A guest post from Megan Woods, Labour’s MP for Wigram.
This week the Environment Minister, Nick Smith, has said democracy ‘carried too much risk’ for Canterbury. After delays, he has finally showed his hand and announced that it was not a return to democracy that he favoured, but a mixed governance structure for Environment Canterbury (ECan), with seven members elected and six appointed by Government.
This is not the return to democracy that we in Canterbury have been demanding since Smith sacked our democratically elected council back in 2010. This is an insult to Cantabrians. With 53% of councillors being elected, to use one of Steven Joyce’s favourite phrases, it could be described as “pretty democratic”. This is a nonsense. You can no more have a little bit of democracy than you can be a little bit pregnant. I never thought I had come into politics to fight for adage of “no taxation without representation”.
It should also send chills down the collective spine of the rest of the country. All the logic that the Government is furiously spinning could just as easily apply to the other regional councils. Why is there a special case for Canterbury needing technical expertise and specialist skills for decision-making around the table?
The attempts to justify this move have been feeble and have not stacked up and again give no reason why they would stop at the borders of Canterbury. There has been an attempt to say this is the DHB model and therefore is nothing to see here. Well the “move along citizen” attempts have not washed with me. There is a fundamental difference in that DHBs are spending taxpayer money. It is a dangerous precedent that central Government is saying it has the power to appoint commissioners to spend locally collected rates money.
Smith, who as Minister for the Environment should be seeking to protect the environment has not even attempted to conceal the underlying agenda. This is about increasing irrigation in the region pure and simple. There has been no demonstrable improvement in water quality in the region since the government-sacked the council.
This week I have launched a petition so that together, we can make the government realise that nothing less than democracy being returned to Canterbury will do. It isn’t right that Cantabrians are being treated differently to all other New Zealanders. You can sign the petition here: http://action.labour.org.nz/ecan