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The Canterbury dictatorship

Written By: - Date published: 9:34 am, September 13th, 2012 - 15 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, national, water - Tags: , , ,

Puddleglum at The Political Scientist has written an encyclopedic  and scathing critique of the Nats’ dictatorship in Canterbury. Some extracts below – but go and read the whole post here.

ECan, the government and the ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’

It is hard to understand why it appears to have received so little attention or commentary nationwide (with some honourable exceptions).

The extension of the rule of the ECAN Commissioners announced by David Carter (Local Government Minister) and Amy Adams (Environment Minister) has created what may be a political ‘tipping point’ in Christchurch, if not Canterbury as a whole.

Saturday’s editorial in The Press – titled ‘Black day for democracy in Christchurch‘ – is astoundingly blunt:

 The brief statement announcing the continued suspension of democracy at Environment Canterbury will take a place in New Zealand history. It outlines the most radical denial of voting rights that this nation has experienced in recent times – a fact that disadvantages Cantabrians and besmirches the Government.


That the Government has prolonged this system – it is called dictatorship – is deplorable and foolish. It not only denies the province healthy administration but it strengthens a backlash against National in the province.

And again,

At the time of the original appointment of the commissioners, people wereoutraged, even though ECan was not popular and regarded as partly paralysed. Cantabrians hated a main branch of their democracy being removed. Had the earthquakes and the difficult and prolonged recovery not diverted the anger, National would have paid a penalty here in the 2011 general election. The anger will return now, this time with an added intensity.

The Government,

relies on the assertion that the commissioners provide efficiency, strong governance, effectiveness, problem-solving, stability.

Those are the justifications of every tin-pot dictator, echoing the sentiments of Suva.

When we ‘bought’ the neo-liberal turn that began in the 1980s we also bought into the notion – whether or not we realised it at the time – that New Zealand, as a society, was “dedicated above all to material prosperity“. Even though those reforms may well have not achieved that end (i.e., material prosperity), the significant point is that that was used to legitimate them – that economic activity was, ultimately, what New Zealand, and New Zealanders, were all about – and we bought it.

At that point, democracy took a back seat rhetorically. It also, potentially, could take a back seat in reality.

Over the past two years that potential has played itself out in Canterbury.

This is why David Carter and Amy Adams could say, with a straight face and believing that they would not be challenged in any way that might threaten their decision – that democracy had to be abandoned. They could be assured that a significant proportion of New Zealanders bought the argument that (supposed) economic efficiency trumps democracy.

Amy Adams – under this rhetorical cover – could explain to us all that,

“The Canterbury region has significant economic growth potential but also faces significant challenges,” she said.

”It is critical for New Zealand that the planning governance structure for Environment Canterbury is stable, effective and efficient.

“To keep the freshwater management work on track, we intend toretain the limited appeal rights on decisions made by Environment Canterbury on plans and policy statements relating to freshwater management.”

And it’s also why John Key could engage in what is now his trademark, exasparatingly self-contradictory form of prose,

[John Key] said he had confidence in the people of Christchurch to pick the right people, but keeping the commissioners would deliver the best results for Canterbury.

In a more plain-speaking manner, Key ran this technocratic justification for the subordination of democracy right the way up the flagpole:

“In reality, with the Christchurch earthquakes coming along, it was our view that if we wanted to have an operative water plan and the issues of water resolved once and for all for the Cannterbury [sic]region, it was important to have another three years of commissioners,” Key said.

An “operative water plan” (the ‘technical matter’ of a ‘plan’), you see, cannot be achieved democratically. Resolving the highly politically-contentious “issues of water” “once and for all“, significantly “for the Canterbury region” – and not for the Canterbury people– requires, in the government’s judgment, “another three years of commissioners“.

And Key continued,

“We want to go back to democracy, we understand the issues and we considered them very closely, but in the end the primary factor was that we thought there needed to be a successful outcome and the job wasn’t yet done.

This “job” that “wasn’t yet done” is clearly one that democratic processes cannot be guaranteed to achieve.

I am angry.

Do these people not understand – or do they simply not care – that the most important aspect of any recovery is not ‘business’ or ‘economic activity’? It is – since they clearly need reminding – collective cohesion and the sense of some sort of power and control that a people have in relation to their future.

It surely is no mere coincidence that appointing ECan commissioners for a further three years puts it conveniently beyond the 2014 date for the implementation of the Land and Water Plan. That plan would have been potentially amendable – by a newly elected council – should an election for councillors have been held in the second half of 2013, as previously promised. But, now, with this latest announcement it will become a cemented-in ‘fact on the ground’ that any subsequent Council will no doubt decide it has to live with – for better or worse.

