With the Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporations Act, 2010 (“ONCA”) expected to be proclaimed on July 1, 2013, not-for-profit corporations
incorporated under Part III of the Ontario Corporations Act (“OCA”) should begin familiarizing themselves with how the ONCA will change
their future corporate structure and governance and how they will need to transition
under the ONCA.
Bill 65, An Act to revise the law in respect of
not-for-profit corporations, 2010, was introduced on May 12, 2010
and received Royal Assent on October 25, 2010. The administration of the ONCA will
be shared by the Ministry of Consumer Services and the Ministry of Government
Services. The Ministries have not yet released the regulations under the ONCA and
are currently finalizing tools to assist not-for-profit corporations complete
the transition. In December 2012, the Ministry of Consumer Services released helpful
information on their website, including a transition checklist, and a list of
frequently asked questions. Additional tools that will be available in future include a plain language
guide explaining the ONCA’s most significant sections, and default by-laws.
Once the ONCA is in force, the OCA, which has not been substantively amended
since 1953, will no longer apply to non-share capital corporations incorporated
under Part III of the OCA. This Bulletin will review issues that Part III OCA
corporations may need to consider in transiting into the ONCA. A review of the key
features of the ONCA is outside the scope of this Bulletin.
There are many corporations that do not come under the ONCA,
such as non-share capital corporations under the Co-operative Corporations
Act and insurance companies under Part V of OCA. As well, the ONCA excludes or limits its application to certain other
corporations. In addition, the ONCA does not automatically apply to share capital social
corporations incorporated under Part II of the OCA. These social corporations
may continue to operate under the OCA for five years. At the end of the
five-year period, the social corporations will have to decide whether to
continue under the ONCA, the Ontario Business Corporations Act or the Co-operative
Corporations Act. These corporations are outside the scope of this Bulletin.
B. TRANSITIONING UNDER THE ONCA FOR PART III OCA CORPORATIONS
Transitioning under the ONCA refers to the process by
which a Part III OCA corporation amends its constating documents to conform
with the ONCA requirements. Since, upon coming into force, the ONCA will
automatically apply to all non-share capital corporations incorporated under
Part III of the OCA, these corporations will not need to take any action to
come under the new legislation. However, if there are any provisions
in their letters patent, supplementary letters patent, by-laws or special
resolutions that are inconsistent with the ONCA, these documents will be deemed
at the end of three years after proclamation to be amended to comply with the
ONCA. The problem with using the deemed amendment approach is that it will be difficult
to determine which provisions are deemed to be amended and in what way.
In order to avoid this uncertainty, the ONCA permits Part
III corporations to “transition” into the ONCA during the three-year period by
amending any provision in its letters patent, supplementary
letters patent, by-laws or special resolution that is inconsistent with the
requirements of the ONCA. This approach is advised. In
this regard, inconsistent provisions in the letters patent and supplementary
letters patent would be amended by filing articles of amendment; and
inconsistent provisions in the by-laws would also need to be amended. Since the
rules in the ONCA and the OCA are so different, most corporations would likely
find it easier to adopt a new by-law rather than adopting amendments to their
exiting OCA by-laws.
C. PRELIMINARY STEPS AND CONSIDERATIONS FOR TRANSITION
The following is an overview of some key
steps and considerations that will allow for a smooth transition into
The first step that a corporation should
take is to collect and review all of its governing documents. These documents
include the letters patent, supplementary letters patent and by-laws. A
corporation that is unable to locate its letters patent or all of its supplementary
letters patent can contact the Ministry of Government Services to obtain
copies. The Ministry is not a depository for by-laws, however, so it cannot
assist a corporation that cannot locate its by-laws.
Also, it is not uncommon for Part III OCA corporations,
especially smaller corporations, to be incorporated without ever adopting general
operating by-laws. This often arises when individuals complete the incorporation process without
professional legal advice.
As well, some charities and non-profit
organizations set out their objects in their by-laws so that members can review
them without having to obtain a copy of the letters patent or supplementary
letters patent. The disadvantage of this approach is that the objects stated in
the by-laws are often amended as part of the by-law amendment process without
the corporation changing the “official” objects in its letters patent or
supplementary letters patent. In these situations, the objects contained in the
by-laws should also be taken into account when preparing the articles of amendment.
Once a corporation locates all its documents,
it should review them in detail to understand the current governance structure
and practice. The corporation should also consider whether these documents
accurately reflect its current governance structure and practice. The
corporation might have evolved since incorporation and the by-laws might no
longer reflect the desired governance structure. After incorporation, it is
also not uncommon that the corporations retain their by-laws in their corporate
records, but do not follow them. This is especially common in the charitable
and non-profit sector, which often lacks the means to engage legal advisors for
the incorporation process or to assist in their corporate proceedings. In these
situations, it may also be necessary to review various other operational documents,
including governance policies and organization charts. These documents may
reveal the governance structure and practice that is being followed by the
corporation, which should be reflected in the new by-laws to be prepared.
Upon completing this review, it would be
helpful to draw up a list of the changes that depart from the current by-laws.
This exercise will assist in the preparation of the documents for transition.
