Incorporation in Canada

Dec 20, 2023

When you decide to start your own business in Canada, one of the first steps you might consider is incorporation. Incorporation involves creating a legal entity that is separate from its owners. This process is recognized across Canada and comes with a host of benefits for the business owner, including limited liability, which means personal assets are protected from business debts and obligations.

Incorporating your business in Canada isn’t as daunting as it might sound. It begins with understanding the fundamental principles behind this process. Essentially, when you incorporate a business, it becomes its own legal entity. This is significant because it separates the business’s finances and liabilities from those of its owners or shareholders. In other words, if your company ever faces financial troubles or legal actions, your personal assets, like your house or car, are generally safe from being used to settle business debts.

This process also opens doors to new opportunities. For example, an incorporated business often finds it easier to access capital through loans or investors since it can issue shares. Additionally, there might be tax advantages, making this option more appealing for many business owners.


Incorporation Definition

Incorporation is a form of business ownership that creates a distinct legal entity separate from its owners (shareholders) unlike legal business structures such as sole proprietorships and partnerships.

When a corporation is created, each owner is issued shares proportional to the percentage of ownership. A corporation can be private or public. Public corporations (such as IBM, General Electric) trade shares on stock exchanges such as the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE) or the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

Why Incorporate?

Incorporating a business establishes a clear legal boundary between the personal assets of owners and the business itself. Essentially, owners of an incorporated entity are not directly responsible for its debts, responsibilities, or actions. This provision of limited liability is crucial and often the decisive factor for choosing to incorporate, distinguishing it from other business types like sole proprietorships and partnerships where such protection doesn’t typically apply. Generally, a shareholder’s financial obligation is limited to whatever amount is yet to be paid on their owned shares.

Nonetheless, there are instances when company directors might face personal liability despite the corporate veil:

Debts – In the case of a startup seeking financial backing, banks usually demand personal guarantees from business owners before extending credit. Should the business fall into insolvency, personal assets pledged as security, such as homes, cars, and investment portfolios, may be appropriated by lenders.

Negligence – Personal liability may arise if a business activity results in harm due to negligence. For instance, a carpenter who builds an unstable deck that injures a client could be held responsible.

Fraud – Directors can face personal lawsuits for fraudulent activities. They are expected to manage company finances prudently. Misuse of funds, exaggerating company financials in reports, or making false expense claims are fraudulent behaviors that could lead to legal action.

Additionally, personal liability can stem from failing to meet tax obligations, not filing required annual reports, or neglecting to conduct director meetings.

To mitigate risks associated with claims of negligence, many businesses, regardless of incorporation, maintain insurance such as errors and omissions coverage and general liability insurance.

Incorporation also presents benefits for retirement planning, particularly in the seamless transition of a business to the next generation. Unlike with a sole proprietorship, where assets must be individually transferred, a corporation simplifies dividing the business among heirs through the allocation of shares. This process is further elaborated in resources on Family Business Succession Planning.


Where Can You Incorporate?

The fundamental process of incorporation remains consistent across Canada; however, companies have the option to incorporate on a provincial level, which allows them to conduct business in a specific province under their corporate name. Conversely, federal incorporation permits a company to use its corporate name nationwide. The article “Incorporation in Canada – Provincial versus Federal” outlines the pros and cons associated with these two primary methods of incorporation. Yet, it’s important to understand that the decision isn’t purely binary. Opting for federal incorporation necessitates subsequent provincial incorporation as well.


Federal Incorporation in Canada

Opting for federal incorporation involves going through the formalities established by Corporations Canada, the body responsible for enforcing the Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA), with offices located in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto. There’s an option to incorporate your business digitally, or you can obtain the necessary documentation for incorporation through automated fax, the internet, or postal service.

When incorporating at the federal level, you’re required to provide several key documents:

  • The Articles of Incorporation
  • Information regarding the initial registered office address and the initial board of directors
  • A Nuans Name Search Report that confirms the acceptability of your chosen company name (this requirement is waived if you opt for a company with a numbered name).

For information on the various fees associated with incorporation, yearly submissions, changes to corporate structure, and more, refer to the official Corporations Canada website.



Provincial Incorporation in Canada

Opting for provincial incorporation necessitates reaching out to the relevant Provincial Registrar. Every province and territory provides the option of incorporating online through their websites. In addition, there are firms that specialize in facilitating both federal and provincial incorporation services.



CBES is here to assist you; feel free to contact us for expert guidance.


You can find Contracts and Documents for Business Owners in Canada here




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