Politicians battle for Christchurch

SARAH-JANE O'CONNOR
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2014

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The race has begun and political parties have Christchurch in their sights.

Labour threw down the gauntlet this month by saying that if elected, it would commit $2 million to test cases against insurance companies and the Earthquake Commission (EQC).

Then, following the March 5 floods, leader David Cunliffe arrived in town and highlighted the plight of Dot Boyd, an 85-year-old woman still waiting for EQC repairs.

It sparked a flurry in Parliament when Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee criticised Labour for the photo-op, then quickly apologised.

A week later, New Zealand First's Winston Peters said the restoration of the city's Anglican cathedral would be on the table for any coalition discussions.

University of Otago political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards said while Christchurch had the potential to be "quite central to the election campaign", the opportunity had not yet been taken.

"So far Labour haven't really been able to put forward a narrative or a story that is distinctly different to National in terms of the rebuild," he said.

"I have no doubt that a Labour-led government would lead the rebuild in a different way. But so far, Labour hasn't been able to differentiate itself."

Christchurch held "quite powerful imagery for the rest of New Zealand", he said.

"The question of the Christchurch rebuild just raises so many strongly ideological questions.

"What government stands for and how it's supposed to look after citizens."

Victoria University political scientist Dr Jon Johansson said this Government would in future be judged by "how effectively Canterbury recovered from the earthquake".

"National's basic patter for this election is that everything's going great and you need to stick with us.

"But Christchurch is problematic for the Government because is it all going great?"

Although Johansson believed the rest of the country was "not interested" in earthquake issues anymore, it still provided an opening for Labour to exhibit a point of difference from National.

"Labour has been too disorganised, I think, to have election strategy," Johannson said.

"If they had any sense they would make Christchurch recovery a big chunk of their strategy for the election."

University of Canterbury political scientist Dr Bronwyn Hayward challenged both major parties to lift their game.

The earthquakes and floods highlighted the "suffering still faced by too many people", she said.

"It is actually a much more fundamental challenge to restore human security for New Zealand citizens.

"We need a new social contract, or agreement between the government and its citizens about what security and protection they offer us and what, in turn, we expect of our government," Hayward said.

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National Party president Peter Goodfellow said in a statement that the rebuild had been, and would continue to be, one of National's top priorities.

Labour Party president Moira Coatsworth said Canterbury issues would "absolutely" be part of Labour's campaign.

- The Press

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