While the behaviour of our elected 'representatives' rarely surprises me, I'm appalled that Ministers Nick Smith and Rodney Hide have gone ahead and sacked the democratically elected councillors of Environment Canterbury (Ecan). The two councillors I voted for, Eugenie Sage and Rik Tindall have, along with their colleagues, been removed from office. They have not been democratically removed by local voters but by two Government Ministers pursuing an agenda driven by powerful business and rural interests and their political allies in the Christchurch City Council.

The Government has drafted legislation in order to remove the democratically=elected councillors and replace them with government functionaries until at least 2013. They will be led by the ubiquitous Margaret Bazley.

The Ministry of Environment's own impact statement is hardly an ringing endorsement of what Smith and Hide are up to. We read:

There are significant risks associated with the Review Group’s recommendation to temporarily suspend planned triennial elections for regional councillors (scheduled for October 2010) and to transfer the functions and responsibilities of Environment Canterbury’s (ECan) elected councillors to government-appointed commissioners until elections in 2013 at the latest. Elections are a right and privilege of any citizen in New Zealand. The suspension of such a right should only be considered in exceptional circumstances. Such a decision is correct to sit with Parliament.

The Minister for the Environment intends to progress the proposed legislation under Urgency. This, alongside the proposal to limit appeal rights on decisions/recommendations made by commissioners on Canterbury’s Natural Resources Regional Plan and on water conservation orders in the region potentially alienates Canterbury rate payers and the general public from decisions made on natural resources in the Canterbury region. This raises equity and access to justice issues.

'This raises equity and justice issues.' Smith and Hide will take as much notice of this warning as Paula Bennett did of her own Attorney General who warned her that her welfare reforms were discriminatory and breached the Bill of Rights.

Instead we will continue to hear a whole of spin from these two wide boys. They have justified trampling over basic democratic rights by claiming that the councillors are being sacked because of 'urgent problems with water management' and lack of an allocation plan.

The people of Auckland presently being shut out of the decision making processes in their city will be familiar with this sort of mendacious language from Hide.

Did he or Nick Smith consider giving Ecan more resources to do its job? Of course not.

What this move is really about is opening the door for rural and business interests to acquire control over Canterbury's waterways and allowing them to proceed with controversial irrigation projects involving the Hurunui, Rakaia, Waimakariri and other main rivers.

Regional councillor Eugenie Sage said today it was a sad day for democracy: 'I didn’t think they’d go so far. The arrogance of power. This is a major change to policy making without any public consultation. The commissioners will do what business interests want.'

And Central Christchurch MP Brendon Burns has commented:

'It is also a two-fingered salute to Canterbury voters. They will have to keep paying rates to an organisation over which they have no influence.

Environment Minister Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide are saying quite openly that Canterbury voters are not intelligent enough to elect a council that can deal with water management issues in Canterbury.

That’s what they mean when they say that these issues cannot be resolved by the normal electoral cycle. They are saying in effect that Canterbury voters are too thick to work things out for themselves, so let’s take the vote off them, and we’ll do it on their behalf. That’s incredibly arrogant and condescending.'
Bob often talks about the need for democratic accountability, transparency and the importance of community involvement in local issues. These words ring hollow given his support of the Government's decision to deny local people their basic democratic rights.

John Key told Parliament last month that he wanted to remove obstacles to irrigation and water storage in Canterbury. Minister of Agriculture David Carter thinks there is huge 'potential' for far more irrigation in Canterbury.

And more 'potential' for dairy farmers to, among other things, dirty the waterways.

He also didn't mention that Christchurch ratepayers would still continue to subsidise the use of water by dairy farmers and other major users. This is because farmers and other major water users aren’t being directly charged a single dollar for water management.

Carter's views have been echoed by Pete Townsend, the CEO of the Canterbury Chambers' of Commerce and one of Mayor Sideshow Bob's political allies, albeit they had a brief falling out over the $17 million bailout of failed property developer Dave Henderson.

In a speech to Parliament last week the Green Party MP Kennedy Graham said:

Canterbury’s water has become the bell-wether for the current political debate in New Zealand. This is between two alternative philosophies embraced by different sections of the New Zealand public and also in this House.

The first postulates economic growth as the paramount value, yet in the primal mists of the political jungle this Government has an instinctive awareness that not all is right with the environment. It intuits that the people also are concerned, so it utters soothing noises to assuage the masses. “We shall balance our economic opportunities with our environmental responsibilities”. And we have a subgroup—the Blue-greens—to salve your conscience. The Prime Minister himself is a member, so nothing to worry about.

The second philosophy embraces sustainable development: the economy is for ever subordinate to the environment whether or not humans choose to acknowledge it.

These alternative world views play out before our eyes over Canterbury water.

And what has been Mayor Bob Parker's role in all of this? Well, like his predecessor and mentor, Garry Moore, he has been antagonistic toward Ecan ever since he donned the mayoral garb - and he has been backed by councillors like Sue Wells and Barry Corbett.

Sideshow Bob was the initiator of a letter by local mayors demanding that the Government intervene in the affairs of Ecan and he supports the sacking of its councillors.

Bob often talks about the need for democratic accountability, transparency and the importance of community involvement in local issues. These words ring hollow given his support of the Government's decision to deny local people their basic democratic rights.

Joe Hendren also made a good point recently when he commented that the Christchurch and Timaru City Council's are seeking to take control of pubic transport from Ecan and because of neoliberal driven legal constrictions the Christchurch City Council would be required to sell the Red Bus Company

Red Bus is currently 100 percent owned by Christchurch City Holdings, which acts as the holding company for Christchurch City Council's trading assets.

In 2006 Mayor Garry Moore succeeded in removing the Red Bus Company from the Council's list of strategic assets.

In 2008 Moore was employed by the Christchurch City Council as a 'consultant' on urban renewal.

Joe Hendren writes:

Sideshow Bob must know that taking over control of transport will necessitate the sale of Red Bus. Not surprisingly he has not been upfront about this. Given Bob's previous mismanagement, some citizens will wonder if the expected proceeds from the sale of the company will end up propping up another one of David Henderson's dodgy property deals..

This is an election year for Sideshow Bob and his councillors. Bob and his council supporters are trying to maintain a low profile this year in the hope voters will have forgotten about they got up to in the preceding two years.

Among other things, Sideshow Bob's privatisation agenda needs to be well and truly exposed so he doesn't get a chance to implement it if he unfortunately gets reelected.

And he needs to be hammered right now for supporting Government moves to trample over the democratic rights of the very people he is supposed to represent.


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