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Mike Harris stepping down as Magna chairman

Former Ontario premier Mike Harris is stepping down as chairman of auto parts giant Magna International Inc. more than a year after his actions during the controversial buyout of founder Frank Stronach were criticized by shareholders.

Harris is one of three Magna (MG-T) directors who will not stand for re-election at the annual meeting in May, the company said in its annual meeting circular filed with securities regulators Friday.

Harris said he is leaving after that deal, which eliminated Magna's dual-class share structure and after several changes made to the company's corporate governance practices last year and early in 2012.

"With these important benefits to Magna and its shareholders now realized, I will be retiring from the board, along with two of my long-time board colleagues, Donald Resnick and Louis Lataif," Harris said in a letter to shareholders.

"I am particularly pleased to be leaving Magna in the hands of a renewed and highly skilled board and an experienced and effective management team," he wrote.

His retirement comes after Magna revealed in December -- after a lawsuit by institutional shareholders -- that Harris received support from just 38 percent of shareholders when he was re-elected to the board at the 2011 annual meeting.

Messrs. Lataif and Resnick also received just 38 percent of the votes.

The three men served on the special committee of directors that assessed the buyout of Stronach's class B multiple voting shares in 2010.

The Magna founder received a premium of 1,800 percent for the shares in a transaction worth $865 million that was criticized heavily by some shareholders but was ultimately approved by a majority of shareholders and the Ontario Superior Court.

Canadian corporate law does not require directors to gain approval of a majority of shareholders, who can merely withhold their votes, not vote against directors.

As part of the changes in corporate governance announced earlier this year, Magna has changed its rules so that directors are now required to obtain a majority of votes in favour or they must resign.

The new chair of the Magna board will be elected by directors at a meeting after the annual shareholder meeting in May.

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