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.