The owners of Dream Café said they could be facing tough decisions ahead with changes to regulations that will force them to pay fees to have U.S. musicians perform on their popular stage.
“It is making me hesitate right now what I am going to put on our entertainment calendar. For that to be part of the budget is crazy,” said Debra Rice, business manager and co-owner. “It is almost like we are being penalized.”
In August, the federal government announced a processing fee of $275 for each position requested by employers applying to hire temporary foreign workers to cover the cost of a labour market opinion. This includes international artists performing in venues such as the Dream Café, where alcohol or food are the primary service.
“I believe we are categorized in the wrong place. We are filling out an application that would be the same as a Mexican coming up here to work on a vineyard. I am bringing people that are artists to play for two hours with their original music,” said Rice.
Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas said part of this year’s federal budget included changes to the foreign temporary worker program.
“As we all know there has been concerns, particularly in the last few years during tougher economic times that foreign temporary worker’s were displacing Canadian workers. Many of the changes brought forward, including adding a charge for what they call labour market opinion basically ensures Canadians are getting first crack at jobs. Before this point there was no actual fee charged to private companies for this service,” said Albas. “Before it was expected to be paid for by the general taxpayer and now it is expected to be paid for by the private interest that is looking to bring in foreign labour.”
This fee applies to a host of industries. Rice said the work permit that was already required for her to bring in international artists was a hassle, putting her through the paces of filling out six pages of documents per person in the band. While she understands the notion of not having the taxpayers pay for the processing work, she doesn’t believe it should even be the duty of that office.
Rice said if an international artist booked gigs at places like the Cleland Theatre in Penticton, Rogue Folk Club in Vancouver or Creekside Theatre in Lake Country they don’t have to pay a fee, but because Dream Café serves food and alcohol it is necessary. The co-owner said she has considered changing her licence.
“The only way is if we stopped all our food and alcohol service, changed our business name, started over again and incorporated as a theatre and didn’t serve anything except the occasional part-time liquor licence,” said Rice. “It doesn’t seem fair. We are primarily a venue, period. Yes, we serve lunch and barely make any money on it, but that is so we are open to sell tickets. Now they want to tack on fees to one of my gigs that I am just trying to break even on. The only time we are full is from music.”
Rice said similar establishments in the Okanagan have already had tours cancelled and a U.S. agent she deals with is worried. Regular patrons of the Dream Café have also voiced their concerns.
‘People love what we do and this is going to make it even harder. I can’t replace a band coming from Africa that sing and dance with a Canadian act. I do hire 80 to 90 per cent Canadian artists then I bring in a few spicy ones, especially in the summer when there are festivals going,” said Rice.
Albas confirmed that venues like the Dream Café can share the costs between them, but it would be up to them to figure that aspect out. He added that he is encouraging venues and all businesses that are part of the new fee structure to contact him with their feedback.
“Looking at red tape is something our government takes very seriously and I am going to be investigating that further and following up on that. There are always questions of how much paperwork is necessary, but on the other side we know Canadians have been clear that no one should be displaced by temporary foreign workers. We have enormous amount of talent in the Okanagan and that is another thing we need to take into consideration.”