Ontario's new online business registry is so flawed, it is costing time and money, 16 major law firms have told the Ford government.
Just over a month ago, Government and Consumer Services Minister Ross Romano launched the registry, promising it would make it easier and more affordable for millions of businesses and not-for-profit corporations to get access to government services.
But in a letter to Romano, the law firms warned that the Ontario Business Registry (ORB) is negatively affecting them, their clients and service providers and is "having a chilling effect on doing business in Ontario in general."
"The system shutdowns, technical glitches and substantive problems associated with the new ORB are causing significant disruption, delaying transactions and adding significant costs for businesses," the lawyers said.
The firms, which said they represent hundreds of thousands of entities trying to carry on business in Ontario, stated: "Given our collective OBR experiences to date, we have no confidence or assurances that year-end filings — the busiest time of the year for our law firms — can be completed without putting entire transactions at risk."
At its launch, the government of Premier Doug Ford said the new Ontario Business Registry would replace an out-dated and inefficient process, providing business owners and not-for-profit operators with direct access to government services, available online 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The government also said registrations or filings that were previously submitted by mail or fax, taking four to six weeks to complete, can now go instantly through the online registry; while annual returns can now be completed online, which means corporations can keep all their important filings in one place.
Additionally, the government said the new Ontario Business Registry is integrated with the Canada Revenue Agency, enabling the identification of a business or not-for-profit corporation by a single business number, further streamlining administrative processes.
But based on the letter from the law firms, the promised reduction in "unnecessary burdens" has not happened.
"Many of the law firms … are now recommending to their lawyers and clients that the creation or use of Ontario entities in corporate transactions be avoided if possible, and that the use of federal entities or other provincial jurisdictions are being recommended in order to not jeopardize the successful completion of many year-end-transactions," the letter continues.
Problems 'pretty shocking,' NDP leader says
Speaking with reporters at Queen's Park on Thursday, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said: "It's pretty shocking" and "troubling that small businesses are having to go through all kinds of hoops just to file paperwork."
Horwath said "the broken system that this government has launched" will likely lead to consequences that are going to be problematic for the businesses.
"I don't know why they can't get these things right. They couldn't get license plates right, they couldn't get the portal right ... for kids, they couldn't get the [anti-carbon tax] stickers right," Horwath said.
"Things like this system … are basic functions of government and yet Doug Ford and his gang can't seem to get this stuff right."
'The proof is always in the pudding'
During question period at Queen's Park on Thursday, Romano defended the new online business registry, saying it is protecting small businesses from long wait times and lawyers' fees.
He said under the old system, a not-for-profit charity or a small business would have to fill out boxes of paperwork, log them into service counters, and wait in line Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
It was either that option, or hiring a lawyer at considerable cost, he told the legislature. "Under our new system ... it is 24/7, 365 days a year," Romano said.
"You can do a transaction now in 16 seconds that used to take 16 weeks … and you don't have to hire a high-priced lawyer anymore."
According to Romano, complicated technology rollouts are never perfect or error free and all law firms are familiar with this.
"The proof is always in the pudding," he said, adding that in the first 30 days, 120,000 transactions were processed using the online system.