Support grows for ECan councillors' return

GLENN CONWAY
Last updated 05:00 23/01/2014

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Momentum is growing for mid-term elections at Environment Canterbury (ECan) that could result in some elected members being back there in the first half of next year.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday confirmed Cabinet was considering options and would "make that call relatively soon".

He was conscious people wanted democracy returned at ECan.

"People should be entitled to elect their officials and have them carry out their work."

The issue already appears to have divided Canterbury mayors.

Most want a mix of elected and appointed representatives after the 2016 local body elections, whereas Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel wanted mid-term elections in this three-year term.

Her stance has pleased two former ECan councillors and Opposition MPs who want to make ECan more of a political issue in this election year.

The Government has already met Canterbury mayors and starts its formal review of ECan in March when the public's views will also be considered.

Cabinet had yet to decide its preference but Key hinted it would be revealed soon.

Key said he wouldn't be drawn "one way or the other" on whether a mixed-model option was the Government's pick.

But Dalziel, a vocal critic of the Government's sacking of councillors four years ago, said a partial return to democracy next year would help "manage the transformation" towards a fully elected regional council immediately after the 2016 local body elections.

Dalziel said she wanted the council to make a formal submission when the public review process begins.

Former councillor and now Greens list MP Eugenie Sage said democracy should be restored as soon as possible.

"Mid-term elections would be a good idea but we need a return to full democracy. No other regional council in New Zealand has a mixed model . . . It's ridiculous to have no elected councillors around that table when we're contributing over $80m in rates to the regional council budget each year."

Labour's local government spokesman, Su'a William Sio, said the Government had treated Cantabrians badly through its handling of ECan. He liked Dalziel's suggestion of mid-term elections: "I could live with that."

Sio said he was "sorely disappointed" commissioners were reappointed to run the regional council for another three years from 2013 and the feedback from local residents mirrored those concerns.

"My take on it is that the Government did not keep their promises . . . my gut feeling is people want democracy back."

The mixed-model concept is supported by ECan lead commissioner Dame Margaret Bazley and mayors from Kaikoura, Waimakariri and Ashburton.

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- The Press

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