Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government is defending its glitchy new online corporate registry that Bay Street law firms warn could drive businesses out of Ontario.
“What we have done is modernize a 30-year-old, paper-based process,” Government and Consumer Services Minister Ross Romano told the legislature Thursday.
As first disclosed by the Star, 16 of Canada’s top law firms have complained the month-old Ontario Business Registry’s “system shutdowns, technical glitches and substantive problems” are forcing companies to incorporate out-of-province.
They banded together to fire off a 12-page letter to Romano noting it is “is negatively impacting our firms, clients and service providers” and is “having a chilling effect on doing business in Ontario in general.”
But the minister insisted the online registry is an improvement upon the old system that would see businesses “literally have to fill out boxes of paperwork and then lug these boxes of paperwork in to service counters, wait in line, only from Monday to Friday, nine to five.”
“You can do a transaction now in 16 seconds that used to take 16 weeks and you don’t have to hire a high-priced lawyer any more,” he said.
Last Friday, the firms wrote him to say many of them “are now recommending to their lawyers and clients that the creation or use of Ontario entities in corporate transactions be avoided if possible.”
They said they were recommending registration with “federal entities or other provincial jurisdictions … in order to not jeopardize the successful completion of many year-end transactions.”
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The missive was signed by: Aird & Berlis; Bennett Jones; Blake, Cassels & Graydon; Borden Ladner Gervais; Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg; Dentons; Fasken Martineau DuMoulin; Goodmans; Gowling; McCarthy Tétrault; McMillan; Norton Rose Fulbright; Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt; Stikeman Elliott; Torys; and Wildeboer Dellelce.
NDP MPP Catherine Fife (Waterloo) said Romano was “modernizing businesses right out of Ontario.”
“Aside from the obvious political embarrassment for this government, getting this right actually is very important,” said Fife.
“Does this really sound like a province that is ‘open for business’ to this premier?” she said, in a shot at Ford’s much-used booster slogan.
Developed by Teranet and operated by the Ontario government, the new registry system has processed more than 120,000 transactions since its Oct. 19 launch.
Fees range from $25 to dissolve a business to $150 to register a not-for-profit entity to $300 for incorporation of a business.
The law firms complain that the system crashes during business hours and there are data-migration and document-formatting issues.
It also seems to have a mind of its own — a draft renewal that looked correct online was returned to a law firm with a “confirmation … authorized by a lawyer who had retired from the firm seven years ago.”
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
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