Many bar owners, booking agents and promoters are bemoaning changes to the federal regulations surrounding foreign workers entering Canada which will see them hit with heavier financial burdens that could deal a crippling blow to live music at the club level.

The new rules, which quietly came into effect July 31, will double, triple or even quadruple the cost of bringing in international artists to perform in bars, restaurants or coffee shops, affecting such local venues for music lovers as The Palomino, Ironwood, Broken City, Blues Can, and the Ship & Anchor, and their counterparts across the country.

The regulations require that any venue with a primary business other than music but which also books bands or performers must now pay an application fee of $275 per musician and those travelling with the band (tour manager, sound person, guitar tech, etc.) when it applies for a Labour Market Opinion, or LMO, to allow those outside workers to perform and work in their establishment. That’s also in addition to an extra $150 for each approved musician and crew member’s work permit.

Prior to the changes, the fee was simply $150 per band member, maxing out at $450, and that was a one-time fee for them to simply enter the country, which allowed venue owners across Canada to share the nominal cost or book them separately at no extra charge.

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.”

Perhaps making matters even more precarious is that should the application be rejected, for whatever reason, the money is non-refundable and would once again be required upon resubmission.

For their part, the government agencies overseeing the new initiatives — Employment and Social Development Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada — deny that small clubs or even music in general is being targeted.

In emailed responses to the Herald, officials note that the rules — which they assure were created with advance consultation from a “wide range of stakeholders across the country,” — “apply to all aspects of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, except primary agriculture.” That includes the new fee, which “ensures the administrative costs of the program are paid by employers” — who can’t recover the fee from the workers — “and no longer subsidized by taxpayers.”

They’re also quick to point out there are exemptions, which, on a musical level, includes “musicians in a band performing several tour dates in Canada” and “musicians and buskers coming to Canada to perform in festivals,” with the one major caveat being that they “must not perform in bars and restaurants.”

That’s where Brown and others take exception, noting that other venues that exist exclusively for concerts or other events such as the Saddledome and MacEwan Hall, or larger festivals, aren’t penalized despite having a greater opportunity to recoup financial investments.

“They are targeting the little guy, they’re targeting small venues, they’re targeting small business,” he says. “So, me, as the promoter at The Palomino, which will hold 200 people at the best of times, is paying out $425 per band member whereas a guy from a huge promotions company putting on a 20,000-seater for Elton John in the stadium is tax free.

“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.”