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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Annual meetings of shareholders of public companies often feature: attendance by a modest number of shareholders, and by the company’s external legal counsel, auditor, investor-relations firm, service providers and other assorted hangers-on; the casting of virtually all votes prior to the meeting by way of proxy; perfunctory reviews of the past fiscal year by the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer; and one or two desultory questions from shareholders.  In short, annual meetings haven’t evolved in the last 30 years.  Excitement arises only if activist shareholders storm the meeting or if unionized employees speak, particularly if a strike is threatened or in progress.

It’s time for public companies to bring their annual meetings into the digital age and to use them as an effective means of communicating with a large number of shareholders and with the investment community in general.  A revamped annual meeting may even lead to reduced costs when compared to the traditional model of renting a conference room at a hotel and providing refreshments, as modest as they may be, for shareholders.  Canadian corporate law provides a framework which can be used to increase shareholder access to annual meetings and to maximize the impact of annual meetings.


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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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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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Economic Environment

The volume of securities purchased by foreign investors in Canada has been steadily increasing in recent years.  While equity securities account for the majority of the increase, debt securities still comprise most of the foreign investment in Canada.[1]  Of these debt securities, corporate bonds attracted the largest increase in investment in 2016 compared to 2015.[2]  The continued significance for Canadian issuers (Issuers) of foreign markets for raising capital emphasizes the importance of understanding the nature of cross-border debt securities offerings (Offerings) and, in particular, uncertainties in their technicalities which, if not properly traversed, can lead to increased costs for Issuers.

Overview of Offerings

Bonds can be offered by Issuers pursuant to a public offering under a prospectus or can be placed privately by way of a private placement, in which case Issuers may choose to prepare and distribute an offering memorandum to potential investors.  The method employed will vary depending on the Issuer’s target market and the extent to which the Issuer is known to participants in the capital markets.  Bonds, regardless of the type of Offering, are typically issued under the terms and conditions of a trust indenture which is entered into between the Issuer and an indenture trustee (Trustee).  The Trustee protects the interests of the Bondholders by enforcing the terms and conditions provided in the trust indenture.


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In its decision Mennillo v. Intramodal inc., 2016 SCC 51 (Intramodal), the Supreme Court of Canada (Court) was asked whether a corporation’s failure to comply with statutory formalities was oppressive against a shareholder. The majority ruled that based on the facts the company’s failure to comply with certain Canada Business Corporation Act (CBCA) requirements did not trigger the oppression remedy. In the words of Justice Cromwell, who provided reasons for the majority, “sloppy paperwork on its own does not constitute oppression” (para 5).

Companies, directors and their shareholders should be cautious, however, not to draw the wrong lesson from the majority’s decision in Intramodal. Compliance with corporate statutes, whether federal or provincial, is not optional. In addition to violating the law, a failure to comply with corporate statutory formalities can still trigger an oppression remedy where the violation frustrates the reasonable expectations of a company stakeholder, which includes a company’s shareholders, directors, officers and creditors.

As this post will discuss, the decision in Intramodal did not establish a precedent that statutory non-compliance on its own cannot result in an oppression remedy.


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Bill C-25: Major changes proposed to director elections and other governance matters for CBCA reporting issuers

On September 28, 2016, the federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development introduced Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Canada Cooperatives Act, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, and the Competition Act. Bill C-25, if enacted, would result in sweeping changes to the corporate governance regime for reporting issuers incorporated under the Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA).

The CBCA is the incorporating statute for nearly 270,000 corporations. Although most of these are small- or medium-sized and privately held, a large number of Canada’s largest reporting issuers are also governed by the CBCA. The amendments proposed in Bill C-25 stem from a House of Commons committee-led statutory review in 2010, which, in turn, led to a further consultation undertaken in 2014 by Industry Canada.


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Securities Regulatory Authorities Release Results of Gender Diversity and Term Limit Disclosure Review

Securities regulatory authorities in Ontario and nine other provinces and territories of Canada published CSA Multilateral Staff Notice 58-308 Staff Review of Women on Boards and in Executive Officer Positions – Compliance with NI 58-101 Disclosure of Corporate Governance Practices on September

On December 11, 2013, The Honourable James Moore, Minister of Industry, announced the launch of a public consultation on the Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA) to help identify ways in which the CBCA can better promote important corporate governance policy objectives.

The government listed the following issues that have been identified for review as