Timely Disclosure

Timely Disclosure

Updates and Commentary on Current issues in M&A, Corporate Finance and Capital Markets

2018 ISS and Glass Lewis Updates

Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass, Lewis & Co. (Glass Lewis) have both released updates to their Canadian proxy voting recommendation guidelines for the 2018 proxy season.

The following summary outlines the significant changes made by ISS (ISS Updates) and Glass Lewis  (Glass Lewis Updates) to their respective Canadian proxy advisory guidelines.

ISS

Definition of Independence.  ISS has updated its definitions relating to director independence.  Previously, ISS categorized each director as an Inside Executive Director, Affiliated Outside Director or Independent Director.  The new categories are Executive Director, Non-Independent, Non-Executive Director (including former CEOs, controlling shareholders, Non-CEO executives, relatives of executives and persons with professional/financial relationships, among other things) or Independent Director.

Board Gender Diversity.  Beginning February 2019, ISS will generally recommend withholding votes for the chair of the nominating committee, or board chair if no nominating committee chair, where a company has not disclosed a formal written gender diversity policy and has no female directors.  ISS indicates that a written policy should include measurable goals or targets and clear commitments to increasing gender diversity within a reasonable period of time.  The ISS Updates also state that boilerplate or contradictory language may result in withhold recommendations.  The ISS policy will apply to all TSX companies, except companies first listed or graduated from the TSXV within two fiscal years or companies with four or fewer directors.

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British Columbia and Alberta Start-Up Crowdfunding Exemption Expanded

On September 21, 2017, following the results of a stakeholder survey conducted over the course of the year to date, the British Columbia Securities Commission (BCSC) announced changes to the existing equity crowdfunding rules found in British Columbia Instrument 45-535 – Start-up Crowdfunding Registration and Prospectus Exemptions (BCI 45-535) to address two of the most common pain points felt by investors and issuers.

The first amendment is a step to address concerns with respect to a lack of harmonization across provinces by creating a regime to allow access for investors and issuers across the B.C. and Alberta border. The amendments to BCI 45-535 provide that Alberta as a “participating jurisdiction” and include specific reference to Alberta Securities Commission Rule 45-517 Prospectus Exemptions for Start-up Businesses (ASC Rule 45-517) in the definition of the term “corresponding start-up crowdfunding order”. A similar change to ASC Rule 45-517 was announced on October 3, 2017, by the Alberta Securities Commission. As a result, a British Columbia issuer can now sell securities to an investor in Alberta and an Alberta issuer can now sell securities to an investor in British Columbia relying on both BCI 45-535 and ASC Rule 45-517; however, the issuer will be held to the most restrictive limit as between the two instruments. For example, to comply with BCI 45-535 the B.C. issuer would be required to use a funding portal and, to comply with ASC Rule 45-517 that portal would be required to be registered either as an investment dealer or an exempt market dealer.

The second improvement, addressing concerns from survey respondents with respect to investment limits, is an amendment to raise an investor’s limit from $1,500 to $5,000, but only if the investor has obtained advice from a registered dealer that the investment is suitable for them.

While these amendments are clearly a step in the right direction, they will have limited application to market participants in the short term. As noted above, these two changes are relevant in the context of an equity crowdfunding campaign conducted through a registered dealer. Currently, there are 10 start-up crowdfunding portals permitted to operate in British Columbia according to the BCSC website, only one of which is currently registered as an exempt market dealer in both British Columbia and Alberta.

Further information about BCI 45-535, including user-friendly guides, can be found on the BCSC’s Start-Up Crowdfunding webpage.

Amendments to Toronto Stock Exchange Company Manual – Start Calculating Your Incentive Plan’s “Annual Burn Rate”

On October 19, 2017, the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) announced that it had adopted two sets of amendments to the TSX Company Manual after a lengthy consultative process — see our earlier posts of June 4, 2016 and May 5, 2017.  In short, the amendments relate to disclosure requirements for security-based compensation arrangements such as stock option plans and to website disclosure of certain corporate documents.  This post will deal with each in turn.

Security-Based Compensation Arrangements

The amended disclosure requirements for security-based compensation arrangements will be effective for financial years ending on or after October 31, 2017.  In other words, these changes are effective almost immediately.  Technically, the new requirements are set out in amendments to section 613(d) and in new section 613(p) of the TSX Company Manual.

