear Leaders.

First of all to Prime Minster Harper who famously enjoyed a high profile fundraiser where he played piano with Yo Yo Ma, and another where he warbled an off key version of a Beatles song;


Mr. Prime Minister why were you sharing a stage with a "foreign Worker"? Why couldn't you find a good hard working Canadian artist to feature? Like Ashley MacIssac say? And why are you always playing songs written by "foreign workers"? Aren't Canadian songs good enough for you? What's wrong with "American Woman".


As for you Minister Fast; those years when you were touring in the USA with your group, The Fast Family, did you consider yourself a "foreign worker" taking jobs away from good hard working Americans? Hmmmmm?



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