Toronto Star

Business registry panned

Major law firms telling clients to register outside Ontario because of ‘substantiv­e problems’


Premier Doug Ford’s new online business registry is so rife with “system shutdowns, technical glitches and substantiv­e problems” that major law firms are advising clients to register out-of-province, the Star has learned.

In a searing letter to Government and Consumer Services Minister Ross Romano, the Bay Street pillars warn the month-old Ontario Business Registry “is negatively impacting our firms, clients and service providers” and is “having a chilling effect on doing business in Ontario in general.”

The 12-page missive is a blow to Ford’s much-ballyhooed “open for business” push because all companies and not-for-profit corporatio­ns must register to incorporat­e or to dissolve here.

“We represent hundreds of thousands of entities trying to carry on business in Ontario,” the law firms wrote Friday.

“The system shutdowns, technical glitches and substantiv­e problems associated with the new OBR are causing significan­t disruption, delaying transactio­ns and adding significan­t costs for businesses,” they continued.

“Given our collective OBR experience­s to date, we have no confidence or assurances that year-end registrati­ons and filings — the busiest time of the year for our law firms — can be completed without putting entire transactio­ns at risk.”

Because of that, many firms “are now recommendi­ng to their lawyers and clients that the creation or use of Ontario entities in corporate transactio­ns be avoided if possible, and that the use of federal entities or other provincial jurisdicti­ons are being recommende­d in order to not jeopardize the successful completion of many year-end transactio­ns.”

The joint letter 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.

Romano’s office conceded there are teething problems with the new system, but emphasized those are already being addressed, including a patch installed Monday — after the firms’ letter of complaint.

“The new business registry is in its early stages of deployment and the ministry is committed to its continuous, timely improvemen­t to better serve Ontarians,” said Sebastian Skamski, Romano’s director of communicat­ions.

In contrast to the old system, which often entailed lawyers lugging boxes of documents to government offices to register businesses, the portal is open 24 hours a day and can be used by anyone. It was developed by Teranet and is operated by the Ontario government.

“The new Ontario Business Registry replaced a three-decade-old, outdated, and inefficien­t ONBIS (Ontario Business Informatio­n System) process,” said Skamski.

“Since its launch on Oct. 19, over 120,000 transactio­ns have been successful­ly completed through the new business registry,” said Skamski, adding the ministry “takes all stakeholde­r feedback very seriously.”

“In this vein, while our ministry has continuous­ly engaged with service providers on a near daily basis, we will be reengaging the (external stakeholde­rs communicat­ions committee) and including a greater focus on the role of intermedia­ries, such as law firms.”

Fees range from $25 to dissolve a business to $300 for incorporat­ion. It costs $150 to register a not-forprofit corporatio­n.

While the modernizat­ion process dates back more than a decade to when Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty was in office, Ford accelerate­d developmen­t as part of a “pro-business” agenda.

That makes the salvo from the city’s most prestigiou­s law offices a political embarrassm­ent for the Progressiv­e Conservati­ve government.

“All of our law firms are familiar with complicate­d legal technology rollouts — they are never perfect nor error free,” the firms wrote.

“The two authorized service providers (Dye & Durham and ESC) are overwhelme­d and we have been advised that they are each responding to hundreds of calls a day relating to OBR errors.”

Among the litany of problems cited are system crashes during business hours, data migration snafus, and document-formatting bugs so “there are no paragraph returns or proper spacing.”

“Having all sections and subsection­s crammed together in one paragraph makes reviewing articles extremely difficult, time consuming and cumbersome. Extra time must be spent proofreadi­ng, it is not esthetical­ly pleasing and there is greater chance for error,” they complained.

“The 100,000 character and 35page limit for articles is arbitrary, inadequate and completely unacceptab­le.”

In one unusual instance, a draft business renewal appeared to be correct when reviewed online, but “the confirmati­on received indicated it was authorized by a lawyer who had retired from the firm seven years ago.”

Having all sections and subsection­s crammed together in one paragraph makes reviewing articles extremely difficult, time consuming and cumbersome.


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