Discontent bubbling to the surface in Canterbury

By Daniel Collins 16/04/2010

When it comes to Canterbury water governance, the balance of satisfaction has shifted dramatically over the last few weeks. Some are happier now that government-appointed commissioners will replace elected councilors at ECan. Some are not. And those who are not are increasingly making themselves heard.

At two meetings recently the malcontents voiced their feelings, from calm criticism to vociferous outrage. Running through both events were the feelings of eroded trust, lost democracy and endangered water. There is no way I can relay every nugget of observation, partly because I wasn’t omnipresent. But in the interests of shedding some light on the cogs between water and society, here are a few.

First, from Wednesday night:

• Yani Johanson, Christchurch City Councilor, reiterated the remark that Christchurch City Mayor, Bob Parker, did not consult with the city council on ECan’s performance. Indeed, there appeared to be substantial tension between Mayor and Council.

• David Sutherland, ECan Councilor, said: “No use crying over spilled milk.” People have to find positive things to do, like getting a new mayor. This view seemed to be shared by most people present. Two outgoing ECan councilors are possible candidates.

• Lianne Dalziel, Labour MP, saw the Creech Report as the start of a nation-wide effort to undermine conservation orders.

• Russell Norman reiterated his belief that the debate over water is a debate about who we are as a nation. He also noted Bill English’s recent statements at a Deloitte business function, that the ECan Bill was passed in the interests of fostering irrigation.

• Eugenie Sage, ECan councilor, remarked that there has been tension between ECan and the territorial authorities because of ECan’s demands regarding storm water and sewage operations.

• The lone Mayor to join the panel, Garry Jackson of Hurunui District, received a lot of harsh questioning but also a lot of applause for having the guts to show up.

• And on a social analysis of the attendees, the dominant hair colour was silver, and many heard about the event from a Green Party email. It was a Green Party event after all. A couple hundred were in attendance, inside out out, with a passers-by stopping to listen.

Turning to the Thursday night meeting, this one was about what people can do from here. Held in the Arts Centre’s Great Hall, the meeting was an ideas fest. Direct action was a common theme. Here are some of the ideas put forward:

• David Moorhouse, Christchurch Green Party, advocated a “rates resistance” or rates revolt. The rationale being “no taxation without representation.”

• The Melvin Hills Protection Society suggests a hikoi, starting at rivers on either end of Canterbury to converge on Christchurch’s main square.

• Brendan Burns, Labour MP, presented a petition to the House of Representatives.

• Polly Miller, President of Whitewater NZ, offered to give the in-coming commissioners a whitewater tour of the Hurunui River. This was perhaps the suggestion with the most potential for influence water governance before the next elections.

• Cantabrian artist Sam Mahon suggested both a black-clad candle-light vigil in the square, and monkey-wrenching of possible dams.

• And on the audience, it seemed a bit more youthful than the previous night – mostly middle-aged this time – but there was also a significant 20-something turnout. Probably about 200 came.