The consultation paper contains the text of proposed rules, but these are for "conceptual purposes" only. Any rule changes resulting from the consultation process will be issued for comment in the normal course.
The paper notes that venture issuers (that is, issuers listed on the TSX Venture Exchange and the Canadian National Stock Exchange, or that trade over the counter in Canada or on international junior markets such as AIM on the London Stock Exchange) face particular compliance challenges given the complexity and breadth of modern securities regulation. It concludes that one size does not fit all and that a tailored approach to regulation of venture issuers is appropriate. Of course, whether this threshold assumption is valid is one of the questions asked.
The paper proposes that current exemptions for venture issuers and special rules tailored for venture issuers be contained in stand alone rules. To make the rules easier to understand, explanatory text will not be in a separate companion policy, but will be in short guidance notes contained within the body of the instrument.
The proposal will streamline disclosure obligations for venture issuers. The requirement to file first and third quarter financial statements will be removed. Instead, issuers will file an annual report that contains aspects of the current disclosure requirements for an annual information form (AIF), management's discussion and analysis (MD&A), and annual financials. It would be a mandatory document - today a venture issuer is not required to file an AIF unless it wants to use a short form prospectus or take advantage of a prospectus exemption that requires an up-to-date AIF. The MD&A will discuss objectives, targets and milestones, and progress against those targets, rather than annual information disclosure and a two-year summary of financial results.
Issuers would also be required to file a mid-year report including MD&A and financial statements for the six-month period, as well as updating any information in the annual report that has changed in the interim.
Venture issuers would not be required to file business acquisition reports but would file a report similar to a material change report. Confidential filings would not be permitted as they are today. The paper gives no explanation why, but perhaps the regulators are concerned about misuse of confidential filings to delay releasing bad news.
Information circulars would only be required to contain disclosure strictly necessary to allow a shareholder to understand the matters to be voted upon at the meeting. Other information, such as executive compensation and corporate governance disclosure, would be contained in the annual report and would not have to be included in the information circular unless the annual report had not been filed at the time the circular is filed.
Issuers will be able to use "notice and access" to electronically distribute material to shareholders rather than mail them.
The proposal contains several governance measures:
- Directors and officers would have to act honestly and in good faith and to act with the care, diligence and skill of a prudent person acting for a venture issuer will be imposed. Although this is largely duplicative of corporate law, the proposal notes that some issuers are incorporated under legislation that does not contain these obligations and some venture issuers, such as trusts and partnerships, are not incorporated at all.
- Boards of directors would have to have procedures to ensure they are made aware of, and have an opportunity to discuss, conflicts of interest between the board and management and any proposed related party transactions.
- Companies would have to have procedures to deter illegal insider trading.
- The CEO, CFO and two directors would have to sign a certificate filed with the annual and mid-year reports that the reports contain no misrepresentations and fairly disclose the information. They would also confirm that all of the directors and officers had confirmed their compliance with the proposed duty to act honestly and with the care and skill of a prudent person.
- Audit committees would be required to have a majority of members who are not officers or employees of the issuer or its affiliates.
The provisions regarding the rights and responsibilities of directors and officers fall squarely under corporate law rather than securities law, and it is hard to see how the commissions have the authority to implement them. However, that is a matter for another post, another time.
The main proposal with respect to prospectuses is to reduce the requirement for three years' prior financial statements to two.