In 2017 the Ontario government enacted the Cutting Unnecessary Red Tape Act with the objective of alleviating unnecessary regulatory burdens for businesses. The act provided for a series of proposed amendments to Ontario's franchise disclosure legislation and ultimately came into force on 1 September 2020. The amendments include measures to clarify the province's franchise laws and temper or delay franchisors' disclosure obligations towards prospective franchisees in certain circumstances.
Ontario's Arthur Wishart Act (Franchise Disclosure) requires franchisors to provide adequate pre-contractual disclosure to potential franchisees, failing which a franchisee may be entitled to rescind its franchise agreement. When properly invoked, rescission by a franchisee imposes extensive obligations on the franchisor. The Ontario Court of Appeal recently dealt with the issue of whether a notice of rescission of a franchise agreement is valid if it is contained within a pleading.
Common law jurisdictions recognise that certain circumstances could arise that would lead contracting parties to have some type of pre-contractual good-faith obligation, including where they have a 'special relationship' – typically characterised by an imbalance of information. A franchise arrangement has been characterised as an example of such a special relationship that could fall within the narrow set of particular requirements for good faith in the pre-contractual context.
It is well known that franchisors have been facing increasing pressure to conduct themselves in accordance with the principles of good faith. A recent Ontario Superior Court case has led to questions with respect to a franchisor's duty to protect its franchisee's right to operate in circumstances where the franchisor is the gatekeeper of rights with respect to a third party. In its decision, the court navigated the duty of good faith owed in respect of the renewal of a head lease between a franchisor and a landlord.
While some franchised businesses have transitioned to working remotely and have ramped up their e-commerce business models in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of traditional franchised businesses are in a precarious state due to a drastic reduction in revenues and uncertain economic conditions for the foreseeable future. This article sets our practical tips and considerations for franchisors and franchisees with respect to navigating COVID-19.