Alberta plans to ban rapid ticket-buying "bot" software as part of a series of new rules on event-ticket selling, but is stopping short of more heavy-handed regulatory measures on ticket sellers, which Ontario is expected to pass into law in a matter of days.
The Western province abolished its anti-scalping rules in 2009, but the scourge of scalpers who can ply their trade from anywhere has since grown much greater with maturing technology. Alberta's government introduced new ticket proposals at its legislature in Edmonton Wednesday as part of a bundle of proposed new consumer-protection laws that it hopes to pass as soon as next spring.
To make it easier for residents to buy tickets to sports events, theatre, concerts and other live performances, the province is also proposing to force ticket vendors such as Ticketmaster to pro-actively identify tickets purchased using bots and cancel them, and to let consumers and vendors sue offending bot users. Resale marketplaces such as StubHub would be required to refund Albertans if a ticket sold through the platform is invalid or counterfeit, if the event it's for is cancelled, or if it's different than advertised. Violators of the consumer-protection legislation could face up to $300,000 in fines and two years in prison.
Ticket regulations in Canada are decided by the provinces, whose approaches range from no legislation at all to hard-to-enforce wholesale bans on reselling tickets for more than their original price. NDP-governed Alberta joins Ontario's Liberals in taking on ticket scalping as a populist cause this year after months of consultations with industry and residents.
In response to last year's widely scalped final Tragically Hip tour with late frontman Gord Downie, Ontario began a series of consultations on the matter in February. Its proposed rules, announced in June, include banning bots and prohibiting resale markups greater than 50 per cent of a ticket's original price. The new laws are expected to get third reading soon, which is the final stage a bill must pass.
Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean said in an interview that when major concerts or events come to the province – and when the NHL's Edmonton Oilers made the playoffs last season – her office fields countless letters complaining about ticket access and inflated prices.
But as she's watched Ontario move forward with strong regulations, Ms. McLean said the province, which sees itself as a small market, did not want to put disincentives in place for the highly tangled live-event and ticketing industries.
"We want this to be an attractive place for artists to come, and there are so many different industry interests … that influence acts coming to Alberta," she said. She called the measure a "first step" and said the province would be willing to implement further ticketing regulations if necessary. "We do know there's one thing everyone holds in common, and that is a concern around bots."
In Ontario, the live-event industry, including the leading marketplaces Ticketmaster and StubHub, have repeatedly argued against the government's proposals, particularly its emphasis on price caps. Interfering in the free market, they say, would push sellers, and in turn consumers, toward less-regulated websites – or parking lots – without crucial consumer protections.
Alberta's is a less-regulated approach, with a focus on the bot software that scalpers use to buy massive blocks of tickets – a measure many jurisdictions including the United States have brought into law, but whose effectiveness in a global ticket market has long been questioned.
Such an approach has been celebrated by the ticket industry, which already invests in fighting bots. Patti-Anne Tarlton, Ticketmaster Canada's chief operating officer, told Ontario legislators last week that the company was "at war with bots," and had blocked 11 million of them this year alone. StubHub has a similar approach. "We have a long history of supporting legislation around the world that prohibits the use of bots," Jeff Poirier, StubHub's North American general manager for theatre and music, said to the same Queen's Park committee.
British Columbia has no law regulating resale. But the province is watching developments in other jurisdictions such as Alberta, and considering proposals that could be brought forward as early as its legislature's spring sitting.
Manitoba, where it is illegal to sell tickets above their original price, is also considering changes to its ticketing laws, although a spokesperson said the province would prefer to approach them with less regulation on consumers and businesses than Ontario has proposed, and that it questions how effective it is to regulate bots.
Canada's provinces have a hodgepodge of ticketing rules. Quebec disallows businesses from selling marked-up tickets to consumers, and has fined companies such as Billets.com for doing so, but legislation doesn't extend to transactions between two individuals. Some provinces, including Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador, do not address ticket resales in law, though in some cases complaints can be filed with broader consumer-affairs agencies. (A New Brunswick spokesperson did not return The Globe's request for details.)
Saskatchewan puts no restrictions on resale pricing, but does have a pair of unique ticketing rules for seven major event venues including Regina's Mosaic Stadium. Only Saskatchewan residents, and consumers living in the provinces, territories and states that border it, can buy tickets to concerts and theatre performances during the first hour they're on sale; for sports, that hour is extended to anyone living in Canada. All buyers, meanwhile, must also wait at least 48 hours after tickets go on sale to list or advertise theirs to resell.