Opinion: Royal BC Museum CEO’s engagements raise conflict of interest concerns

May 20 2022, 11:26 pm

When Alicia Dubois, the Royal BC Museum’s (RBCM) new CEO, spoke at the May 13 press conference about the museum’s controversial $789 million redevelopment slated to run to 2030, it was noteworthy and exceptional that she did not mention the words “Nish Synergies Advisory Group.”

Since being announced as CEO on February 9, Dubois has maintained a surprisingly full schedule of public speaking engagements and appearances that include promoting her private consulting business.

In addition, her online speaker bios for these events often do not mention her permanent, full-time CEO position with the Victoria museum.

The unusual, repeated omission of this essential information raises concerns about conflict of interest and about Dubois’ level of commitment to her new job.

Dubois abruptly left her previous job as CEO of the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (AIOC) on November 12, 2021 after just 14 months. According to Corporations Canada records, she incorporated Nish Synergies Advisory Group on November 19, 2021. Dubois is the lone member of the board of directors, and the registered office address is a residence in Canmore, Alberta. She also registered the domain name nishsynergies.ca on November 14, 2021.

The stated mission of Nish Synergies Advisory Group is to advise “Indigenous business leaders, corporations, not-for-profit organizations, and governments as they navigate how to create synergistic, lasting business partnerships with shared outcomes and measurable impact.”

However, the eight-page job description of the RBCM CEO’s responsibilities – published on July 26, 2021, by Leaders International, which coordinated the CEO search – does not include leeway for moonlighting as a private consultant.

Regardless of whether Dubois is compensated for these outside gigs, she is investing a lot of time in them.

It is at a moment when both RBCM and the BC government are facing a tidal wave of criticism for green-lighting what would be the most expensive museum in Canadian history – without releasing any specific details about proposed exhibitions, architectural plans, a procurement schedule, or a clear justification for the 2030 timeline. BC Tourism Minister Melanie Mark said the business case would be released this week, but then bumped the release date to May 25 instead.

It fits into RBCM’s pattern of high-profile communication failures over the last two years.

After the very public 2020 resignation of Lucy Bell, the museum’s head of Indigenous collections and repatriation, then-CEO Jack Lohman stepped down in February 2021, and RBCM apologized for internal racism in June 2021. The museum followed up by suddenly announcing on November 3, 2021, that it would shutter its popular third-floor core galleries – including the beloved Old Town, Becoming BC, and the First Peoples gallery – in the service of modernization and decolonization.

Massive public pushback ensued as RBCM struggled to explain how exactly the Old Town, in particular, was guilty of “offensive narratives” with its vintage blacksmith shop, hotel, and movie theatre, or how its destruction would help the reconciliation process. Also, questions swirled about the lack of a published plan, budget, or timeline for the museum’s renovations.

The outcry continued beyond the January 2, 2022 third-floor closures, and has become deafening in the last week with objections to the redevelopment’s $1 billion price tag while BC healthcare and housing are both in crisis. Meanwhile, public confidence in RBCM leadership has nosedived.

So for Dubois – as the new face of the museum – to be promoting her private consulting business at a time like this is remarkable.

The speaking engagements in question are not museum-themed. For CEOs to do speaking engagements is normal, but it is not normal for them to identify themselves as consultants when they do so. The appropriateness of Dubois’ priorities is up for discussion.

On February 24, 2022, Dubois hosted the Central Canada Business Forum, a virtual event based in Toronto. She is identified as “Founder, Nish Synergies Advisory Group.”

On March 28, 2022, Politico reported on this CORE (Collaborative Online Resources & Education) Alberta seminar: “Nish Synergies Advisory Group founder ALICIA DUBOIS in conversation with Labor Minister SEAMUS O’REGAN and LYLE DANIELS, community and Indigenous director for the Building Trades of Alberta.”

For a First Nations Major Projects Coalition (FNMPC) conference at Vancouver’s Westin Bayshore Hotel on April 25 and 26, 2022, Dubois is identified as the “Co-Chair, CCCAB [sic]” (Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business).

