OpenCorporations: Untangling the Corporate Web

Earlier this month came the announcement of a proposed tunnel under Grafton Street to connect the Confederation Court Mall with the Confederation Centre of the Arts.

The news story about the proposal mentioned “Mall owner Homberg [sic] International,” and, knowing that the same developer was associated with the Fitzroy Street skyscraper that’s going up next door to my office, I wanted to know more about this “Homburg International” company: who controlled it, what else do they own, and so on.

My first stop was a search for “Homburg” in the PEI Corporate Register. The only results there, however, were registrations for five “extra-provincial companies,” none of which was called “Homburg International.”

My suspicion was that Homburg International was likely a shareholder in an Island company that went by another name. My problem was that the Corporate Register doesn’t allow search by shareholder.

My solution to this quandary led me to create a new public-service website that I’m calling OpenCorporations and I’m opening the doors there this morning.

OpenCorporations scrapes the public data from the Corporate Register and makes it searchable in novel ways: in addition to being able to search for corporations by name you can now search for shareholders, directors and officers by name or address, by trade name, and by “nature of business.”

There’s no new information in OpenCorporations — anything you find there you could, eventually, find in the Corporate Register, albeit after a lot of laborious searching — it’s just a wrapper around corporations data that makes searching easier, and establishing connections between corporations possible.

It also allowed me to answer my Homburg question: an OpenCorporations search for “Homburg” showed me three shareholders. This led me to figure out that a Nova Scotia company called Homburg LP Management Incorporated is a shareholder in a PEI company Hardegane Investments that, in turn, is the sole shareholder in Dyne Holdings. Dyne Holding owns the Confederation Court Mall.

Why is this important? The synopsis to the film The Corporation puts it this way:

In the mid-1800s the corporation emerged as a legal “person.” Imbued with a “personality” of pure self-interest, the next 100 years saw the corporation’s rise to dominance. The corporation created unprecedented wealth but at what cost? The remorseless rationale of “externalities” (as Milton Friedman explains, the unintended consequences of a transaction between two parties on a third) is responsible for countless cases of illness, death, poverty, pollution, exploitation and lies.

While I’m not suggesting that Island corporations are necessarily responsible for the scale of negative consequence that can be found elsewhere, I think it’s incumbent on we citizens to have a better understanding of the corporations in our community, for it’s these corporations that control the places we shop, live, work, the buildings that are built in our neighbourhoods, essentially all aspects of our daily lives.

Key to this understanding is being able to understand the ownership structure of corporations, for it’s only by having a complete picture of the web of corporate inter-ownership that we can begin to truly understand how to counter their “personality of pure self-interest.”

I don’t think corporations are bad, at least not all of them — I control one myself after all — but as it’s we the people, through our government, that give license for corporations to exist in the first place, we all have an obligation to be vigilant about their activities and their motivations.

All of which is what’s led me to spend time cobbling together OpenCorporations and releasing it as a free public resource. Use it wisely.

Disclaimer: The Island being the Island, I was also the programmer that created the online version of the official Corporate Register. I have not had a relationship with the project, nor access to the code or data, for several years, however, and OpenCorporations scrapes data from the public web pages just like anyone else would. The OpenCorporations FAQ for background and to grab the raw data and scraping code for yourself.

Comments

Billy's picture
Billy on November 27, 2008 - 18:02

What a great side project Peter! Thanks for releasing this. I imagine this will be very helpful.

Open information is the way to go.

Shawn's picture
Shawn on November 27, 2008 - 19:01

One of the best postings I have seen on your blog, Peter. Thank you. Now we need to figure out a way to publicise this and keep it going.

Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on November 27, 2008 - 21:43

Very nice Peter…reminds me of Simon’s CIA from back in the day.

Anne's picture
Anne on November 27, 2008 - 22:32

Hi just called in to say, read your article on Colletta, Castlebianco…We have just had an amazing 10 days out there. The weather was very good to us. Busy writing and posting photos are my blog.

Leo's picture
Leo on November 28, 2008 - 03:43

Thanks for making this information more available publicly and maybe we can now match immigrant investor grants to actual names of shareholders in future and make all corporations more transparent -Great work

Ton Zijlstra's picture
Ton Zijlstra on November 28, 2008 - 08:39

Good stuff Peter, and timely for me too. Having a discussion this afternoon at the Dutch Ministry for the Interior, on what things we can do to make better use of public data. So I will probably mention this example.

oliver's picture
oliver on November 28, 2008 - 15:42

Cool.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on November 28, 2008 - 16:16

Note that the Province of PEI has taken its own Corporations Search offline, so none of the links to the “PEI Corporations Registry Official Record” will work properly until such time as it returns.

oliver's picture
oliver on November 29, 2008 - 04:27

Were the links operative when you put your site online? If so, how long until they became inoperative? Any interesting IP addresses accessing your site in their last minutes or hours of operability? Is that something we could check for ourselves somehow, e.g. if you have a sitemeter?

oliver's picture
oliver on November 29, 2008 - 04:53

On the site FAQ you say the data is unofficial but the way you say you get it makes it sound authoritative, except perhaps with respect to the issue of timeliness and/or official corrections that might be published after you get your data. I’d suggest addressing those concerns in the FAQ. Also I’d suggest resisting the convention of calling something a FAQ when clearly (your site being brand new) it’s a bunch of pretend questions you’ve chosen to pose yourself with your readers in mind. “FAQ” carries august implications of transparency and accountability to end users by popular vote, which I’d like to see respected. Granted, I’m linguo-politically uptight.

DerekMac's picture
DerekMac on November 29, 2008 - 21:29

My favorite part of the site is under the title of “Statistics”. This is where you can see what people are searching for. Companies owned by Brooke MacMillan from the PNP debacle, and by Myrtle Jenkins-Smith and Mark Carr-Pollitt, who own a conference and events management firm which may have had something to do with a rock concert, are especially popular at the moment, as are those owned by our Premier and his wife and relatives.
Also very popular are those who own a lot of PEI companies, including the Murphy clan
Hint: those who are looking for “Danny” Murphy, should also look for “Daniel”.

John's picture
John on December 2, 2008 - 19:38

this is a pretty sweet tool.

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