Govt urged to rethink ECan stance

The Christchurch City Council should be challenging the Government's decision not to hold regional council elections in Canterbury next year.

So says city councillor Glenn Livingstone, who is asking his council colleagues to support a notice of motion he filed yesterday.

The motion calls on the city council to write to the Government expressing concern at the breaking of its commitment to hold Environment Canterbury (ECan) elections in October 2013, and asking it to rethink.

"It is too easy to let these things slip by, especially when people are feeling tired and weary, but we have to push back," Livingstone told The Press yesterday.

Voting was a fundamental right that needed to be protected, he said. The earthquakes had left people feeling disempowered and it was unfair that they were being deprived of their democratic right to elect their regional council representatives.

"There is a need to trust the people and put the power in their hands," Livingstone said.

Government-appointed commissioners have been in charge of ECan since councillors were sacked in 2010. Legislation passed at that time included a commitment to hold elections by October next year.

However, Local Government Minister David Carter and Environment Minister Amy Adams said last Friday that ECan elections would not be held until 2016.

That decision has been condemned by past and present local body politicians, concerned that Cantabrians are being robbed of their voice in decision-making.

Cr Jamie Gough said that while he shared Livingstone's commitment to local democracy, he believed no good would come from the city council intervening in the matter.

"For the council to jump up and down over things it has no control over is ludicrous," he said. "The council has no say on this and it will do nothing but sour our relationship with the most critical organisation we have a relationship with - the Government. I totally empathise with the sentiment but it discredits us. The council doesn't exist as a soapbox to get things done."

Mayor Bob Parker said Livingstone's notice of motion would not be debated at tomorrow's council meeting because it had been filed too late. "There is a simple process for the filing of motions. This has fallen outside of that . . . and it has not made the meeting agenda," he said.

Cr Tim Carter commended Livingstone for raising the issue and said it was right for councillors to have a debate on it. One of the council's roles under the Local Government Act was to advocate for the community, he said.

"It is very sad that ECan isn't going to have democratic elections. We need more community voice and more democracy in Christchurch as we rebuild. It is entirely appropriate for the council to have a view on this," he said.

Cr Yani Johanson said it was important the council took a stance. "I accept that we might need some support for our institutions . . . but I don't think throwing people's right to vote away should be done without proper consultation," he said.

"My expectation was the council would at some point have the chance to formally consider and give feedback to the Government over what the future of ECan should be.

"I think it is wrong they made this announcement without any consultation with us formally and it is more than appropriate for the council to consider what its response should be."

Livingstone intends refiling his notice of motion so the council can debate the merits of the Government's decision at its next scheduled meeting this month.

The Press