Democratic ECan "carries too many risks" says Nick Smith

Nick Smith says a fully democratic regional authority carries "too many risks".

Nick Smith says a fully democratic regional authority carries "too many risks".

The Government wants a mixed governance structure for Environment Canterbury (ECan), with some members elected and others appointed, it has announced.

Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith and Associate Local Government Minister Louise Upston released a discussion document on the proposal on Wednesday.

"We are proposing a mixed governance model... with seven members elected across Canterbury at the local elections in October 2016 and six appointed by Government," Smith said.

"[It] enables a majority of elected representatives while ensuring continued momentum on the Canterbury Water Management Strategy and earthquake recovery work," he said.

"We considered other options of a fully elected council and alternatives that involved substantive changes to council functions.

"Our preliminary view is that these carry too many risks given the critical stage of work on the Canterbury Water Management Strategy and the earthquake recovery.

"It may be appropriate to consider these options beyond 2019."

Green MP Eugenie Sage, the party's Christchurch spokeswoman, said the Government had "broken its 2010 promise to restore regional democracy by 2013".

The mixed model proposal was "a significant wind back of local democracy", Sage said.

"We need a 100 per cent Canterbury-controlled model, the way other regions operate — not one where Cantabrians are second class citizens as far as regional democracy is concerned," she said. 

"National doesn't seem to trust the people of Canterbury to elect people to act in the best interests of the region."

On Tuesday, Smith was confronted by Labour MP Dr Megan Woods about the document's delayed released.

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It was initially expected in June last year before being delayed until November, due to the election, by Local Government Minister Paula Bennett and then Environment Minister Amy Adams.

In December, Smith and Associate Minister of Local Government Louise Upston said it would be delayed further, to be released this month.

Smith told Woods it was approved by Cabinet on Monday.

He said he and Upston needed extra time to consult with Canterbury mayors and Ngai Tahu due to post-election portfolio changes.

Those relationships were now "stronger than they ever have been", he said.

"We... want to give Canterbury people more of a say in the regional council but we also want to make sure it is not the dysfunctional mess that we inherited from the previous government."

In the discussion document, Smith and Upston said: "We have been encouraged by the transformation of ECanfrom a poorly performing council to a leading local government organisation."

ECan's role in Canterbury post-quake was "likely to be of increased importance as the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) winds down aspects of its role", they said.

The document said a mixed model would "ensure that ECan's governance strikes the right balance between local representation, and specialist skills and expertise for good-quality decision-making".

ECan has been run by commissioners since 2010, when the Government sacked its councillors, citing apparent mismanagement of water issues.

"The idea of [it being] 2019 before we get to a fully democratically elected council is insulting to the people of Canterbury," Woods said.

"It's even more important now that my bill gets drawn," she said.

"Canterbury will be the only region [in the country] where the Government thinks it has the right to appoint the people who govern our region rather than let the voters decide.

"Nick Smith's comment about this ensuring stability is troubling. I have great faith in the stability of elected members in this country."

Labour planned to enter a bill into the ballot requiring ECan's commissioners to "immediately call a special general election, to be held within three months of the bill becoming law".

The aim was to remedy the "appalling situation" of continuing delays, the bill said.

"Such a long period of unelected rule is unacceptable in a democracy.

"The right of the people to elect their local authority representatives is fundamental, and affirmed by article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which New Zealand is a party.

"The abrogation of democracy in Canterbury violates both democratic principles and international law," it said.

Public submissions will be sought on the Government's discussion document until May 1.

 - The Press

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