Under section 613(d), as amended, for a shareholders’ meeting at which approval is sought for a security-based compensation arrangement such as a stock option plan or other similar plan, and also on an annual basis, the management information circular must set out, as applicable, (i) the maximum number of securities issuable under the plan as a fixed number together with the percentage which the fixed number represents of the number of issued and outstanding shares, or the fixed percentage of the number of issued and outstanding shares; (ii) the number of outstanding securities awarded under the plan, together with the percentage this number represents of the number of issued and outstanding shares; and (iii) the total number of securities that remain available for grant under the plan together with the percentage that this number represents of the number of issued and outstanding shares.

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Toronto Stock Exchange Issues Staff Notice on U.S. Marijuana Companies

On October 16, 2017, the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) issued Staff Notice 2017-0009 regarding listed companies engaged in the marijuana business, whether directly or indirectly, in the United States.  At the same time, the TSX Venture Exchange (TSXV) issued a Notice to Issuers virtually identical to the TSX Staff Notice.  It is well-known that recreational cannabis has been legalized in certain American states (in alphabetical order, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) yet remains illegal at the federal level in the United States.  The TSX Staff Notice and TSXV Notice to Issuers clarify the position of the two Exchanges in light of this legal conundrum.  In short, marijuana, the United States and listing on the TSX/TSXV do not mix.

The TSX Staff Notice states the general rule that a TSX-listed company must act in compliance with the rules and regulations of all regulatory bodies having jurisdiction over it.  The Staff Notice notes that marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the United States Controlled Substances Act, such that it is illegal under United States federal law to cultivate, distribute or possess marijuana, and that financial transactions involving proceeds generated by, or intended to promote, marijuana-related business activities in the United States may form the basis for prosecution under applicable U.S. federal money-laundering legislation.

According to the Staff Notice, companies listed on the TSX with ongoing business activities that violate United States federal law regarding marijuana are not in compliance with the requirements of the TSX.  These business activities may include, among other things, (i) direct or indirect ownership of, or investment in, businesses engaged in the cultivation, distribution or possession of marijuana in the United States (which the Staff Notice refers to as “Subject Entities”), (ii) other commercial arrangements with Subject Entities (presumably, a joint venture, a “streaming” deal, or other similar contractual arrangement), (iii) providing services or products that are specifically designed for, or targeted at, Subject Entities, or (iv) commercial interests or arrangements with entities (CSA) engaging in the business activities described in (iii).

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CSA Prohibits Sale of Binary Options

On September 28, 2017, the securities regulatory authorities in all Canadian jurisdictions, other than British Columbia (CSA), issued CSA Multilateral Notice of Multilateral Instrument 91-102 Prohibition of Binary Options and Related Companion Policy (Instrument) in response to an increased number of complaints received relating to the marketing of binary options. Subject to the necessary approvals, the Instrument will come into force on December 12, 2017.

The Instrument defines a “binary option” as a contract or instrument that provides for only (a)  a predetermined fixed amount if the underlying interest referenced in the contract or instrument meets one or more predetermined conditions, and (b) zero or another predetermined fixed amount if the underlying interest referenced in the contract or instrument does not meet one or more predetermined conditions.  The underlying interest could include a security, index, currency, precious metal, price or other thing.  Some examples provided by the CSA of yes/no propositions that a binary option could be based on include: a change in the value of a currency, the outcome of an election or a change in a benchmark interest rate. Binary options are sometimes referred to as: all-or-nothing options, asset-or-nothing options, bet options, cash-or-nothing options, digital options, fixed-return options and one-touch options.

A binary option automatically exercises. This means that the option holder does not have the ability to choose whether to buy or sell the underlying asset. Often, the time period specified in the product’s contract for meeting the predetermined condition is very short. Sometimes, it is mere minutes.

The Instrument states that no person or company may advertise, offer, sell or otherwise trade a binary option having a term to maturity of less than 30 days with or to:

  • a person or a company established or used exclusively for trading a binary option; and
  • an individual.

Trade includes a person offering or soliciting transactions using a website or alternative electronic mechanism and acts in furtherance of a trade.

Of particular concern to the CSA was the fact that a number of online binary options platforms are unregistered dealers who operate off-shore. Although trading may occur on some platforms, the CSA have discovered that it is extremely difficult for investors to ‘win’ on their bets. For the most part, such platforms are fraudulent and the investor’s advanced payment on their credit card is simply taken without a trade ever occurring.

