Ontario's new online business registry is a disaster
"Ontario is open for business" was Premier Doug Ford's victory slogan in 2018. But for those struggling with his government's new online business registry, there's a big gap between sloganeering and building functional infrastructure that supports businesses.
In October 2021, Ford’s government launched Ontario's new online business registry. The system replaced an admittedly outdated one that required corporate filings to be done in person, by mail, fax, or through sometimes costly private electronic service providers.
Digitization was a no-brainer for any government, and especially one ostensibly focused on accommodating Ontario businesses. With the federal corporate registry already offering easy online filing, Ontario looked like a dinosaur by comparison.
But though outdated, the old system worked. Replacing that paper-based registry with a digital one would only constitute an improvement if the new system functioned better.
The new system was seemingly designed around a simple goal: make it easy for anyone to incorporate one new corporation. The problem is that's not the sole function of a corporate registry.
For example, immediately following incorporation, users receive an email instructing them to file an initial return. This is a legally essential but practically irrelevant form telling the government exactly what you just told it about your corporation's address and personnel.
But the ministry's email doesn't tell users how to file an initial return. So the user visits the ministry's webpage on filing initial returns to figure this out. It says plenty. Just not how to file an initial return through one's online account.
(This is how you file it, by the way.)
But that's a new corporation problem. Old corporations get problems too. Namely, they don't have the company key now required to file anything. So, they must submit a request for their new company key. The ministry will email it to the email on file within two days. Or the physical address on file within two weeks.
But what if a user simply doesn’t receive the company key? Or the ministry doesn't have your email, you just moved to a new location, and you're trying to file a notice of change to tell the government your business just moved?
Well, now you can't get your company key and you can't file anything, including the annual returns your accountant used to file with your taxes each year, but are now your responsibility.
To get the company key at this point, you must create an account with and pay one of two select private service providers to file your corrected information with the ministry, so the ministry can send your company key there.
One service provider charges $149 plus tax for this (the other service provider does not appear to list prices and did not respond to an email inquiry regarding pricing).
Some websites say that qualified intermediaries like lawyers don't need company keys to file on clients' behalf, but the ministry does not take that position.
To verify user identity, the service provider will ask for a scan of ID. Is there some reason the provincial government that's responsible for issuing drivers licences and health cards can't verify users' identities and give them their stupid company key without all the hoops and costs?
Yes, clearly because Premier Ford is creating businesses opportunities and finding "efficiencies"! It's the beauty of the free market!
Worst of all, Ontario's new system won't allow users to manage more than one corporation per ONe-Key account. If you have more than one corporation, you'll need to create new accounts with different email addresses for each corporation.
If you're a lawyer filing on behalf of 20 different companies, you have to either create 20 ONe-Key accounts with 20 emails or email the ministry completed forms.
Once the ministry receives a completed form by email, maybe they'll acknowledge it and call asking you to read your credit card number over the phone for the filing fee. Or you'll just never hear from them.
Did they get the form and file it? To find out, you can call the ministry up and speak to a service agent. That service agent can't actually help you with anything, but they can tell someone else and ask that person to call you in the next couple of days. And maybe they will, maybe they won't.
This can get frustrating.
One might think that combining the renowned efficiency of government with the reliability of technology must necessarily result in calamity, but the federal corporate registry proves otherwise.
Its user interface is great and the system works well for both lawyers and laypersons. It proves that there's no reason government can't get this right.
All Ontario had to do was copy and paste the federal system changing the word "Canada" to "Ontario". But heaven forbid Premier Ford actually make life easy for Ontario businesses by following those socialists in Ottawa.
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