Topic: Corporate Governance

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Dialing In: Adapting to Virtual Shareholder Meetings

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The Shift to a Virtual World

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered and changed many familiar corporate operational and governance practices and norms, including how issuers host their annual general meetings (AGMs). Broadridge Financial Solutions reported hosting 300 virtual meetings in 2019 and approximately 1500 virtual meetings this year thus far.

In place of in-person only AGMs, issuers have two options: (1) hybrid AGMs that provide both virtual and physical meeting platform options and (2) virtual-only AGMs implemented through electronic means such as the use of live webcasts and teleconference lines. Virtual-only AGMs have proven to be the most … Continue Reading

ISS includes Economic Value Added in its Compensation Reports

Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) announced earlier this year that, in its 2019 proxy research reports, it will be displaying financial ratios derived from a base measure called Economic Value Added (EVA). The EVA ratios will initially be used for informational purposes only, meaning they will not factor in to say-on-pay voting recommendations or evaluations of compensation policies. Nevertheless, boards should understand EVA’s value as a means of assessing management performance, and how ISS intends to use the measure in its reports.

EVA is an estimate of a firm’s true economic profit, that is, its after-tax operating … Continue Reading

Shareholder Activism Reaches Record Levels

Activist Insight recently published the sixth edition of its annual report, entitled “The Activist Investing Annual Review 2019” (the “Review”). The Review analyzes recent global shareholder activism trends, forecasts expected developments in 2019, and highlights and compares jurisdictional data.

Oh, Canada: Increased Canadian Activism

As the Review outlines, 2018 was a notable year in Canada for shareholder activism. Not only did one of the biggest proxy fights of the year stem from Canada, but 75 Canadian companies received public demands from activist investors. The number of public demands received last year is significant considering there were 56 Canadian … Continue Reading

Share Buybacks & Executive Compensation: Aligning Management’s Incentives

As we previously discussed, the use of share buybacks has accelerated in recent years, both in Canada and the United States. This has sparked anxious debate over the extent to which buybacks can form part of an effective long-term growth strategy. Particularly in the United States—where buybacks hit a record of more than $1 trillion USD in 2018 following tax reforms—commentators have blamed buybacks for various ills, including wage stagnation, income inequality, and underinvestment in R&D. In response, some U.S. legislators have sought to curb their use, such as by tying buybacks to conditions including paying employees a certain … Continue Reading

Addressing Flawed Corporate Culture

A glimpse at recent news headlines is telling of a mass social awakening underway. From the #MeToo movement to public reprimand against organizations’ unrealistic sales targets, it is clear that it is becoming increasingly important for companies to foster a positive “corporate culture”.  These scandals, once in the public eye, can have long-lasting damaging effects on businesses’ profitability, brand, and marketability.  Indeed, as noted in this previous post, millennials’ investment decisions are heavily influenced by a company’s brand.

But when these scandals do arise, what recourse is available? An article by Jennifer G. Hill, a Professor of Corporate Law … Continue Reading

Access to Corporate Records Amidst Controversy

The rights of shareholders and directors to access corporate books and records is undisputed, but what about the rights of a former Chief Executive Officer, especially when the termination was contentious?

US Jurisprudence:

In the United States, a recent decision by the Delaware Court of Chancery dealt with this scenario. In that case, the CEO was involved in a highly publicized controversy believed to be injurious to the company’s image. An investigation was launched, and a special committee was formed, and the relationship quickly deteriorated. The board severed contractual ties with him, and sought his resignation despite him being the … Continue Reading

The Importance of Corporate Governance in Cannabis Companies

Every year The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business ranks governance of Canada’s corporate boards in the “Board Games.” In the recently published 2018 edition, the boards of directors of 242 companies and trusts in the S&P/TSX index were assessed. The companies are awarded points for various categories, namely, board composition, shareholding and compensation, shareholder rights, and disclosure. Companies with more stringent governance policies in place are awarded higher points. For example, a company with two-thirds independent directors will be awarded more points for that category than a company that has the majority of its directors being related … Continue Reading

Is Governance Going Green? The Influence of Environmental and Social Issues on Corporate Governance and Investing

With the heightened awareness of climate change, wage disparities, gender inequality and the like, the effects of these and other environmental and social (E&S) issues are widespread, extending as far as topics like corporate governance and investing. In fact, in its report entitled “2018 Canadian Proxy Season Review” (the Review), Kingsdale Advisors (Kingsdale) notes a belief among investors globally that “an issuer’s [E&S] activities will impact its financial returns and long-term sustainability” and furthermore, that investors view E&S issues as significant considerations when making investment decisions. The Review highlights some key trends regarding E&S governance … Continue Reading

