Restoring democracy in Canterbury

For the last six years Canterbury has been not by an elected Regional Council, but by Commissioners appointed by the Government. Six years on, with suggestions that the already once delayed restoration of democracy might be again further delayed until 2019, perhaps it is time to give the Government an ultimatim to end the Commissioners tenure in 2016 or face a Cantabrian version of people power.

For me the Commissioners are intolerable. They represent an incursion of central government authoritarianism, whose mandate is non-existential. I was an employee at Environment Canterbury when the take over occurred, and found that as time went on, although the Commissioners attempted to reach out to staff, it was only because they were pretty much forced to by a combination of staff pressure and exceptional circumstances. And despite this, the Commissioners and their masters have shown their hostility to transparency and a democratic style of governance of Canterbury in several ways. Notably:

1) The comments by David Caygill in The Press that democratic processes are over rated – maybe to him, but not to others

2) The decision to extend Environment Canterbury commissioners terms until 2016

3) Environment Minister Nick Smith claiming that fully democratizing Environment Canterbury is too risky

We in Canterbury have waited long enough for the Government to restore democracy to Environment Canterbury. The longer that the Government goes without doing so the less sincere they become about helping Canterbury be a better province.

It is not just Environment Canterbury though that has been affected by Government interference in Canterbury. Due to an incompetent Chief Executive named Tony Marryatt, the Christchurch City Council lost its authority to issue resource consents, which is a major part of council regulatory functions. It also severely underestimated the insurance cover needed for churches and other places of religious significance in the city, thus leaving many without cover and putting the recovery of numerous churches from the 2011 earthquake in jeopardy. Despite the outcry over the handling of aspects of recovery from the Canterbury and Christchurch quakes, the Minister for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee labelled the people of Christchurch “carpers and moaners”.

In 2011, having just been re-elected in the General Election, Mr Brownlee attacked Councillors for not supporting the then Mayor of Christchurch Bob Parker and refused to rule out sacking them. The Christchurch City Council in the end largely cleared itself out, with Mr Parker and several others resigning. A total of nine councillors left at the end of the 2010-2013 Council term. The ones that did not resign suffered heavy defeats in their electoral wards.

In 2015, with the Commissioners at Environment Canterbury still having one more year before their current extension expires to go, the battle for a newly elected council is starting to heat up once more. An issue the Government probably wants dead and buried is more alive than not.

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