Once the Instrument is implemented, no offering of the type of binary options contemplated by the Instrument, even via a registered broker, dealer or platform will be permitted. Currently, there are no authorized platforms offering these options in Canada.

The CSA also reminded market participants that binary options that are not subject to the Instrument are nevertheless derivatives and/or securities in each jurisdiction of Canada and therefore subject to local securities legislation including with respect to registration, prospectus requirements, market conduct and disclosure, as applicable.

CSA Review of Women on Boards and in Executive Officer Positions

On October 5, 2017, the staff of securities regulatory authorities (SRA) in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Yukon published CSA Multilateral Staff Notice 58-309, Staff Review of Women on Boards and in Executive Officer Positions – Compliance with NI 58-101 Disclosure of Corporate Governance Practices. The Staff Notice provides this year’s summary of the disclosure reviewed by the SRA relating to the Women on Boards and in Executive Positions Rules (WB/EP Rules).

The WB/EP Rules require that, on an annual basis, each non-venture issuer disclose:

  • the number and percentage of women on the issuer’s board of directors and in executive officer positions;
  • whether it has a policy relating to the identification and nomination of women directors;
  • whether it has director term limits or other mechanisms of board renewal;
  • whether it has targets for women on its board and in its executive officer positions; and
  • if it considers the representation of women in its director identification and selection process and in its executive officer appointments.

The Staff Notice focused on the disclosure of 660 TSX-listed issuers with year-ends between December 31, 2016 and March 31, 2017, who had filed information circulars or annual information forms by July 31, 2017. This is down from the 722 issuers who provided disclosure as part of the 2015 initial review. The SRA noted that Canadian banks, who are often early adopters of diversity programs, are not included in this summary. This is the third such annual review to have taken place.

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Lessons of the Crew Gold Decision on M&A Engagement Letters

Financial advisors are often critical to the success of an M&A transaction. Often, but perhaps not always. Should the fees payable to a financial advisor be denied if, through no fault of its own, an M&A transaction is completed without any involvement of the advisor? This question is the subject matter of Crew Gold[1] a decision of the Ontario Superior Court which was recently affirmed by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

In M&A sell-side roles, financial advisors are typically retained to advise boards on strategy, as well as perform a number of related tasks, including: preparing a timetable, identifying prospective purchasers, preparing a confidential information memorandum (CIM) and standstill agreement, providing a market check on any offers received, assisting in the due diligence process, providing an opinion as to the financial fairness of any offers, reviewing various deal documents and assisting with communications to, and at times interacting with, the public, key stakeholders, rating agencies and proxy advisory firms.

M&A advisory fees for sell-side roles are typically success-based, payable on completion of a transaction. Prior to completion, the advisor may receive a fee for the delivery of an opinion relating to financial fairness and periodic work fees, all of which are usually credited against the success fee. Work fees are typically modest compared to the success fee, as most issuers prefer not to run up huge advisory costs if no transaction is ultimately completed. Besides, it is often argued, any success fee is effectively for the account of the acquirer.

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Kik Interactive Excludes Canadians from Kin Token Sale

As ICO regulatory landscape gradually takes shape, Kik Interactive excludes Canadians from Kin token sale

On September 7, 2017, Kik Interactive Inc. (Kik), a Waterloo-based digital messaging company, announced that it would not permit Canadian investors to purchase its “Kin” crypto-tokens in its currently ongoing public sales process. Kik had previously announced plans to sell up to U.S.$125 million of Kin tokens, including to Canadians. Kin tokens are envisioned as a general purpose cryptocurrency for use in services such as chat, social media, and payments, all within the Kin ecosystem.

The announcement was made in a blog post by Kik Chief Executive Officer Ted Livingston, who cited “weak guidance” from the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) regarding whether Kin tokens are securities as the reason for banning Canadians. The OSC later clarified to the National Post that they had reviewed the Kin token and concluded that it is a security, but that they were willing to grant Kik exemptive relief from certain securities law requirements provided additional protections were granted to retail investors.