On May 5, 2022, Dubois took part in an online panel discussion entitled “Building an Inclusive Economy: Board Governance and the Importance of Economic Reconciliation” at the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD) National Director Conference. The RBCM CEO is identified as “Co-Chair, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business; Director, Green Impact Partners, Inc.; Founder and Principal, Nish Synergies Advisory Group.”

ICD then published a May 12, 2022 summary of event highlights in which many other participants are identified by their professional executive positions. Dubois is not identified as the RBCM CEO, but only as “Co-Chair, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.”

On May 26, 2022, Dubois is slated to participate in a panel called “Future Economic Outlook for 2022 and Beyond” at the Grey Eagle Resort & Casino Event Centre in Calgary. It is the final presentation at the Forward Summit, which is billed as “an Indigenous-led, multi-day conference dedicated to advancing economic partnerships, discovering opportunities for change and supporting national relationships between Canada’s industry leaders and Indigenous Communities.”

The headline on Dubois’ Forward Summit bio was recently updated to read “Royal BC Museum CEO” in place of “Nish Synergies Advisory Group, Founder.” Yet although the actual 308-word bio provides background on virtually every major job she has held, including her roles with AIOC, CIBC, and ENMAX, and includes a sentence devoted to Nish Synergies Advisory Group, it says nothing about her responsibilities with RBCM.

Possibly due to being preoccupied with outside speaking engagements, Dubois still has not provided a bio for the RBCM website more than three months after being announced as CEO.

Conversely, she has provided roughly the same bio in recent years for Natural Gas World’s Canadian Gas DialoguesWolverine Energy and Infrastructure Inc., the Indigenomics Institute, and other organizations. It is thus unclear why the space for her bio on the RBCM web site still says “coming soon.”

RBCM has not publicly disclosed whether Dubois cleared her speaking engagements and appearances with the museum board of directors in advance. Nor has it disclosed whether the museum pays her way for her to speak at in-person conferences.

Part 4 of the 2003 Museum Act, which made the Royal BC Museum a provincial Crown corporation, stipulates under “Conflict of Interest”: “Every director or senior officer of the corporation who holds any office, or possesses any property, which, directly or indirectly, might create a duty or interest in conflict with his or her duty or interest as a director or senior officer of the corporation, must disclose the fact and the nature and extent of the conflict at a meeting of the directors of the corporation.”

The way Dubois is positioning herself publicly raises red flags about the likelihood of her shepherding the RBCM redevelopment to completion by 2030.

In the government news release accompanying the May 13 announcement, Dubois stated: “The way in which we share and learn from the truths and lived experiences of our past is fundamental to how we build our future and strengthen the fabric of our communities.” By that standard, it is worth examining the CEO’s past.

According to Dubois’ LinkedIn profile, over the course of her last eight full-time jobs, she has never stayed in any position for longer than three years and one month and has usually stayed for less than two years.

Conversely, previous RBCM CEOs stayed in their jobs much longer, including Bill Barkley (1984-2001), Pauline Rafferty (2001-2012), and Jack Lohman (2012-2021).

RBCM has not yet revealed Dubois’ CEO salary. The salary range listed when the position was advertised was $170,000 to $230,000. The museum’s most recent Executive Compensation Disclosure Report (2021) indicates that Lohman, the last permanent RBCM CEO, earned in excess of $200,000 in total compensation, including benefits and pension, in 2018-19, 2019-20, and 2020-21.

In recent interviews with CBC Radio and CFAX 1070 prior to the controversial May 13 press conference, Dubois did not reveal specifics about what the redeveloped museum will contain. She reiterated the BC Ministry of Tourism talking points, emphasizing that it will be diverse, inclusive, and culturally safe, and will spotlight marginalized BC communities.

Dubois did tell CBC that she has moved her office down to the ground floor and has spent time welcoming visitors in the RBCM lobby. Those appearances were presumably not on behalf of Nish Synergies Advisory Group.

Lucas Aykroyd is an award-winning Victoria-born journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. In 2009, he was nominated for an Aboriginal Tourism Association of BC (now Indigenous Tourism BC) media award.

Lucas AykroydLucas Aykroyd

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