Bill C-25 is a federal government bill that would, if adopted, introduce sweeping changes to the corporate governance regime for reporting issuers incorporated under the Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA). Like the proverbial tortoise, the bill has moved unhurriedly through the legislative process, in part due to several changes made to the bill since our previous post that discussed Bill C-25. The bill’s enactment would be just one of many “finish lines”, and it may take several years for all provisions of the bill and accompanying regulations to be drafted and brought into force. This post will canvass the amendments made so far to Bill C-25, with a focus on the proposed gender diversity disclosure framework, and will show a path forward to its eventual coming into force.

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Gender diversity during proxy season and National Instrument 58-101 Disclosure of Corporate Governance Practices (NI 58-101) are reviewed when CSA releases their staff notice regarding compliance for 2018 (as reported in our Timely Disclosure posts in 2017, 2016 and 2015). In celebration of international women’s day, here is a recap of gender diversity promotion and a preview of discussion points to come at the end of proxy season 2018:

Catalyst Report

Increasing the number of women in powerful positions has the potential to transform our workplaces and society.[1]


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On January 18, 2018, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) published and requested comments for a proposed change to OSC Policy 15-601 Whistleblower Program (Policy). The  Whistleblower Program came into effect in July 2016 and is intended to encourage individuals to report information on serious securities-related misconduct to the OSC to prevent

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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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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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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On Thursday, July 27, 2017, staff of the Ontario Securities Commission and its counterparts in Québec, Alberta, Manitoba and New Brunswick (Staff) published important guidance on Staff’s expectations of market participants, including boards and their advisors, in material conflict of interest transactions.[1]  The guidance highlights the important role of public company directors in such transactions, including conducting a sufficiently rigorous and independent process while appropriately addressing the interests of minority security holders and ensuring detailed public disclosure of the board’s review and approval process.  In addition, the guidance confirms that Staff are actively reviewing such transactions “on a real-time basis” to assess compliance, to determine whether a transaction raises potential public interest concerns, and, if appropriate, to intervene on a timely basis prior to any security holder vote or closing of the transaction.

“material conflict of interest transactions” and “minority security holders”

Staff note that a “material conflict of interest transaction” is a transaction governed by Multilateral Instrument 61-101 Protection of Minority Security Holders in Special Transactions (MI 61-101) that gives rise to substantive concerns as to the protection of minority security holders, being equity security holders who are not “interested parties” in the transaction.  For example, a transaction pursuant to which an insider of the company acquires the company would be considered to be a material conflict of interest transaction.  Among other things, MI 61-101 prescribes detailed procedural safeguards when a company undertakes an insider bid, issuer bid, business combination, or related party transaction, including enhanced disclosure and, absent an exemption, a requirement to obtain “minority approval” (essentially an affirmative vote by a majority of the votes cast by minority security holders) and a formal valuation of the subject matter of the transaction.  In interpreting MI 61-101, Staff note that they apply a “broad and purposive interpretation” to these requirements that emphasizes the instrument’s underlying policy rationale.


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(The full version of this bulletin was originally published on Fasken.com – “The Supreme Court of Canada rules on the personal liability of directors in the context of the oppression remedy” – July 17th, 2017.)

The Supreme Court of Canada rendered a decision in Wilson v. Alharayeri, in which it

Investor Protection & Dual Class Share Structures

The recent initial public offerings (IPOs) of major players in the Canadian market, including Aritzia in September 2016, Freshii in January 2017 and Canada Goose in March 2017, have sparked debate about the use of dual class share structures and whether regulatory reform is necessary in order to ensure adequate investor protection.

Corporate Legislation of Dual Class Share Structures:

Pursuant to section 24(3) of the Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA),[1] when a corporation has only one class of shares, the rights of the holders of those shares are equal in all respects and include the right to vote at any meeting of shareholders of the corporation; to receive any dividend declared by the corporation; and to receive the remaining property of the corporation on dissolution.

Section 24(4) of the CBCA allows for a corporation to have more than one class of shares (Dual Class Share Structure).  The CBCA requires that the rights, privileges, restrictions and conditions attaching to each class of shares be set out; and that the rights to vote, to receive any dividend declared, and to receive the remaining property of the corporation on dissolution be attached to at least one class of shares, but all such rights are not required to be attached to one class.

Although the use of a Dual Class Share Structure is allowed by the CBCA (as well as by provincial corporate legislation, including the Business Corporations Act (Ontario)), securities regulators have imposed some regulations regarding the use of such a structure. For example, the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) requires that companies issuing a class of shares with multiple votes have a coattail provision in order to ensure that all investors are treated equally in the case of a takeover[2], and the Securities Act (Ontario) mandates various initial and continuous disclosure requirements for securities issuers.[3]


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Shareholder Control over Executive Compensation under Bill 101

Bill 101, An Act to Amend the Business Corporations Act (Bill 101), proposes a number of updates to the Ontario Business Corporations Act (OBCA). Introduced as a private member’s bill in early March, Bill 101 aims to shift power to shareholders through amendments in areas such as shareholder meetings, shareholder proxies, as well as the election and diversity requirements of directors. Among Bill 101’s most ambitious changes is to provide shareholders with power over executive compensation. These executive compensation amendments build on a trend in which many public companies are voluntarily providing shareholders with a “say-on-pay”. Bill 101’s proposal in this area, however, goes much further by providing shareholders with the unprecedented ability to both propose and approve executive remuneration policies. The implications of this power raises important questions regarding the respective responsibilities and duties of directors and shareholders.

Shareholders’ Current Say-On-Pay

Most Canadian business statutes, including the OBCA and the Canada Business Corporations Act, explicitly provide directors with the authority to fix compensation for directors, officers and employees, subject only to the company’s articles, by-laws and any unanimous shareholder agreement. Today in Canada there are no corporate or securities laws that provide shareholders with the ability to approve, much less propose, executive compensation.

While not legally required to do so, a trend in recent years has seen many publicly listed Canadian companies voluntarily provide shareholders with a vote on executive compensation. These say-on-pay motions are advisory only, with the results not binding the directors’ decisions. Although non-binding, the say-on-pay process is seen as providing shareholders with value by encouraging directors to consider and clearly explain compensation policies to shareholders.

While the voluntary adoption of non-binding advisory votes is steadily increasing, Canada lags behind certain other jurisdictions in both mandating say-on-pay votes and in providing teeth to the votes through binding outcomes (see a recent Timely Disclosure post). For example, the United Kingdom and Australia have mandated periodic shareholder votes on executive compensation policies.


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