Corporate Governance in the Age of Passive Investing

In recent years there has been a marked increase in passive investing, consisting of investing in exchange traded funds and index funds. Widely dismissed when first launched in the mid-1970’s, index funds are now estimated to account for approximately 20% of global aggregate investment fund assets. In the next five years, they are expected to surpass actively managed funds in the United States. Proponents of passive investing hailed Warren Buffet’s win of a bet against a prominent hedge fund manager that his investment in an index fund would outperform the latter’s hand-picked investments over a 10-year period as another sign … Continue Reading

Webinar – Corporate governance, shareholder activism, and hostile M&A: Key developments in 2018 and a look ahead

Walied Soliman and Orestes Pasparakis, co-chairs of Norton Rose Fulbright’s Canadian Special Situations team, will host a 60-minute webinar on corporate governance, shareholder activism, and hostile M&A on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 at 12 p.m. EST. To sign up, please click here.

Our Special Situations team played a leading role in some of the most complex and high-profile corporate governance, shareholder activism and hostile M&A matters of 2018. The webinar will highlight some of the key trends and developments in 2018 and trends taking shape in 2019.

This will be essential viewing for directors and executives at public companies, … Continue Reading

Global and Canadian Trends of Corporate Governance in 2019 and Beyond

Recently, public company boards are facing increasing scrutiny and greater expectations from various stakeholders, particularly in light of society’s elevated concerns regarding corporate culture, gender equality and climate change and sustainability. In its report entitled “2019 Global & Regional Trends in Corporate Governance” (the Report), Russell Reynolds Associates noted that in 2019 “[t]he demand for board quality, effectiveness, and accountability to shareholders will continue to accelerate across all global markets.”  The Report discussed five major global trends that are expected to define the corporate governance landscape in 2019:

  • Improved board quality and composition continues to be the essence of
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CEO Activism: A Double-Edged Sword?

In a recent study published on SSRN by the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, authors David F. Larcker, Stephen Miles, Brian Tayan and Kim Wright-Violich argue that CEO activism – the practice of CEOs taking public positions on environmental, social and political issues not directly related to their business – is a “double-edged sword”: CEOs who take public positions might build loyalty with employees, customers or constituents, but these same positions can inadvertently alienate important segments of those populations.

The authors – who aimed to better understand the implications of CEO activism by examining its prevalence, the … Continue Reading

The Digital Dilemma: Cybersecurity and Boardroom Best Practices in the Technological Age

Earlier this year, Commissioner Robert Jackson Jr. of the US Securities and Exchange Commission declared that cybersecurity is “the most pressing issue in corporate governance today.” Indeed, widespread digitization has fundamentally transformed the way that people do business, ushering in new heights of efficiency and connectivity. It has also created significant risk management issues for public companies in all sectors, from securing consumer information to responding to data breaches.

However, despite the growth of digitization and its concomitant risks for public companies, it appears that many board members still rely on outdated and unsafe software to protect sensitive materials and … Continue Reading

Implications of the Collaborative Model of Corporate Governance

In a recent paper, Jill Fisch and Simone Sepe outline a new model for corporate governance: the Insider-Shareholder Collaborative model.

A Shift Towards Collaboration

Two models have previously dominated the corporate governance discourse: (i) the management-power model and (ii) the shareholder-power model. The former emphasizes a board’s decision-making authority as the corporation’s essential coordinating and monitoring system, the latter emphasizes enhanced shareholder power as the means to hold insiders accountable.

The authors argue these models are outdated since both assume insiders and shareholders are engaged in a struggle for power, when increasingly, the insider-shareholder relationship is collaborative rather than … Continue Reading

Digitizing Board Meetings

In the day and age of virtual reality and delivery dinner at the click of a button, it seems almost comical to think that we use sliced bread to explain an invention’s usefulness.

Given today’s unprecedented surge in technology, it is perhaps unsurprising that the EY Center for Board Matters (“EY”) reported digital transformation as one of the most important priorities for boards. However, while it may be tempting for boards to focus on emerging competitors, tech-savvy employees, and the onset of new risks, this transformation can – and maybe should – include digitizing board meetings. Implementing board portals, digital … Continue Reading

Exploring the Link between Gender, Governance, and Shareholder Activism

A study conducted by global consultancy firm Alvarez and Marsal (A&M) showed that companies with more women on their boards attract fewer activist investors. In particular, the study, which surveyed 1,854 public groups, revealed that companies not targeted by hedge fund activists had on average 13.4 per cent more women on their boards.

Despite being a European study, it appears that the push for diverse governance only seems to be getting stronger across the world, and Canada is no exception. With the passage of Bill C-25, all CBCA companies with publicly traded securities must now disclose how many women … Continue Reading

OSC Statement of Priorities

On July 5, 2018, the Ontario Securities Commission (“OSC”) released its annual Statement of Priorities (the “Statement”) for the financial year to end March 31, 2019. The Statement outlines the most pressing issues that the OSC hopes to address in connection with the administration of the Securities Act, regulations and rules.

