Can Toronto save Canada's indie music scene?
Lost in the debate surrounding the Scarborough subway and the fate of the Sam the Record Man sign, a very important motion was passed at city council earlier this week, one that could have profound impact on the vibrancy of Toronto's indie music scene — and Canada's.
Late this summer the Canadian government upped the fees for touring musicians coming over our border so drastically that many clubs have had to cancel bookings and turn bands away. Fees which once capped at $450 per group (including roadies or band managers) to enter the country rose to an absurd $275 per touring person, per venue, leaving smaller bands looking at meager profits, or losses, if they attempted to tour Canada. The country's music community was outraged, and an online petition against the changes has since reached over 137,000 signatures.
So where does city hall come into all this?
Late last week, Toronto city council unanimously passed a motion called "Strengthening Toronto's Music Industry - Requesting the Federal Government to extend the Temporary Worker Fee exemptions for musicians." The motion, written by Councillor Mary Fragedakis, basically aims to cut around the new government regulations by expanding exemptions to include "all venues, including bars, restaurants and coffee shops." The exemptions are currently very strict about any venue which is open regularly to the public as drinking or eating establishments.
The motion reads in part:
"Bars, restaurants and coffee shops are the incubators of the music industry. They are an integral and critical element of a city's music scene. Both the Canadian Independent Music Association and Music Canada have said these new fees will hurt the music industry in Canada... This Motion is urgent as the fees have already taken effect and the negative impact of the fees is already being felt as concerts are being cancelled."
As smaller-name acts are already being turned away, Toronto is damaged in more ways than one: while creating revenue for local businesses and offering entertainment, touring artists also bring new sounds, new ideas, and new connections to vast music networks. That our civic government would vote unanimously to protect the city's music scene suggests an awareness that's a little surprising, even in light of the city's 4479 campaign. How much sway this request will actually have with the Feds is, however, a hard call.
Can the city council of Canada's largest city help save the day? Should other city councils join in? Let us know in the comments.
Photo by Alejandro J. Santiago