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Tour strangled by federal fees for performers

British singer forced to ditch Canadian dates owing to new tax

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Former Stranglers' lead singer Hugh Cornwell was forced to cancel three out of his four western Canadian dates, including his anticipated Oct. 20 show at Winnipeg's Pyramid Cabaret, because of the recent changes to Canada's temporary foreign workers program.

While the Winnipeg and Edmonton dates were booked in venues exempt from the new fees (dubbed the "tour tax" by its critics), the Pyramid and Edmonton's Wunderbar Hofbrauhaus, Calgary's date was booked at Broken City, a non-exempt venue. Non-exempt venues are defined as venues whose primary business is other than music (i.e. bars, cafes, restaurants).

When Cornwell's Calgary date was cancelled because of the greater fees the new federal regulation stipulates, Winnipeg and Edmonton's dates were knocked out with it, leaving Vancouver as Cornwell's sole western Canadian date. (The performer's Minneapolis show also had to be postponed.)

"By losing that date, it made the trip through from Vancouver unviable the way the dates and routing had worked out," Cornwell's manager David Fagence said in a statement reported by the Edmonton Journal. "Please let (fans) know that Hugh is very upset and annoyed about it, but we were left with no option. We will ensure we get there next time, though, one way or another."

The changes, which came into effect July 31, require non-exempt venues to pay a non-refundable application fee of $275 per non-Canadian performing artist and crew member, plus a $150 processing fee for work permits. Many people in the music industry have expressed concern the fee would create prohibitive baseline expenses for small clubs, but the Cornwell cancellations show the fee can mean lost revenue for exempt venues that share tours with non-exempt venues. (Touring acts playing several Canadian tour dates, festivals or busking are only exempt from the fee provided they do not perform in bars or restaurants.)

David McKeigan, who books talent for the Pyramid, is frustrated.

"We book live bands for a living so people in Winnipeg can see good music, so I'm not happy to lose a show," he says. "(Hugh and his band) have been here a couple times in the past, so we've built a reputation with the band and the public and now that's gone. It's a setback. Obviously we're going to lose revenue and eight people won't be working that night."

McKeigan knew the Cornwell cancellation was a direct result of the fee because he had booked the date well in advance of the changes, but he's concerned about missed opportunities down the line.

"How many shows are we going to lose that we don't know about? How many agents just aren't going to bother? How many shows are going to just not happen?"

McKeigan says he has spoken to agents who have said they will re-route tours to avoid non-exempt venues, which means exempt venues could get hurt in the process.

"We're an exempt venue -- but we're not an island."

Still, McKeigan is cautiously optimistic that the social media outcry from fans, musicians, booking agents, talent buyers and industry professionals will prompt the government to review the changes.

"I'm hoping this will get flipped around, but we'll have to wait and see."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 24, 2013 D3

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