Departmental Papers (School of Law)

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

January 1994

Start Page

229

Last Page

258

Abstract

On July 21, 1992, six outside directors on the board of Westar Mining Ltd. resigned abruptly from the company's board of directors. Westar was a troubled mining company operating in British Columbia. In 1991, the company had lost $62.2 million, mainly as the result of a poorly performing export coal mine. While resigning from the board, the directors assured the public that there had been no wrongdoing by the company. Rather, the reason for their departure was related to concern over personal liability for wages and other benefits that might be owed to more than 1900 of the company's employees under provincial employment standards legislation should the company become insolvent. Despite the fact that their departure might not absolve them from liability for other duties and would greatly complicate the company's bid for survival, the size of the personal liabilities they faced - more than $20 million - left the directors little choice.

Predictably, the announcement of the resignations created considerable consternation in the financial community, the magnitude of which was enhanced when, just one week after the Westar resignations, the entire board of PWA Corp. resigned en masse from the boards of each of its subsidiaries, including Canadian Airlines Ltd. As in the case of Westar, the directors attributed their decision to the fear that they "would be forced to pay employee wages, taxes or some other obligation out of their own pockets should the struggling airline run out of money".

These highly publicized defections have been invoked by critics as exemplifying the rather myopic and unthinking addiction that Canadian governments have developed to the elixir of directors' liability. By one legal practitioner's account, in Ontario alone more than 100 different federal and provincial statutes prescribe some type of directors' liability. Some critics have gone further and have viewed the board resignations as a powerful passion play that demonstrates in vivid terms the callous and hostile treatment that Canadian shareholders and business managers can expect to receive at the hands of populist legislatures.

Comments

Reprinted from Canadian Business Law Journal, Volume 24, 1994, pages 229-258.

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Date Posted: 17 July 2008