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Samir Manji, founder and chief executive officer of Sandpiper Group, is seen in Vancouver, on Dec. 19, 2018.

DARRYL DYCK/Globe and Mail

The activist investor seeking to oust most of the board at Artis Real Estate Investment Trust says it has secured the support of the commercial landlord’s biggest shareholder.

Sandpiper Group provided a letter on Monday from the estate of Tim Hortons co-founder Ron Joyce, saying it will back the bid for change at Winnipeg-based Artis. Jetport Inc., the company controlled by the estate, has 13.3 per cent of Artis’s trust units.

Sandpiper, which agitates for change at Canadian real estate and long-term care companies, wants to replace five of Artis’s seven trustees, including chief executive Armin Martens, with its own nominees. It also wants Artis’s proposed spinoff of Western Canadian retail real estate assets into a new trust scrapped in favour of asset sales.

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Artis has rejected Sandpiper’s advance, saying it plans to stay the course with its own strategies for boosting the value of its units. That includes proceeding with the spin off. It currently has nearly 220 commercial properties in Canada and the United States.

Jetport CEO Steven Joyce said in the letter that the company plans to vote in favour of Sandpiper’s board nominees, and that it supports the private-equity firm’s plans to refocus Artis by reducing board fees and launching a strategic review of the assets. Mr. Joyce also said Jetport will oppose Artis’s retail-property spinoff.

“We have confidence that the Sandpiper nominees, together with the two existing nominees whom we support, are the appropriate individuals who possess the combination of experience and expertise that is required in order to expeditiously implement the Sandpiper plan,” he wrote, adding he was disappointed that the special unit holder’s vote is four mounts away.

An official with Jetport was not immediately available for comment.

Artis has scheduled the vote for Feb. 23, 2021. Artis trust units had fallen by more than a third in 12 months, and they had a major skid after the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the units are up more than 9 per cent since Sandpiper announced its proxy fight on Oct. 1. They closed at $8.68 on Friday. They rose 9 cents to close at $8.77 on Monday.

Artis stressed that unitholders risk basing their decisions on “incomplete, one-sided information from Sandpiper,” and that there is no need to take any action prior to the meeting.

The company will soon provide details of its third-quarter results, spokesman Ian Robertson said. “Artis is also reviewing the statements Sandpiper has made and looks forward to clarifying and correcting the numerous errors, misstatements, and mischaracterizations contained therein for its unitholders in due course,” he said.

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Partly at issue is Sandpiper’s comments questioning the independence of Marwest Management Canada Ltd., a company with ties to Mr. Martens’s family, pointing out that Artis has said in its annual information form that Marwest performs work for it, but also that transactions are not disclosed to unitholders.

Artis has described Sandpiper’s allegations as “mistruths” and “inaccurate” and has pledged to provide information as to why.

Sandpiper CEO Samir Manji said in a statement he expects to garner support from other unit holders as well.

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