Trading water for democracy in Canterbury

By Daniel Collins 23/03/2010

I arrived late. A woman was speaking in Christchurch’s Victoria Square on Monday soon after noon, riding over a regular barrage of heckles from members of the 300-or-so audience (the Press under-counted). It must have been Nicky Wagner. Her task, as National list MP and Christchurch resident, was to give the government’s stance on the Creech Report – or why it may be okay to sack the regional council’s elected officials and install temporary commissioners.

The hecklers, and most of the audience by the looks of it, saw the Creech Report’s main suggestion as an affront to their voting rights. Taxation without representation. But they also saw the threat that this would have: more water given to agribusiness, along with downstream consequences.

Politicians must have thick skin, and Nicky Wagner was putting up with a lot. She seemed to falter occasionally, but if this were Survivor: Beehive, I’d have been voted off the island long ago. After her speech, exiting stage right as another speaker took the mic, she was soon approached by Sam Mahon – Cantabury artist and water rights activist. I saw a storm brewing but didn’t want to pry, so I left it up to the pro-journalist and video cameraman. They weren’t in the main spot light anymore. It seemed they had been sparring partners in the past, but they went their separate ways soon enough for separate interviews.

I wasn’t there to heckle or wave a flag. I wasn’t there to listen to new arguments (there weren’t any, for of against). If it wasn’t for the Crikey Creek fan-base (hi Steve!), I wouldn’t have taken the time.

I’ve read most of the Creech Report (including an obvious error of fact in the executive summary). Some of it seems eminently reasonable. Some of it is way out of my scope. ECan has failed in some respects, for example the time delays in deciding on resource consents. But the main failure is really a lack of a strategic plan to better guide the big picture, hence the Canterbury Water Management Strategy. I think the tardiness with a plan stems in part from the socio-hydrological complexity of the region compared with others. But the territorial authorities that called ECan into question have also failed their consented duties, and I don’t buy the Creech Report’s contentious argument of sacking the elected councillors, even if I don’t like them. There needs to be citizen oversight.

My sense is that my position is pretty middle-of-the-road, even if both road safety and Kiwi blogging likes to have distinct left and right. My hope is that a compromise will be found, that the screws are tightened for ECan to get a strategic plan in place (much has already improved since the investigation began), and that with the screws come supplemental resources, which I think is reasonable given how significant water here is for the national good – economy and hydropower. Whatever the outcome, I expect to see it next week.