Improved governance and accountability are needed at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, concludes an independent report commissioned by Quebec’s minister of culture and communications in the wake of the abrupt dismissal of director Nathalie Bondil in July.
A heavily redacted version of the 79-page report was deposited Thursday in the National Assembly.
Michel de la Chenelière, president of the museum’s board of trustees, said Bondil’s contract was terminated because she had fostered a toxic workplace climate and refused to address or even acknowledge the problem. Bondil said she was fired because she did not agree with de la Chenelière’s choice for a new director of the curatorial division — and said so.
The duelling narratives have been played out since in extensive media coverage . The museum, “which had enjoyed an international reputation, is now in a grave situation,” writes the report’s author, Université du Québec à Montréal professor Daniel Beaupré.
The museum union approached the board of trustees at the end of November 2019 with complaints about the workplace climate. In response, the board commissioned a report by an independent human-resource management firm. The report, delivered in late February this year, diagnosed “a significant problem,” Beaupré writes in a recap of recent events.
Although the workplace climate needed addressing long before the report was tabled, “there were only five months, of which four were in the context of the pandemic, to implement its recommendations” between the tabling of the report and Bondil’s dismissal.
“That’s a relatively short time frame to improve internal processes, even if the employer has the responsibility of maintaining a healthy workplace environment,” he writes.
The current situation is a result of “inconsistencies, misunderstandings and inaccuracies” in elements of the museum’s law and regulations, Beaupré writes.
A clear division of roles and responsibilities between the board of trustees and senior management is an essential condition for healthy governance , the report states; governance is “the cornerstone” of his analysis, Beaupré writes.
The board has the role of supervision and surveillance of the organization; the management team plays an operational role — running things. The roles are complementary — but distinct, he writes. The board should not be involved with the organization’s internal affairs.
The existence of an ethics committee on the board would have corrected much of what has been shown to be problematic or ambiguous, the report states.
With a staff of about 400, the museum needs more professionals in human-resource management, it says, and should hire a specialist in workplace relations experienced in the museum milieu.
Although the museum’s collective agreement provides for a committee on workplace relations and a grievance procedure, Beaupré said these provisions were not used enough in recent years.
The report identifies several problems with the museum’s internal structure, although all are redacted. Beaupré recommends redefining the role of the museum director, although how is also redacted.
Nine of the 21 members of the board of trustees are named by Quebec; 12 are elected. Those appointed by the government occupy four of the 10 spots on the board’s executive committee. Beaupré asks in his report: What is the role of the administrators named by the government on the executive committee? How are they selected? What are their competencies? Are they there to give the impression that the government has a say in governance?
He raises the possibility of a smaller board; government-run museums have boards with 11 to 15 members, he writes. With a smaller board, an executive committee might not be needed, since the board could respond “in a more agile fashion to the museum’s needs.”
Culture Minister Nathalie Roy said Thursday that she intends to follow the report’s recommendations. The MMFA is not a government-run museum, but Quebec supports it to the tune of more than $15 million a year — half the museum’s revenue — and, considering this, “we have the responsibility as a government to make sure that its governance framework is based on the rigorous practices of our government-run museums, while taking into account its specificity,” she said.
Roy said she looks forward to collaborating with the new board of trustees . The museum will hold its annual general meeting virtually on Sept. 29.
De la Chenelière announced on Sept. 18 that he would not seek another term as board president — he is being replaced by Pierre Bourgie — but would be a candidate for trustee. His announcement came shortly before Bondil filed a request in Superior Court to begin proceedings against him and the board members for defamation and destroying her reputation.
Bourgie responded to the Beaupré report Thursday by saying that “cordial conversations have already taken place with the minister’s office as a prelude to discussions that will make it possible to find a satisfactory way forward for all parties.”