Over the last weekend, a strange drama has been playing out on facebook, in emails and conversations among Valley residents. Last week, John Watson, head of the Comox Valley Economic Development Society (CVEDS) made a rambling barely coherent posting on his facebook page, with an ugly personal attack against well-known community organizer Meaghan Cursons. The posting can be seen here: on the photo to the right.
Watson has been a long-time head of CVEDS, which is funded by grants from local governments- our tax dollars- and is responsible for encouraging economic development and growth in the region. CVEDS is the group which spearheaded construction of the Visitor Centre just outside of Cumberland. Cursons has been involved in countless festivals and community initiatives over the years, and with her partner Bobby Herron created the popular and successful “Elevate the Arts Festival” in downtown Courtenay. The incident began when Watson used the word “elevate” in some posted material, which prompted Meaghan Cursons to respond with something like- “hands off elevate”- there are other words in the dictionary.” There is no question that Meaghan and Bobby donated a huge amount of time and effort to create the “Elevate the Arts Festival”, and to successfully establish the brand associated with the word “elevate”. Whether Watson deliberately used the word to derive some reflected glory from Meaghan and Bobby’s event is unclear, and doesn’t really matter. Watson’s response to Curson’s posting was out of control. The mean-spirited reference to Meaghan’s family is particularly offensive and unacceptable, and demands an immediate public apology unburdened by excuses or explanations. As it turns out, Watson picked the wrong person to bully. Not only is Meaghan Cursons fully capable of defending herself, she is also a popular figure in the community. This incident plays into the hands of critics of the CVEDS, who have for many years questioned its responsiveness to smaller local businesses and arts groups, claiming that the society favours the region’s larger enterprises. Watson’s attack seems to reveal a deep antagonism towards one of our most prominent and active grass roots organizers, and the vibrant, economically significant community she represents. On line, some are calling for Watson’s resignation. It remains to be seen if John Watson can restore the confidence of the public, and the dignity of his role as the face of the Comox Valley to the rest of the world.