« The European Commission, in response to the governance failures that came to light in the credit crisis, is considering fundamental changes to European governance systems. As a step towards that goal, the EU has put forward a series of questions that examine essential aspects of governance, that is, what it involves, who it applies to and how it can be enforced. Whether these are the only or best questions that can be asked in this context is not the issue in this article, but rather, we see addressing them as an opportunity to bring to the reader the latest in governance research, as well as lessons from experience with the governance regimes in other regions, notably Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.
This article is authored by a working group of academics and practitioners, with expertise in governance and various sub-governance domains. Members of the group have advised and worked with boards, regulators and companies that have become recognized for their leading governance practices. It is these experiences and the literature upon which we also draw.
Twenty-three of the 25 questions have been addressed below. Each question appears, followed by our group’s response. Two of the questions (questions 13 and 16) were not addressed owing to the time constraints of the submission (which was due on 22 July 2011) and the group felt that it did not possess all of the requisite expertise.
At the outset, the European Commission should be congratulated for establishing a high-level governance forum for discussions and debates and for the exchange of experiences. The need for a clear road map through the shifting and confusing terrain of corporate governance is very compelling. In a global marketplace, the solutions and recommendations championed in Europe will have a profound effect on governance standards in Canada and elsewhere.
In this article, the authors address in detail the need for improved governance in the areas articulated by the EU. First we consider the need for similar or different standards for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and unlisted companies. Then we focus on board recruitment, diversity and ways to improve the effectiveness of individual directors and boards. The critical area of governance over remuneration is then subject to our analysis, and we then assess ways to improve the board’s role in the governance of risk, of asset managers and of proxy advisors. Ensuring adequate shareholder engagement is next addressed, as well as minority shareholder interests. Lastly, we make recommendations for improvements in the implementation and monitoring of governance codes ».
Background: Canadian corporate governance practices
« We believe that Canada is a leader in corporate governance practices and, given that our group members are primarily Canadian, we draw on many of the initiatives here to frame our response to the EU deliberations. We also draw on global developments, including those in the United Kingdom and United States.
Canada has adopted the Anglo-American, unitary model of corporate governance. Our companies, however, operate within different ownership structures, legal and linguistic dualities, geographic diversity, and a decentralized regulatory regime of 13 provinces and territories. We have companies that are state-owned, family, significant shareholder, small and medium-sized listed, as well as widely held, not dissimilar to the diverse plurality and tapestry within the European Union.
Canada has had formal corporate governance guidelines in place since 1994 (Dey et al, ‘Where were the Directors?’) within a flexible ‘comply or explain’ approach. There has been time to digest and assess a continuously evolving corporate governance landscape, as companies and boards adopt guidelines and practices to suit the foregoing diverse circumstances, in a flexible manner.
The Canadian corporate governance guidelines, most recently revised in 2005 (Canadian Securities Administrators, 2005), have been adopted and adapted by companies within the listed sector, and through osmosis and other best practices, within private, governmental and not-for-profit sectors as well. It is upon this experience that we also draw for our responses ».