OPINION: The categorical statement by the member of Parliament for Christchurch East, Lianne Dalziel, that she will not be a contender for the mayoralty of Christchurch in the local body elections next year clears the political landscape of a persistent and distracting factor.
While there may still be the possibility that Dalziel could change her mind if, for instance, the circumstances in Christchurch politics changed or a popular groundswell developed for her to stand, both of which would be legitimate grounds for a change of mind, there is no reason at present to doubt that she is, as she says, focused on aspiring to the job of the minister for earthquake recovery if Labour were to win power in 2014.
It will now be possible to consider Dalziel's criticisms of the recovery process – and they have been many and seem to encompass just about everyone involved – the mayor, the minister, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority – without the thought they are designed to advance any designs on the mayoralty.
Whether, if Labour were to win power in 2014, Dalziel would be a good choice to take Gerry Brownlee's job as the minister for earthquake recovery is highly debatable. It is, in any case, a slightly unambitious goal. By the time it could come about, more than 2 1/2 years from now, the hard political and financial decisions on earthquake recovery will largely have been taken. By that time, it must be hoped, the recovery will be well under way and any ministerial involvement will have become peripheral.
While Dalziel has many commendable personal qualities – and her energy as a critic of what is being done has been indefatigable – whether she would be the right person for the job is doubtful. She has been a minister before, of course, and though she was competent enough she hardly shone in the role. In addition, her well-signalled party-political partisanship could hinder her capacity to get on with others in a job that requires party politics to be put firmly aside. Her suggestion for some new layer of bureaucracy between the minister and Cera – as if more bureaucracy is what is required – also does not augur well.
With Dalziel out of the running, attention can now turn to other possible contenders. While it may be a thankless job in many ways, it is also one of unprecedented opportunity and the incumbent Bob Parker shows no signs of having lost his appetite for it. At this early stage, talk inevitably centres on sitting councillors, and the names of Tim Carter, Peter Beck and Glenn Livingstone have been mentioned. All are very new to the council and their only mark of distinction so far is their inexperience in all the skills that will be needed in the next phase of Christchurch's recovery. Neither they, nor indeed anyone else on the council, inspires much confidence as a future leader of the city and voters may be forgiven for hoping some better alternatives emerge before the election.
Whoever stands, it has to be hoped that voters take a greater interest in the outcome than they have hitherto. Even after the first earthquake in September 2010 participation in Christchurch in the local body elections shortly afterwards, in which voting required nothing more arduous than filling in a form and posting it, was not much over 50 per cent.
All the bawling about the alleged loss of democracy rings rather hollow when so many willingly disenfranchise themselves in such numbers.
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