The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s past president and CEO says Alberta’s government has not been held to account following a personal harassment complaint she made against the institution’s former provincially appointed board chair.
Janice Price, whose contract at the Banff Centre ended March 31 after eight years, said before the entire board was dissolved by the Alberta government in October, she had been waiting months for a follow-up from the minister’s office of advanced education about its decision to support former chair Adam Waterous remaining on the board.
Days before her planned departure, an independent investigation presented to the board of governors validated Price’s complaint against Waterous made during the CEO succession process. In a vote which excused the two parties, the majority of the board accepted the report and requested to censure and remove Waterous.
Price said she was satisfied with the decided outcome but disappointed the motion was never actioned, even after board members presented it to then education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, who had the ability to rescind the order in council appointing Waterous as chair.
Supported by funding from provincial and federal governments, The Banff Centre operates in accordance with Alberta’s Post-Secondary Learning Act. Its governance is structured with appointments from both the province and the board.
After Rajan Sawhney was sworn in for the ministerial role in June, Price followed up twice on the province’s inaction toward the board’s request.
“I never even got an acknowledgement that I’d sent an email. Nothing. Not a single word from her staff,” she said.
A letter Waterous shared with the Outlook sent from Nicolaides on April 27 noted the minister believed the matter dealt with at that time. Speaking to the investigation and a complaint made in response by Waterous toward Price, the minister said it “may be impractical for the board to investigate the complaint by the chair into the CEO.
“As you will recall, I have subsequently spoken to you about these matters and I am satisfied with your response,” he wrote. “I believe this brings the matter to a close.”
But Price said she did not hear from the minister to ask if she was satisfied the matter had been closed, despite the minister receiving the report which found Price’s complaint was upheld.
In a copy of the report obtained by the Outlook, conflict-resolution specialist Jay Spark wrote “Price and Waterous spoke by phone on Nov. 16, 2022, when Waterous yelled at her, accused her of lying and playing games, accused her of failing accede to his demands and was refuting his authority as chair.
“After Price filed her harassment complaint, Waterous retaliated by making improper and unsubstantiated allegations of Price’s ‘underperformance’ as president and CEO.
“Waterous’ actions toward her impacted her health, caused her considerable anxiety and distress, and impaired her ability to discharge her responsibility as president, CEO and a member of the board.”
The investigation, initiated by the head of the board’s human resources committee Raif Richardson, found Waterous’ behaviour toward Price’s alleged involvement in the CEO selection process constituted personal harassment under Banff Centre’s anti-harassment policy.
The former CEO said she was not on the search committee, nor did she interview potential successors, but she did recommend candidates, which is something she had done at the request of the board’s HR committee for the last five years.
The committee asked Price to provide a list of people every year given her expertise in the arts sector and to aid in eventual succession planning, she said.
Within the board’s procedures, a search committee recommends potential CEOs to the entire board. The outgoing CEO is excluded from participating in the decision-making process.
One name Price recommended was Chris Lorway, the former head of Stanford University’s performing arts organization Stanford Live, and a former co-worker. Lorway was ultimately hired at the end of 2022.
Despite Price having worked with and being a reference for Lorway, Spark’s report said Waterous “failed to find evidence that Price influenced the board’s decision.”
Spark’s report noted a 6-2 vote by the board on Dec. 5, 2022, concluded it did not believe Price to be in conflict of interest in the search process.
Price, meanwhile, said Waterous had an interest in widening the CEO selection process to include candidates with tourism and hospitality backgrounds.
Search committee members concerned with the move urged Price to inform the chair of their concerns, which she did, “for better or worse.”
From there, Price said, Waterous continually accused her of injecting herself in the hiring process.
The former chair, the report noted, “exceeded his authority as chair by attempting to exclude Price from the Oct. 24, 2022 special meeting of the board where the work of the search committee would be presented” and that Waterous arranged for the board to consider another candidate in the tourism and hospitality sector.
Waterous said in an email to the Outlook the education minister supported and spoke to the board to “advise them of the importance of the full board considering two CEO candidates.”
The former chair noted it was Banff Centre’s general counsel David Cox who “blew the whistle” on the search process only reviewing a single candidate. He said Price rejected advice from Cox that her involvement in the succession process was in conflict of interest and raised ethical issues.
The report, however, noted “Price’s efforts to move the process forward did not constitute a conflict of interest or interference in the CEO search process” and that it gave equal consideration to two candidates.
Following what Waterous called months of dysfunction and division after the majority of the board accepted Spark’s report in March, about seven months later, he and three other provincially appointed members made the recommendation to the ministry to either “address some of what we described as lapses in good governance by taking steps to improve governance on the board” or dissolve it completely.
On Oct. 26, the province made the decision to wipe the board which, as of May, also consisted of members Greg Oberti, Mike Mendelman, Bob Dhillon, Jeff van Steenbergen, Leslie Belzberg, Ron Hallman, Cherith Mark, Richardson and Bob Sartos. It appointed Paul Baay, chair of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, as temporary administrator until a new board is appointed.
The province has been largely silent regarding its move to disband the board and dismiss the board’s request to remove Waterous.
The Outlook was told by Ministry of Advanced Education press secretary Mackenzie Blyth that “for legal reasons, our government does not discuss HR issues involving our agencies boards and commissions.” Additional questions from the Outlook regarding the province’s actions went unanswered.
Price said she believes the government owes an explanation in what was a “pretty shocking” move to give the entire board its walking papers.
“How can the minister not have to explain why she ignored the board motion and then fired the whole board rather than just remove the offending person?” she said.
By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Dec 14, 2023 at 17:44