While Kik’s submissions to the OSC and the details of the OSC’s conclusion are not public, the OSC’s conclusion nevertheless provides some regulatory guidance at a time when industry participants are eager to determine precisely when tokens will be subject to securities laws. Another example of such guidance was provided in the case of Impak’s MPK tokens, which are designed to allow holders to purchase goods and services from like-minded merchants operating within the “impact” economy. Similar to Kin, the MPK tokens are considered a security, in this case by both the Autorité des Marchés Financiers in Quebec (AMF) and the OSC.

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Hostile Plan of Arrangement Application to be Heard in Alberta 

On March 7, 2017, 1891868 Alberta Ltd., a wholly-owned indirect subsidiary of Sprott Inc. (Sprott, and together with its wholly-owned subsidiaries, Sprott Group), filed an originating application (Application) in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta (Court) for an order approving a proposed plan of arrangement (Arrangement) with Central Fund of Canada Limited (Target), Sprott Physical Gold and Silver Trust (to be formed and managed by Sprott Asset Management LP (Trust)), the holders of class A non-voting shares (Class A Shares) of the Target and, as applicable, the holders of common shares (Common Shares) of the Target pursuant to Section 193(2) of the Business Corporations Act (Alberta) (Act).  The Application has been scheduled to be heard by the Court on September 7, 2017.

The Application

The Application seeks an interim order for the calling and holding of a meeting of shareholders (Target Shareholders) of the Target to approve the Arrangement proposed by the Sprott Group.  It should be noted that applications for court orders approving arrangements are typically made by target companies.  Accordingly, this application, which is not supported by the Target, could be characterized as a “hostile” plan of arrangement.  At an application held in April, the Court agreed to set a date in September for the interim application.

According to the Sprott Group, there are a number of qualitative and quantitative benefits to the Target Shareholders which are anticipated to result from the Arrangement and the transactions contemplated thereby, including eliminating the dual-class share structure, continued exposure to the future growth of the Target’s portfolio of assets, the availability of a physical redemption feature, and the potential for the Class A Shares to trade at, near or above their net asset value (instead of at a discount to net asset value, which is currently the case).

According to the Target, the Application is one of numerous steps already taken by the Sprott Group to seek control of the Target. Among other measures taken, the Sprott Group has previously attempted to requisition a meeting of the Target to, among other things, elect a slate of directors (Requisition), commenced a derivative action against the Target and appealed to the Court of Appeal the Court’s finding that the Requisition was invalid.  All of these attempts were unsuccessful.

In this context, a take-over bid made directly to the holders of Common Shares and Class A Shares would likely be ineffective since, according to Sprott, at least 75% of the Common Shares are held by directors and officer of the Target and such persons are not expected to tender to the bid.

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Canadian Securities Administrators Issue Guidance Regarding Cryptocurrency Offerings

On August 24, 2017, the staff of the Canadian Securities Administrators other than Saskatchewan (CSA) published CSA Staff Notice 46-307 Cryptocurrency Offerings (the Staff Notice) in response to increased activity within the distributed ledger technology or “blockchain” industry. The Staff Notice provides guidance regarding the application of Canadian securities laws to businesses operating in that industry, in particular those undertaking initial “coin” or “token” offerings (ICOs), exchanges on which those coins, tokens and cryptocurrencies are traded and investment funds that invest in such assets.

The Staff Notice provides that in the CSA’s view many coins, tokens and cryptocurrencies fall within the definition of “securities” under Canadian securities laws. An offering of such tokens would therefore require a prospectus or exemption from prospectus requirements and businesses supporting and operating ancillary to such tokens could be subject to registration requirements. The Staff Notice also provides that such products may also be derivatives and subject to the derivatives laws adopted by the Canadian securities regulatory authorities.

The Staff Notice confirms speculation among industry participants and advisors that Canadian regulators would take this approach, which is similar to the positions articulated by the United States Securities & Exchange Commission and securities regulators in Singapore.

With respect to ICOs, the Staff Notice provides that, from the CSA’s perspective, many of the ICOs completed to date involved the sale of securities and that securities laws in Canada will apply if the person or company selling the securities is conducting business from within Canada or there are Canadian investors in the tokens.

The CSA are aware of businesses marketing their tokens as software products and taking the position that the tokens are not subject to securities laws.  It appears to be the CSA’s view, however, that in many cases, when the totality of the offering or arrangement is considered, the tokens should properly be considered securities.  In assessing whether or not securities laws apply, the Staff Notice states that the CSA will consider substance over form and apply a purposive interpretation to the law with the objective of investor protection in mind.

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