In 2013 I supported the election of former Labour M.P. for Christchurch East, Lianne Dalziel. Ms Dalziel was the clear cut front runner in a mayoralty race after incumbent Robert (Bob) Parker decided he was not going to stand again.
At the time Christchurch was struggling back to its feet following the worst disaster in the city’s history and one of the biggest disasters in New Zealand’s peacetime history. The Christchurch City Council was a ship in disarray, off course with the senior officers bickering at the wheel. Its Chief Executive Tony Marryatt was in disgrace for his almost Nero-esque management of the City Council during the 2010 and 2011 earthquake emergencies. Secrecy at a time when the public needed open transparent decision making more than ever was rife.
When Ms Dalziel came to office, Raf Manji who had expertise in finance was given the finances portfolio. He had the messy and difficult job of accounting for finances that the council knew were going to require hefty rates increases in the near future, whilst balancing the bill for the massive damage caused by the earthquakes to city infrastructure. Mr Manji thought that Christchurch should not invest in social housing for vulnerable tenants as the cost of doing so on top of the already massive bill for earthquake repairs would cause a financial blowout. The Council instead committed to overhauling the heating and insulation in the existing stock of flats.
Until about the start of last year I thought Ms Dalziel had led the Christchurch City Council fairly well. Transparency had improved. Many of the major rebuild projects were starting to see some progress – the Town Hall restoration was underway; the construction of Te Pae was about to start, and much of the infrastructure repairs had been completed. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority had wrapped up its work and The council treasury books, whilst still messy had a clear order to them at least now had priorities.
Yet at the same time, it was becoming obvious that the City Council had a listening issue. People were becoming frustrated by the obsession with cycle lanes around the city, especially on roads which they were not suited for. Some of the suburban revival projects were no closer to starting than the day they were announced – often several years earlier. Frivolous unnecessary expenditure was going on art works like something in the middle of the Avon River, which to this day I am convinced just collects rubbish.
I also note that New Brighton, which could be a pretty grim, run down part of town even on the best of days once again seems to be slipping under the radar. Sure its demographics have changed with the earthquakes. Sure it sits on the edge of the old civilian red zone, and in fairness I have heard that the new salt water pools are being constructed, but wasn’t there meant to be some sort of community redevelopment plan? You never hear about it if there was.
But more recently some of Ms Dalziel’s pronouncements have begun to concern me. She admitted a conflict of interest over her husbands involvement with a Chinese water bottling company, but did nothing to remove him or herself form the discourse.
With long time activist John Minto and businessman Darryll Park both vying to become Mayor, the 2019 race is looking a lot tighter than in 2016. The former wants free public transport, but has not really said much about his spending priorities. The latter wants to have zero rates increases should he win, but has never spent a day around a council table. I am not entirely sure now who I want to win, but Ms Dalziel is looking tired now as a leader and a fresh injection of ideas is needed and some knowledge of council procedures would be useful too.