The B.C. government has tapped former deputy premier Carole James to help fix the culture inside the troubled Royal BC Museum (RBCM), following months of racism allegations within the organization.
James was appointed to the museum’s board Friday via a cabinet order. Her term runs until 2023.
“The museum has had a special place in my heart for a very long period of time,” James told CHEK News.
“I’ve taken my kids there, I’ve taken my grandkids there. I’ve always had a family pass for my family and my grandkids’ family. So the opportunity to be able to contribute, particularly at this obvious time when there are challenges at the museum, is wonderful. I like a challenge. This will be a challenge.”
James first meeting with RBCM executives was set to occur Tuesday afternoon.
“The issues that are facing the museum as you know are complex. I haven’t had my first meeting yet, so I’ll leave it to the board chair to make comments on those pieces. But obviously, there are big challenges there. As I said earlier, I like a challenge.
“I think I have the energy, I think I bring skills to help people work together to be able to solve problems, and I hope to bring that kind of energy to the museum board as well. They’ve got a lot of big issues in front of them.”
The move comes after multiple allegations of systemic racism inside the museum and the abrupt resignation last week of museum CEO Jack Lohman.
Several former employees, as well as the First Nations Leadership Council, have raised concerns about toxic working conditions, anti-indigenous sentiment and ongoing racism within the museum.
James served as finance minister and deputy premier from 2017 until October, when she did not run again in the early election. James revealed she has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Her appointment by the government to the RBCM board is significant.
A long-time New Democrat MLA, and former party leader, James is considered Premier John Horgan’s most trusted advisor. She agreed to continue to serve in a special advisor capacity to the premier for $1 a year following her retirement. James is part Metis and married to Albert Gerow, a former chief of the Burns Lake Indian Band.
James said Tourism Minister Melanie Mark asked her to sit on the board, but noted she talks to the premier twice a week and the museum “has a special place in his heart as well.”
Horgan, who said last week he was “very concerned” about the allegations at the museum, reacted Tuesday with praise at James’ willingness to sit on the board.
“I am happy and grateful that Carole has agreed to take on this new role,” Horgan said in a statement.
“Carole cares deeply about the people and stories that make up the history of this province and there is no question that her experience, knowledge and leadership will help the Royal BC Museum.”
The museum board has pledged to make changes as it “addresses current internal issues,” it said in a statement with Lohman’s departure.
It is also awaiting the results of a third-party public service agency investigation into staff allegations of racism in the workplace.
Minister Mark said the museum will benefit from James’ skillset during its time of “transition.”
“Carole brings exceptional experience and expertise as the former finance minister and deputy premier and as a Metis woman,” said Mark. “Her wealth of experience with capital projects will help champion the modernization of the museum.”
James in retirement has been taking boxing classes to mitigate the onset of Parkinson’s disease, as well as spending time with her family. But she said the lure of the museum, which she remembers from her own childhood, made her want to take on the task.
“When I retired I said to people retirement isn’t sitting back and doing nothing,” said James.
“I certainly need to be doing something, engaged in something . . . My commitment to the local community, my commitment to the province, and an opportunity to work hard on something I really care about, just seemed a good fit for me.”