It is the departure of Nathalie Bondil – Director General and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) – that the institution’s board of directors wishes, shaken by an internal crisis with multiple ramifications.
Documents obtained this weekend by The duty thus show that there are many stress points between Mme Bondil and the Board of Directors (CA), both regarding the work environment and the process for appointing Mary-Dailey Desmarais as Director of Conservation. She is a member of a family which exerts a strong influence at the MMFA.
Nathalie Bondil received Friday from the board of directors a proposal for a regulation which aims to “promote a smooth, orderly and respectful transition of functions”, according to information reported by The Press Sunday. Nathalie Bondil herself confirmed having received this offer, which she considers “totally unacceptable”.
The council essentially proposes to him to remain in office until the end of his mandate, on June 29, 2021, but in a limited role. She would keep “her title and her full salary” and continue to participate “in official announcements”. It could also organize two last exhibitions… but these should be approved by the chairman of the board of directors, Michel de la Chenelière.
It is thus understood from this plan that Mme Bondil, patron saint of the MMFA since 2007, would de facto placed on the key, or minimally under surveillance.
Mr. de la Chenelière declined to comment on Sunday. He did not deny any information. Nathalie Bondil had promised to give her version of the facts, but ultimately abstained.
The duty reported Thursday and Friday that Nathalie Bondil’s position was threatened and that an internal crisis was shaking the MMFA. Michel de la Chenelière has since refused to confirm the status of Mme Bondil within the MMFA.
Friday, the Minister of Culture, Nathalie Roy, said she was “stunned” to learn that we wanted to indicate the exit to Mme Bondil. “The MMFA,” she said, “is” Nathalie Bondil! »Sunday, Mme Roy reiterated that he was “dismayed to learn that there are doubts about the qualities” of Mme Bondil. But there is nothing concrete it can do. His cabinet clarified that “although the government appoints 9 of the 21 members of its board of directors, it has no say in the choice of the director of the MMFA.” In 2019, Quebec granted almost $ 16 million in grants to the MMFA.
The affair also worries certain patrons. Sunday, The Press gave the floor to three of them (including the couple formed of André Desmarais and France Chrétien-Desmarais), who went to the defense of Nathalie Bondil.
Two factors, however, explain the crisis and overlap with the reflections of the board of directors.
The first concerns the work climate, which several ex-employees interviewed by The duty described as “toxic”. The union of employees of the MMFA also confirmed by email that it “challenged” the board of directors to inform it of “an inappropriate work climate”, according to the president, Marie-Claude Saia.
“Following our intervention, the CA acted, in particular by carrying out an organizational diagnosis”, mentions Mme Saïa speaking of an independent audit which was carried out to detail the situation. Mme Saia also confirmed that grievances and a complaint were filed, without giving details “so as not to contaminate the process”.
The duty obtained the summary of a meeting held behind closed doors by the MMFA’s human resources committee on June 17. The minutes confirm the receipt of a union grievance in the preceding days.
… And contested appointment
The other factor – the process that led to the recent appointment of Mary-Dailey Desmarais as Director of Conservation – is indirectly related to the issue of the work environment.
Indeed, the post of Mme Desmarais was created in the wake of the audit conducted on the working climate. Without knowing the conclusions of the audit in question, we know that the board of directors made the decision to lighten Nathalie Bondil’s tasks after having read the document.
The duty revealed Thursday that Nathalie Bondil wanted the nomination of another candidate. According to the “skills grid” written by Mme Bondil, M. de la Chenelière and a third person, Mary-Dailey Desmarais was fourth among the four finalists. The steering committee suggested hiring the candidate who arrived first, and creating an assistant position for Mme Desmarais, whose experience was deemed too short.
The human resources committee, however, recommended the appointment of Mary-Dailey Desmarais, and the board of directors approved it “unanimously”, according to Mr. de la Chenelière.
Several sources contacted in the past few days have praised the qualities of Mme Desmarais, doctor of art history from Yale University. Others raise eyebrows, however, wondering if his appointment is not also due to the ties that unite the Desmarais family and the MMFA.
Mme Desmarais is the wife of Paul Desmarais III, grandson of Paul G. Desmarais. When the latter’s wife, Jacqueline Desmarais, died, the MMFA highlighted her great philanthropic commitment – and that of the entire Desmarais family. “Beside her husband […] and her family, she supported the implementation of the Jean-Noël Desmarais pavilion, built in 1991 thanks to a significant donation from the couple of philanthropists and Power Corporation, “recalled a press release from the MMFA published in 2018.
The MMFA’s board of directors also includes ex-senator Serge Joyal, who is the manager of the art collection for Power Corporation. Mr. Joyal withdrew from the selection process for the director of conservation as soon as Mary-Dailey Desmarais was selected among the finalists, shows the minutes of the meeting of the human resources committee on June 17.
The direction put aside?
Certainly, the way in which the appointment of Mary-Dailey Desmarais was made did not please Nathalie Bondil. She wrote in mid-June to Mr. Joyal and the secretary of the board of directors to denounce the way the process was going. The duty obtained a copy of this correspondence.
After noting Mr. Joyal’s desire to get away from the discussions, Mme Bondil writes that “in the formation of the first jury [chargé de mener les entrevues avec les quatre candidats] other types of conflict, with people who are judges and parties – one of which has already occurred. ” She also denounced “the refusal to work in collegiality with the management committee, despite [ses] requests ”.
Nathalie Bondil argued that it was the first time that the management committee “did not participate in interviews, when its members had obvious expertise in the human context, teams, challenges, needs, realities and the profession” . She further formally requested that the management committee be included in the selection process, in the name of “good governance”.
Mme Bondil emphasized his fear that “everything [soit] played in advance, ”and admitted to being“ taken aback ”at the pace the process was taking.
Two days later, the human resources committee discussed “the rigor of this process [le processus de sélection] and its compliance with the Rules of the Administration of the MMFA ”, indicates the minutes. But the document recalled at the same time that the “process follows directly from the Diagnosis on the working climate and the grievance filed by the union” …