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. 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.