In October 2021, the new-and-improved Ontario Business Registry came online. It replaced a 30-year-old system that was a major headache for businesses and nonprofit institutions to use. Its proponents touted it as a significant step forward in reducing government red tape and promoting economic growth across the province of Ontario.
But how much of this new system improves on the old one? How can a corporation use it to the fullest? Let this comprehensive guide answer these questions and more.
ONBIS and ONCA
The Ontario Business Registry results from two key developments: the need for upgrades to its predecessor, the Ontario Business Information System (ONBIS), and the Ontario Not-For-Profit Corporations Act (ONCA) signed into law in 2010.
ONBIS was the provincial government’s first computerized business registry, implemented in 1992 to replace microfilm storage. Like its successor, the system inspired significant changes in how the government handled such databases. Despite updates over years of its service, ONBIS slowly began showing its age.
The existing Ontario Corporations Act (OCA) also has its share of limitations. While its terms work for businesses, the law doesn’t fit the needs of charities and other not-for-profit institutions. ONCA became a game-changer in the local business scene, excluding these organizations from OCA’s restrictions that don’t apply to them.
However, legislators chose to implement ONCA alongside the Ontario Business Registry to benefit from the former’s efficient service. That’s why both came into effect simultaneously, another major step in how the province manages its business community.
All corporations doing business in Ontario can use the Ontario Business Registry—namely, those who file under the following provincial laws:
- Business Corporations Act
- Business Names Act
- Ontario Corporations Act
- Ontario Not-For-Profit Corporations Act
- Corporations Information Act
- Extra-Provincial Corporations Act
- Partnerships Act
- Limited Partnerships Act
There’s no need for an already-registered corporation to re-register with the Registry, as it will create a profile for one automatically upon launch. However, all walk-in transactions would be closed, with the Registry taking over all functions. With the COVID-19 virus still a threat, moving activities online while limiting physical contact is advantageous.
From weeks to an instant
The Registry brings numerous advantages over the antiquated ONBIS, perhaps the most apparent being the speed it processes transactions. According to a government press release, the Registry will reduce the time required to process filings—up to six weeks via mail or fax—to seconds or minutes online.
Additionally, unlike walk-in transactions, the Registry won’t be constrained by business hours. Whether for filing or searching for records, businesses can use it 24/7 due in no small part to its increased efficiency and integration.
For instance, the Registry is linked to various government agencies to help identify businesses via their corporation number; in this case, it’s the Ontario Corporation Number (OCN). Before, corporations had to file their returns separately with the corresponding agencies. The Registry enables them to perform such functions and more in one place.
The Registry can accommodate over 90 transactions. Aside from those mentioned previously, these transactions also include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Filing of Articles of Amendment and Dissolution
- Amending and canceling Master Business Licenses
- Incorporation of institutions covered under ONCA
- Incorporation of limited partnerships
- Searching for corporation records
Company key system
The Registry also introduces a more secure way of identifying businesses and changing records. Each registered corporation, for-profit or otherwise, will have its unique six-digit combination known as a company key.
For the record, a company key isn’t the same as an OCN. The key is a corporation’s passcode for accessing its entry in the Registry to be shared with authorized personnel, typically lawyers and accountants. The company key is also essential for creating two business accounts: one with the ONe-key ID system and another with ServiceOntario—both linked to the Registry.
A corporation that wishes to request its unique company key can visit this link, where they’ll be asked for its registered business name or OCN. Once the process is complete, the Registry will physically mail the company key to the corporation’s headquarters. It may take at least a week for the key to arrive.
Alternatively, corporations that delegate Registry tasks to a third-party service usually don’t need a company key. These providers act as intermediaries that take care of managing a corporation’s information on the Registry, allowing the corporation itself to focus on its core activities. Their experience also translates to more efficient management of such details.
Within 30 days of launch, the Registry recorded and processed as many as 120,000 transactions. Like any major technological rollout, the Registry’s big debut was marred with various glitches that officials hope will diminish in several months.
Regardless, this milestone sends a clear message on how Ontario wants to treat the thousands of corporations doing business in the province. For small businesses, filing and transacting through the Registry benefits their limited capital. Online registration is estimated to be CAD$20 less than by mail or in person.
Its ease of accessing records and editing their details is no reason for corporations to delay or refuse to update their information. Once they obtain their company key and create their entries, corporations should do everything to disclose nothing short of accurate details. Unregistered businesses or those doing business under pretenses can be fined up to CAD$2,000.
Among these details include the type of business structure a corporation has. The various laws listed above enable entities to use the Registry with one of the following structures:
- Sole proprietorship:Typical among new businesses, a sole proprietorship puts the owner and the business as one entity, simplifying tax filing.
- Partnership:This structure involves two or more proprietors jointly managing the business, generally as indicated by terms under their contract.
- Corporation: While the most complex among the three, incorporation provides the most protection against loss and liability.
As soon as it comes out of its somewhat rocky start, the Ontario Business Registry will become an indispensable tool for corporations of various kinds. Its various improvements over the old system will no doubt contribute to the overall ease of doing business in Ontario moving forward. Given the current rate of technological progress, the Registry may outlast its predecessor.