Written By: - Date published: 9:34 am, September 13th, 2012 - 15 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, national, water - Tags: democracy under attack, dictatorships, ecan, The Political Scientist
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.
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.
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.