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Conservatives quietly do away with international musician fee

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OTTAWA - Ottawa has effectively eliminated a fee charged to international musicians that critics complained was deterring acts from abroad from playing in Canadian bars, pubs and restaurants.

The removal of a work permit requirement for foreign musical acts, part of the government's overhaul of the controversial temporary foreign worker program, went largely unnoticed amid a spate of other measures announced last week.

Last summer, in their zeal to start cracking down on temporary foreign workers in the face of mounting criticism, the Conservatives added a $275 processing fee on top of a $150 work permit for each member of a musical act from outside the country who were hired to play small Canadian venues.

The government said at the time the fees were aimed at helping to cover the costs of determining whether a Canadian should be hired instead of a temporary foreign worker in the music sector.

Larger venues and concert halls were exempt from the new fee, leading to criticism that the measure unfairly penalized small businesses.

NDP MP Andrew Cash, a longtime musician who was harshly critical of the move, had faint praise for the Tories on Wednesday.

"They corrected something incredibly dumb that they shouldn't have implemented in the first place," he said.

"The music sector wasn't abusing the temporary foreign worker program, and there was no consultation in advance of the government's decision," he said. "There was no one asking for it, in fact."

The Canadian music industry has praised the Tories this week for doing away with what had been dubbed the "tour tax."

Alexis Pavlich, spokesman for Citizen and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, said the government decided to scrap the regulation as a matter of fairness.

"While the previous regulation was meant to protect opportunities for Canadian performers, it often had the opposite effect," she said in an email late Wednesday.

The easing of the rules "will ensure that Canadian performing artists have the opportunity to expand their audience by performing with well-known international acts."

Follow Lee-Anne Goodman on Twitter at @leeanne25

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