Thousands petition for repeal of changes to temporary foreign workers program

WATCH: Bars, restaurants and clubs are bemoaning an increased fee that could impact Canada’s music scene. Peter Kim reports. 

TORONTO – More than 70,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Canadian government to repeal recent changes to the temporary foreign workers program.

The changes came into effect July 31 and significantly increase the fees required to bring in temporary foreign workers – including the international performers venues bring into the country. They’ve raised the ire of many music promoters, in particular, who say the changes could hurt Canada’s growing local music scenes.

Prior to the changes, a fee of $150 had to be paid to bring performers into the country- $150 for each band member to a maximum of $450. It was a one-time fee that could be split among the venues where the band would be playing.

Now, venues must pay a non-refundable $275 application fee for each musician and crew member in addition to the original $150 fee.

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There are some exceptions: Musicians in a band performing several concerts in Canada and musicians performing in festivals are exempted from the costs. But those artists cannot perform in bars or restaurants.

Sybil Walker, is the general manager of the Jazz Bistro in downtown Toronto, a three-level bar that features performances from local musicians and world-renowned jazz artists. But with the recent changes to the temporary foreign workers program, Walker is unsure whether the “culture exchange” of bringing international artists to the club can continue.

“It’s just something that we will no longer be able to do. It just puts a cost on it that’s prohibitive,” she said in an interview Thursday.

In fact, Walker has already had to cancel performances because of, what she called, “prohibitive” costs.

“I did apply for two musicians to come up and play with local musicians,” she said. “When I applied for the papers thinking I was going to have my regular $150 fee, I was told by the woman who processes the papers in a phone call that it had now escalated to an extra $275 per musician. So it just made it impossible for me to do it.”

Employment Minister Jason Kenney has been defending the changes against a barrage of criticism on Twitter as the petition gains popularity. Kenney said the changes save taxpayers money and claimed they ensure Canadian musicians get the first chance at gigs.

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Prior to the changes, the government would cover the majority of the cost of the applications, or Labour Market Opinions which are administered by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. The changes, according to Conservative MP Candice Bergen, simply shift that cost away from the taxpayer and on to the employer.

“One of the main changes that we made is that the employer that is applying for labour market opinion would actually pay the cost of that labour market opinion,” she said in an interview with Global News on Thursday. “Up until this point, the taxpayer’s been paying that and we don’t think that’s right, the employer should be pay that.”

But Nancy Chen, co-founder of music promotion group Manson, said the seemingly prohibitive costs to bringing in international artists can have an indirect negative effect on small, independent Canadian artists.

“Local artists that may not be able to get booked all over the world yet, they’re going to get paired with an international artist that is going to lift them up and help them gain the exposure that is needed,” she said. “There’s probably going to be less shows and there’s going to be less opportunities.”

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– With files from Heather Loney and Peter Kim

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