Immigration red tape hurts Toronto’s arts scene: Knelman
A stressful obstacle course and waiting game faces three of Toronto’s most important cultural organizations
By: Martin Knelman Entertainment, Published on Wed Dec 02 2015
Two and a half years ago, the Harper government changed the rules for employers trying to recruit foreign workers. The clampdown was not aimed at the arts world, but the result has been a nightmare for culture organizations trying to recruit the best possible leaders.
The absurd upshot: a stressful obstacle course and waiting game facing three of Toronto’s most important cultural organizations — the Royal Ontario Museum, Luminato and the Art Gallery of Ontario.
“The climate today is definitely restrictionist,” says Mindy Scott, a partner in the immigration law firm Cumming & Partners.
“It has become much more difficult than it used to be for an arts organization to bring in the talent it wants to recruit. And in many cases, arts organizations should prepare for long delays.”
I’d call this a case of unintended consequences. What caused the government to change the rules of the game was a scandal concerning RBC, and an uproar about the revelation that Canadians employed by the bank were losing their jobs to foreign workers.
Meanwhile, every situation is different and case-specific, but typically getting a work permit for a non-Canadian can be a lengthy, tangled and expensive challenge, requiring expert tactical strategic dance steps for headhunters, immigration lawyers and arts boards.
The normal process requires posting a notice of the job availability, and going through a process called the Labour Market Impact Assessment. That requires a series of bureaucratic steps, which results in a gap of several months between completing the search and getting the successful candidate into the job.
Take the case of Josh Basseches — chosen more than a month ago, after an international search to be the ROM’s next CEO. He’s a U.S. citizen currently employed as deputy director at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. On the advice of its lawyers, the ROM will remain in interim mode for months to make sure he has a smooth passage. Insiders predict he won’t be moving into his new office until March 2016.
The AGO is also in interim mode and searching for a successor to former CEO Matthew Teitelbaum, who left in June to take up a new job as director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
No announcement has been made, but my sources say a preferred U.S. candidate has been identified. Once a deal has been made, how long will it take for the AGO to get its urgently needed new boss across the border?
Last summer Luminato was able to reduce the time it took to get its new CEO, Anthony Sargent, into his new job after his long and distinguished career in the United Kingdom.
The festival applied for and was granted a temporary work permit under a government provision called the Special Benefits Licence.
“As we had an immediate need for him to take on this role, the temporary permit allowed him to start as CEO while giving us additional time to have the standard work permit (a three-year term) processed,” explains an email from Ashley Ballantyne, Luminato’s communications director.
Luminato has another key position to fill. It will need a new artistic director to replace Jorn Weisbrodt, who will depart after the 2016 festival in June.
And there will be more hoops to jump through than there were when Weisbrodt was appointed, prior to the change of government regulations.
Sargent’s bureaucratic challenge is not over. His intention is to apply for permanent resident status, which would enable him to stay in Canada without renewing his work permit.
There is another long process involved in that procedure. The steps include registering your profile, and waiting for approval in the form of an invitation to apply for permanent resident status.
Reaching that goal takes even longer — probably six months — than getting a work permit.
It seems bizarre that a result of Ottawa’s rules about foreign workers is to create massive headaches for cultural organizations — which should be getting all the help they can get from government.
My prediction is the focus on Syrian refugees will make the process slower than ever.
Maybe Justin Trudeau should add fixing this problem to his impressive list of marching orders to Melanie Joly, his new minister of Canadian Heritage, concerning how she is expected to boost the arts.