The next step is for the corporation to gain
a clear understanding of the rules contained in the ONCA under which the
corporation will be required to operate. This understanding will help the
corporation determine how the new rules will impact the governance of the
corporation and what provisions to include in the articles of amendment and new
Once a corporation has determined its
current or desired governance structure and practice and has reviewed the rules
in the ONCA, the corporation will then need to determine how the new rules will
impact its governance. Examples of questions to consider include: whether the current by-laws or the desired
governance structure and process are inconsistent with ONCA requirements; if they are inconsistent, how will the
corporation adjust its governance structure and process to ensure compliance. Alternatively, the
corporation should determine whether they need to change their governance
structure in light of the new rules in the ONCA. For example, under the ONCA, where
there is more than one class of members, each class of members is entitled to
vote separately as a class to approve by special resolution certain changes
affecting their class of membership and fundamental changes of the corporation (regardless
of whether the class of members otherwise has the right to vote). As such, each
class of members (including non-voting members) will have a de facto class veto
right in these situations. Therefore, corporations that currently have multiple
membership classes should consider if they are prepared to accept this
governance structure, or whether to collapse all of the classes into one voting
class. In this regard, the transition checklist released by the Ministry
provides a helpful list of key questions that should be considered.
Some corporations may want to complete the transition
process early during the three year period, while others may want to wait.
Early on, a corporation should decide when to start the by-law review process
in order to prepare for transition. The following are some key considerations
in this regard:
· Length of time and complexity of process required in revising the
by-laws – Some corporations’ current by-laws or governance process may
stipulate a lengthy process for revising the corporate by-laws and governance
policies and practices. This process may include constituting a by-law review
or governance committee, seeking legal assistance in the review process, a
lengthy notice period to hold membership meetings, etc. These corporations may
want to start their process early in order to take full advantage of the three
year time frame.
· Nature of changes in the new by-laws – If compliance with the ONCA
requires substantive changes to the by-laws, the corporation may wish to start
the by-law review early so that it can be completed within the three year time
frame. If compliance with the ONCA only requires administrative changes to the
by-laws (e.g., changing the length of notice period for calling members’
meetings), the corporation may have the flexibility to wait before transitioning.
However, such a decision cannot be made until the corporation has completed a
review of its current by-laws. As such, it would be prudent for the corporation
to conduct a review of its current by-laws early on in order to decide whether
it requires changes to its governance structure and procedure.
· Size of membership – A corporation that has a large membership (e.g.,
a corporation that has many members, or has a complicated membership structure
involving chapters, divisions across Canada, etc.) will likely require a more
extensive consultation in relation to by-law changes than a corporation that
has only a few members. The corporation will need to factor the time required to
complete an extensive consultation process.
· Board structure – The ONCA continues to permit corporations to
have ex officio directors. For example, the chair of a hospital board is
still permitted to be an ex officio director of the hospital foundation’s
board. However, in situations where a corporation’s directors are appointed,
nominated or elected by subgroups of members (such as a corporation’s members
consisting of geographical divisions across Canada and each division having the
right to elect or appoint one director to the board), this may no longer be
possible unless each division is made into a separate membership class and
therefore has de facto class veto rights. In these situations, the
corporation will need to decide what mechanism to implement (e.g., by
allowing the board to appoint directors who meet certain requirements, imposing
a board composition formula, putting in place a nomination procedure, etc.).
There is no one-size-fits-all mechanism. The appropriate mechanism depends on
many factors, including the constituency of the corporation and the working
relationship with the appointing organization. In some cases, corporations may
want to take a wait-and-see approach to learn from others who undergo the transition
· Changes to membership structure – In some cases, corporations
with different classes of members may want to make changes to their membership
structure, e.g., by eliminating non-voting membership classes, collapsing
the membership classes to end up with only one class, changing the rights of
some membership classes, etc.
· Changes of corporate objects – Some corporations
may want to amend their corporate objects for various reasons. It is possible to
amend the objects of the corporation as part of the transition process by
including the new objects in the articles of amendment. The new objects will
also be subject to approval by the Ontario Public Guardian and Trustee and scrutiny
by Canada Revenue Agency.
This brief overview of the ONCA transition process is intended
to help Ontario corporations transition as smoothly as possible. As a result of
the sweeping changes that the ONCA will bring about, it will be important for
boards, executives, staff, and legal counsel of corporations in Ontario to
become familiar with the provisions of the ONCA and to begin planning to
transition under the ONCA once it is proclaimed in force.
Corporations should also monitor the release of various
tools by the Ministry of Consumer Services and the Ministry of Government
Services. CRA and Public Guardian and Trustee may also provide guidance for Ontario corporations that are registered charities involved in the transition process.
Corporations will need to keep track of
the three year time frame so they can ensure they can complete the transition
within this time. As explained above, the time that a corporation requires to
complete this process will depend on the structure and
operations of the corporation. As such, it would be prudent for corporations to start preparing for transition as early as possible by
reviewing their existing by-laws and getting familiar with the rules in
the ONCA so that they can anticipate the changes that will be required.
Engaging a legal advisor to conduct a by-law review and to prepare new by-laws
will likely be helpful and time efficient.
It is also advisable for corporations to designate a
particular person or a committee to be in charge of the transition process, to
ensure that the project does not get lost among the day-to-day activities of
the corporation. It is also necessary that the board of directors be engaged
early on, such as by having the directors attend seminars and presentations on the ONCA transition requirements; having the
person/committee of the corporation in charge of the transition process report
to the board on a regular basis; setting target dates to complete various
steps; and having the members engaged early as well, especially if key
governance structure and/or procedure need to be changed.