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Harper's Tour Tax is Not Music to Our Ears

09/09/2013 05:02 EDT | Updated 11/09/2013 05:12 EST

Well, leave it to the Conservative government to beat up on some of the smallest of small businesses. In a stunning decision, the result of either incompetence or cynicism, this government has levied a new charge on small clubs, bars and restaurants that bring in foreign artists to perform. While the large venues, the Bell, Rogers or Air Canada Centres of the nation get a pass, small clubs like the Lula Lounge in my riding, which promote acts from Latin America, Europe and Africa, will have to pay an extra fee of $275 per musician and crew member each time they bring international acts to Canada as part of changes introduced to address problems in the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. For most small promoters this extra fee can mean the difference between making a small profit and going under.

The government has said with a straight face that this is about protecting Canadian jobs and not burdening tax payers with the fee but Canadians are having none of it. Over 100,000 have signed an online petition, just days after media began reporting the new fee. The decision has been met with a loud chorus of boos from the music industry, bar and restaurant owners, promoters large and small and musicians. Why, even a Conservative MP seems to be against it!

And while the Canadian Federation of Musicians, of which I've been a member for thirty years, has been able to attain an exemption for their affiliated American members coming into Canada --which is a good thing -- the NDP is calling on the government to exempt all small venues and promoters from paying the fee.

Most small music promoters are living day to day. A big show this week often pays off the debt for the money loser last week. I came to Ottawa intent on telling the story of how artists make a living in this country and also to advocate for the small businesses that support them. In fact, these days they are often one in the same thing; small business people in the arts sector are often artists themselves and artists have always been self-employed small businesses. Decision like this one underline how little policy makers understand these, mostly, urban workers. Hard working people who take great financial and personal risks, they usually have no access to social safety net protections most other workers enjoy. They have no a workplace pension, benefits, or job security. However their contribution to the economy is undeniable.

Studies have pegged the value of our cultural industries at between $60 and $80 billion into our economy, accounting for as much as 7.4 per cent of Canada's GDP. Live music is an important part of the sector.

The government's bizarre defence that this Labour Market Opinion (LMO) fee will protect Canadian jobs underlines how little it understands the sector. The music industry does not operate in the same way as resource extraction or finance -- the sectors for which the LMO changes were intended. Small bars and restaurants are the training camp for the music big leagues. International acts come in to these venues, drawing crowds that might not come otherwise. Local acts often perform on the same bill giving them valuable opportunities to build an audience on their way to becoming the international touring act of tomorrow.

Indeed, Canadian music is an important export commodity. If the government really wanted do something useful to create more jobs for Canadian musicians they'd work to fix the barriers most musicians face at the border when trying to cross to perform in the United States, barriers American artists do not face coming here.

I agree with the other reason why the government says it needs to pass this fee on to businesses: that it isn't fair for the taxpayer to have to pay them. So here's the solution for small clubs, bars and restaurants -- make them exempt from the fee altogether.

Twitter Reacts To Harper's 'Tour Tax'