THE MAYORALTY CONTEST between the incumbent Lianne Dalziel and her main opponent John Minto offers Christchurch voters the kind of choice that voters are denied at a national level.
While in the general elections - and the prospect we again face in 2017 - it is a 'choice' between parties committed to market policies, Dalziel and Minto represent two different kind of politics.
Lianne Dalziel is the veteran politician who spent 23 years in Parliament, serving as Minister of Immigration, Commerce, Minister of Food Safety and Associate Minister of Justice in the Fifth Labour Government of Helen Clark. Throughout her time in Parliament she was a loyal and unswerving supporter of the Fifth Labour Government's neoliberal policies.
Such was her enthusiasm for 'the market' she, as Minister of Commerce, advised cabinet that the finance sector (the non-banking sector) was in good health. In 2006 three high profile finance companies collapsed and some $400 million of investors money disappeared down a black hole. Despite this, Dalziel still insisted that the finance sector was fundamentally sound. It was not a coincidence that under the light-handed and benevolent reign of the Fifth Labour Government, finance capitalism had prospered.
In 2008 business writer Brian Gaynor wrote an open letter to Dalziel criticising her and the Labour government on its "disturbing lack of decisive leadership" over the deepening crisis surfacing in the finance sector.
Between May 2006 and the end of 2012 there were sixty-seven finance company collapses in New Zealand.
While the government and corporate backed Dalziel likes to portray herself as a middle of the road pragmatist - with the occasional token nod to the left - she has taken her neoliberal mindset from Parliament into the offices of the Christchurch City Council. But policies such as asset sales are presented as if they are purely practical - a way of retiring debt or funding the rebuild - rather than ideological.
Despite claiming she wanted greater community involvement in the Christchurch rebuild little has changed during her mayoralty. She is as much a loyal supporter of the top-down and bureaucratic - and failed- rebuild as was her predecessor Bob Parker. Despite Dalziel criticising Parker for an all-too-cosy relationship with the Minister for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee, even a supporter of Dalziel such as former mayor Garry Moore was recently moved to tell the Christchurch Star that he thought Dalziel's council had allowed the government "too much power in the rebuild".
However, unlike Parker, Dalzeil has enjoyed the support of the local media and blogosphere. Trenchant critics of Parker such as James Dann and Barnaby Bennett have gone silent while, at the same time, enjoy cosy relationships with neoliberal councillors like Raf Manji.
While another conservative politician, Hillary Clinton, is trading on the slogan 'Stronger Together', Dalziel - who has expressed her admiration for Clinton - is campaigning under the banner, 'One City Together'. But it is hard to see how such a slogan could embrace the quake hit eastern suburbs of Christchurch which, five years on from the quakes, continue to be neglected. Large areas in the east have been abandoned while other areas are in a increasing state of dilapidation. Many community services have not been restored.
And while Dalziel appears to be downplaying the issue, the prospect of council asset sales to fund the botched rebuild remain very much on her agenda. Despite the collapse of the proposed sale of City Care (the council having forked out some $400,000 on consultancy fees) ) Dalziel and her supporters like Finance committee chairperson Raf Manji have not ruled out such asset sales in the future.
But as the rebuild has blundered on - and on - what Christchurch has sorely lacked is an organised and unified opposition that could present an alternative and different vision for Christchurch that isn't driven by the corporate sector.
Five years on, John Minto's bid for mayoralty - driven by opposition to asset sales - represents that alternative opposition and that alternative vision for Christchurch. Unlike Dalziel, he has been a consistent opponent of the neoliberal policies that have plagued this country for the past three decades.
While Dalziel has been slow in coming forward with any concrete policies, Minto is campaigning on a slate of six clear policies including keeping council assets, free public transport, less corporate involvement in the rebuild, living wages for council staff and swimmable rivers.
He is also committing his mayoralty to building 1000 new affordable council homes in his first term, a much needed policy that would combat the growing homelessness in the city.
Taken together they suggest that under a Minto mayoralty, Christchurch could look forward to a future where the interests of its people come first, rather than the local community being forced to play second fiddle to the demands of the corporate sector. John Minto is campaigning on a platform of community need, not developer greed.
In his bid for the mayoralty John Minto could of done with the backing of the Labour-aligned People's Choice councillors. But their decision not to stand a candidate against Dalziel is a clear endorsement of her. Given their stated opposition to asset sales and other differences with Dalziel, it is an extraordinary - and disappointing - position for the People's Choice councillors to take. When it matters most, the Labour Party is again found wanting.