While investor protection is a major focal point of the Statement, the OSC also addresses a number of issues that pertain to shareholder rights and proxy contests. As discussed in a previous post, there is a looming question as to whether regulators will implement … Continue Reading

Fee-Shifting By-Laws in Canadian Shareholder Litigation

A fee-shifting by-law in the shareholder litigation context, “obligate[s] the plaintiff-shareholder to reimburse the corporation’s expenses (including attorneys’ fees and other costs) when the plaintiff [is] unsuccessful in litigation.”

Shareholder litigation in the United States operates under the “American Rule” which provides that each party is responsible for their own attorney’s fees. Unlike South of the border, in Canada lawyers’ fees are largely recoverable by the prevailing party. The 2008 financial crisis escalated the number of shareholder-initiated suits, especially in the United States. To address this, American corporations have attempted to avoid bearing the cost burden of unsuccessful shareholder initiated … Continue Reading

Tracking the Rise of Shareholder Activism through Withhold Campaigns in North America

In a recent post about Canadian proxy contest trends, we discussed the growing concern with “The Active Passive investor” and potential issues on the horizon given a surge in the use of “withhold” campaigns. As of late, the prominence of withhold campaigns to signal shareholder discontent to boards of directors in North American markets has seen an even sharper rise.

“Withhold” campaigns

In an uncontested election of directors, management of companies solicit proxy cards or ballots that allow shareholders to either cast an affirmative vote “for” the director candidate of the board, or “withhold” their voting authority. If a shareholder … Continue Reading

“The Great White Short?” Canada Is the World’s #3 Destination for Activist Short Selling


Recently, Activist Insight released a report on activist short selling. Activist short selling is when investors publicly bet on a stock going down in value. Among other interesting trends, the report shows that Canada ranks number 3 in the world for activist short campaigns. The data suggest that Canadian companies should be on high alert about the possibility of an activist short play.

The global number of activist short campaigns is trending downward

2015 represented a high water mark for activist short selling, with 274 campaigns globally. Since 2015, numbers have trended downward, with 263 campaigns in 2016, 186 in … Continue Reading

Changes coming to Canadian Business Corporations Act (CBCA)

Bill C-25 received Royal Assent on May 1, 2018. The bill will amend the CBCA by: reforming certain aspects of director elections; creating requirements for public companies to disclose officer and director diversity representation; and introducing the new Notice-and-Access Regime.

While some of the CBCA amendments have come into force, many of the amendments – including those described below – will come into force on a future date. As well, certain amendments must await changes to relevant regulations. The Federal Government has published the proposed regulatory amendments and is currently accepting comments from the public. It is projected that it … Continue Reading

The Gender Question: BC Securities Commission asks for comment on disclosure requirements with respect to board gender diversity

In late 2014, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) published “comply or explain” rules regarding female representation in director and executive officer positions. The requirements were codified in National Instrument 58-101 (the Disclosure Requirements) and created a positive duty for issuers in participating jurisdictions to disclose the details of female representation, including issuers’ targets, policies, and mechanisms to address female representation in director and executive officer roles. Where issuers do not adopt such mechanisms or consider female representation, they are required to explain their reasons for not doing so. The Disclosure Requirements were adopted in all CSA jurisdictions … Continue Reading

TSX Adds New Website Disclosure Requirements

In October 2017, the TSX published updates under section 473 of the TSX Company Manual placing additional disclosure obligation requirements on non-exempted TSX-listed issuers.

These updates became effective on April 1, 2018.

The TSX’s updates mandate that each TSX-listed issuer (other than Non-Corporate Issuers, Eligible Interlisted Issuers and Eligible International Interlisted Issuers (as such terms are defined in the TSX Company Manual)) will be required to maintain a publicly accessible website. These issuers are also required to post constating documents (i.e. articles of incorporation or amalgamation and by-laws) as well as the following documents, if adopted:

  • any majority voting policy;
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Corporate Governance in the Cannabis Sector

Since the introduction of Bill C-45 to legalize the production, distribution and sale of cannabis for recreational use, the cannabis sector (the Sector) has been thriving. Despite many unknowns and uncertainties surrounding the Sector, investors appear unfazed as share prices continue to surge.

Some key features of the Sector

Even though Bill C-45 has not yet passed and has been the subject of some controversy, investor reticence appears to be at a minimum. However, mirroring the volatility of the cannabis market itself, the nature of these investors has changed. Whereas in the nascent stages of the Sector investors … Continue Reading

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