The wrong decision

The Government has announced:

Commissioners will continue to govern Environment Canterbury after the 2013 local authority elections, Local Government Minister David Carter and Environment Minister Amy Adams announced today.

“In the interests of Canterbury’s progress, and to protect the gains the Commissioners have made, the Government has decided the best option is to continue with the current governance arrangement,” Mr Carter said.

A Bill amending the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010, to extend Commissioner governance until the 2016 local authority elections, with a ministerial review in 2014, will be tabled in Parliament today.

This is the wrong decision, in my opinion. I do not believe “They are doing a good job” is adequate justification for treating Canterbury different to the rest of NZ, and carrying on with appointed Commissioners.

My views are:

  • The original decision to sack the Environment Canterbury Council was absolutely justified, and necessary. The Council had proven incompetent over many years, and it is to the Govt’s credit they had the balls to step in. A very unhealthy culture had led to a dysfunctional Council with both governance and staff issues.
  • The Commissioners have done a very good job. They have made more progress in a couple of years than the elected Council had in a decade. They have worked really well at balancing the interests of competing stakeholders in a fair way.
  • However that is not a good enough reason to not have the elections, as originally promised in late 2013. The Commissioners work in changing the culture and the processes should allow a new elected Council to carry on their work.
  • If the Government was looking at a restructure of regional and district councils, then that would be an acceptable reason not to have elections for a body which might disappear or be merged in the near future. But this has not been cited as a reason.
  • The Canterbury earthquakes do absolutely mean that you have had to make some decisions more centrally. CERA and the CCDU have done overall very good jobs in restoring Christchurch. There is no way the Christchurch City Council could possibly have done it by themselves.
  • However ECan was sacked because they were incompetent, not because of the earthquake. And their responsibilities do not have, as far as I can see, much bearing on the rebuilding of Christchurch.

Ultimately the decision made by Government seems to be based on “The Commissioners are doing a better job than what a new elected Council may do”. Now this may be right, but it is not a reason to not have elections. If you appointed me Commissioner of Wellington City Council, I reckon I’d do a better job than the elected Council. But that is not a reason to not have WCC elections.

If the Government wants to propose no regional council elections at all, and that all regional councils should be appointed (either by Government or territorial authorities), then that is a debate you can have. For example, I do not believe DHBs should be elected as they dilute accountability of central Government.

But I do not see any principled reason to continue with appointed Commissioners in Canterbury. The earthquake is a red herring when it comes to the regional council.

The Government did the right thing in sacking the Council and appointing Commissioners. They have done a very good job. But they made a pledge to bring back an elected Council by end of 2013, and they should honour that pledge. The case for change has not been made.

Incidentally I wonder if has the numbers to pass their proposed bill in the House. I would not take for granted that ACT and United Future would vote for it.

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