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Directors group makes push for more women on Canadian boards

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A diverse group of 40 senior corporate directors have publicly declared their support for new guidelines in Ontario to get more women on boards of directors, saying Canada's "laissez faire" approach is not working.

The ad hoc group includes long-time corporate directors Graham Day and Spencer Lanthier, Telus Corp. director Micheline Bouchard, National Bank of Canada director Roseann Reilly Runte, TMX Group Inc. director Gerri Sinclair and former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan, who is a director on the boards of Agrium Inc. and Cameco Corp.

In a written submission to the Ontario Securities Commission, the directors say they support the OSC's proposal to create new "comply or explain" rules requiring companies to disclose their approach to gender diversity and the number of women on their boards and in senior management roles, or to opt out and explain why they have chosen not to comply.

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But the signatories say the OSC should go further, recommending companies should be required to develop "measurable" objectives for improving gender diversity "within a specific time frame," and should have to report annually on their progress toward achieving the objectives.

They also call on the OSC to review the rules after three years to see if they have been successful in compelling companies to add more women to boards.

"The current laissez-faire approach is not working," the group says, arguing there is an ample supply of qualified women and growing evidence that companies with more women on their boards perform better.

"If all of these measures are implemented, they will enhance corporate governance, benefit the economy and improve Canada's competitiveness."

The letter is a rare submission to the OSC from a large group of individual directors. Stella Thompson, a director of First Calgary Financial Credit Union Ltd. who helped organize the group, said the directors decided it was a better use of their time to collaborate on a response than to send in individual letters. She said they hope their submission "will carry weight" because of the deep experience of those who participated.

"We are passionate about the benefits of increasing women on boards and in the senior ranks of Canadian non-venture issuers," she said.

The OSC had posted 23 comment letters on its website as of Friday afternoon. The deadline for comments has been extended to Oct. 4.

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Canada's 7,500-member Institute of Corporate Directors has already lent its support to the thrust of the OSC proposal, but has urged the commission to go further to include a wider definition of diversity in its proposal, beyond just gender diversity.

That view has been echoed by an anonymous group of companies calling themselves The Working Group, which have submitted a comment to the OSC through law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.

The group, which says its members have a combined market capitalization value of over $100-billion, says the OSC's comply or explain proposal is "an effective yet flexible" approach to get more women on boards, and is a "necessary step" to increase diversity. But the group says the rules should allow for consideration of "other types of differences, such as age, ethnicity and national origin."

Some individual companies have also made submissions –including Toronto Hydro-Electric System Ltd., VanCity Investment Management Ltd. and Canadian Oil Sands Ltd. – supporting the thrust of the proposal.

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About the Author
Real Estate Reporter

Janet McFarland is the real estate reporter for The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, with a focus on residential real estate trends. She joined Report on Business in 1995, and has specialized in reporting on corporate governance, executive compensation, pension policy, business law, securities regulation and enforcement of white-collar crime. More

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