As John Key put it, by then the “job” will be done. ‘We’ will be faced with a fait accompli.

Anyone who has seen – and experienced – the anti-democratic essence of this government beneath its supposed ‘centrist’, ‘pragmatist’ makeover, can only hope that one day soon its politically loathsome acts will lead to a Dorian Gray-like downfall, so that all we will be left with is the curious memory of a shiny image that no longer corresponds to the ugly reality evident to all:

When they entered, they found hanging upon the wall a splendid portrait of their master as they had last seen him, in all the wonder of his exquisite youth and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man, in evening dress, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage. It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognized who it was.

(Chapter 20)

15 comments on “The Canterbury dictatorship”

  1. ianmac 1

    Great post.
    I wonder what the “job completed” will look like?
    Will it mean that rivers become seriously depleted and polluted? Will it mean that the irrigation, approved by the Commissioners and paid for with taxpayers money, will change the landscape forever? Will it mean high country lakes like Lake Grassmere will be seriously damaged?

    And will it mean that this Government in “knowing what is best for you incompetent Canterburians” will feel emboldened to attack other areas.
    Big Brother has His Eye on You! And you are next!

  2. weka 2

    Do the people of Canterbury have any legal redress available?

    • Andy-Roo 2.1

      No – the normal routes of redress are not available to us.

      We can’t unelect appointed commissioners

      We can’t appeal their decisions in the Environment Court. This legal pathway has been specifically shut down for the people of Canterbury for the duration of the “administration”.

      It is a grim picture – especially when you add in factors like our elected council losing responsibility for the inner city rebuild, and the other dictatorial powers that CERA has assumed.

      But then we are just carpers and moaners who buggerise around on facebook all day, so our opinions aren’t worth anything anyway.

      Thank goodness we have Jerry, David, Amy , and advisors like Jenny Shipley to tell us all whats good for us.

  3. Janice 3

    Wasn’t there also something about Nick Smith’s brother about to be sued by ECAN? Or is the Alzheimer’s kicking in again?

  4. prism 4

    I had forgotten about that.
    and the standard were onto it at –
    Help a brother out
    Written By: Marty G – Date published: 1:21 pm, April 20th, 2010 – http://thestandard.org.nz/tag/nick-smith/page/2/ There were four related by MartyG.)

    Now MartyG there’s a name to remember.

    • Janice 4.1

      Thanks for the links Prism, glad to know that I wasn’t mistaken. However even though Tim Smith pleaded guilty I could see no mention of penalty. With the sacking of ECAN did the case get quietly dropped?

      • prism 4.1.1

        Janice 4.1
        I gave you the links. One of them says “debate, said that in June last year Environment Canterbury, accompanied by police, visited the property of Tim Smith and 21 charges were subsequently laid against him.
        Mr Hodgson said Mr Smith subsequently pleaded guilty on all counts.”

  5. AmaKiwi 5

    “Do the people of Canterbury have any legal redress available?”

    We can change our form of government. I see two choices:

    1. Constitutionally protected local government which has powers (areas of responsibility) which cannot be impinged upon by parliament and central government. And/Or

    2. Citizens initiated binding referendums to reject bills passed by Parliament.

    We live in a parliamentary dictatorship. The only way to curb this dictatorship is to remove some of its powers.

    I welcome other suggestions.

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      A democracy is predicated on the quality of its citizenry and the quality of its leaders. You can put various changes in place which may or may not prove helpful in the final analysis, but youc annot get away from these fundamentals.

  6. AmaKiwi 6

    Draco T Bastard: “The political-right are quite happy for dictatorships.”

    The Labour leaders do, too.

    Labour cannot attack National as dictators is because they’ve done it themselves and can’t wait to do it again.

    They abhor referendums and anything else that would restrain their power.

    It’s time to change our form of governance.

  7. Dr Terry 7

    What an excellent account of events from Puddleglum. Most dictatorships seem to be overthrown, unfortunately, only by revolution. That is hard to imagine in apathetic Aotearoa. The very worst news is that so many voters appear to actually support this clear dictatorship! I have no answers to the dilemma, but can only wait and wonder “how long”? (And “what else are we in for with two years to run?”)

    • BernyD 7.1

      In the old days we would all go on strike ….
      We still could, no time like the present to join the union movement.

      • KJT 7.1.1

        No we can’t.

        Withdrawing your labour in New Zealand is illegal, except in very narrowly defined circumstances.

        Unlike almost all other countries in the OECD, and in common with many repressive Dictatorships.

        Employers, however, are free to withdraw capital at any time.

  8. AmaKiwi 8

    MMP was revolutionary.

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