Major investors with $1.7 trillion AUM demand action from Canada’s largest companies on shareholder rights

April 18, 2024

Major investors with $1.7 trillion AUM demand action from Canada’s largest companies on shareholder rights  

(Burnaby, British Columbia) An international coalition of institutional investors and service providers, representing over $1.7 trillion CAD in assets under management and advisory, have signed on to an investor statement calling on Canada’s largest companies to act immediately to safeguard shareholder rights at virtual shareholder meetings.

The group, which includes California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), Desjardins Global Asset Management, the Church of England Pension Board and Connor, Clark and Lunn Investment Management, are asking S&P/TSX 60 companies to publicly disclose how they will ensure shareholders’ statutory and common law rights are being upheld. The B.C. General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) led the initiative. 

The rapid increase in virtual-only meetings, from zero S&P/TSX 60 issuers in 2019 to 57% in 2023, underscores a fundamental shift in how companies and investors are able to interact. The investor letter proposes modest and actionable guidelines to align virtual meetings with the participative standard of in-person events. These include real-time mechanisms for shareholder participation, transparent Q&A sessions, and the elimination of cumbersome registration processes that disenfranchise beneficial shareholders. 

Paul Finch, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer of the BCGEU, articulated the coalition’s stance, stating: 

"The essence of shareholder democracy lies in the robust exchange of perspectives and the accountable exercise of shareholder rights. Some issuers are using virtual meetings to push practices that erode these fundamental principles. Technology can absolutely enhance shareholder democracy. As stewards of significant assets, it is our collective duty to ensure that technology serves as an enhancer, not a barrier, to shareholder democracy."

Oumayma Ouzane, Senior Advisor of Responsible Investment at Desjardins says: 

“Voting activities and shareholder engagement are both crucial to DGAM's responsible investment approach. With the rise of virtual meetings, we must safeguard shareholders' acquired rights to active participation in AGMs. Transparency and inclusivity in these virtual settings are essential if we are not to lose the value associated with these annual meetings.”

Kevin Thomas, CEO of Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE) says:  

“Like any shiny new technology, we can’t let the potential of online meetings obscure the original purpose of shareholder meetings. Canadian law is very clear: these meetings are an opportunity for shareholders not only to communicate with the company, but also with each other. Whatever technology we use should facilitate that, not undermine it.”

In 2024, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) released updated guidance on virtual shareholder meetings advocating for shareholder meetings to be held in both online and in-person formats, rather than in-person only. The Canadian Coalition for Good Governance (CCGG) also published a Virtual Shareholder Meeting Policy recommending strongly against virtual-only meetings as they may be used to limit shareholder rights.

Proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis has further provided considerations and voting recommendations related to virtual meeting conduct and may recommend voting against the chair of the governance committee if the company holds a virtual-only meeting and does not provide adequate disclosure regarding shareholder participation rights and opportunities.

Shareholder proposals calling for in-person meetings have received majority votes at Metro (54%), CIBC (53%) and Air Canada (82%), and Bank of Montreal (50.7%), with votes to come at Bombardier (April 25), Cascades (May 11), Loblaw (May 2), Power Corp. (May 9), Quebecor (May 9), and TransatAT (April 23). 

The investor signatories include major pension funds, asset managers, and socially responsible investment firms who are steadfast in their commitment to fostering a corporate environment where shareholder engagement continues to serve as the cornerstone of corporate governance.



For more information or to arrange media interviews with signatories, contact Emma Pullman, Head of Shareholder Engagement, B.C. General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) [email protected] 

Read the investor statement and list of signatories. Investors can still add their name to the statement by contacting [email protected]

About BCGEU: The B.C. General Employees' Union (BCGEU) represents over 85,000 workers in almost every community and economic sector in British Columbia. As a responsible investor, the union engages public issuers on ESG issues and has succeeded in achieving strong commitments in the realms of human rights, Indigenous rights, workers’ rights, and governance.