A bigger farce is hard to imagine, than when Labour-aligned elected members and staff tried to subvert council process, to generate an electoral outcome to benefit their own team – at great expense to everyone else! They leave Council no real choice, but to vote more reasonable amendment instead.

This Thursday the Christchurch City Council receives a first substantive report on its Representation Review options.[1] The agenda for its meeting shows a council being backed into a very tricky corner.[2] Can this council make the right decision for its already-strained communities? It has to; this is critical. Against the deeper, further division being promulgated by Labour politicians, there is opportunity to bring communities together – right when we really need this. Here are some views to help the city councillors to reach their best decision tomorrow.

The current council electoral wards look like this –

Christchurch City Council wards 2006-2015

Christchurch City Council wards 2006-2015

– seven council wards electing two councillors each, except for Banks Peninsula that elects only one, due to much smaller population there. Even then, Banks Peninsula is grossly over-represented in a way, and its situation can very much be improved upon. Current councillor total: 13; plus one city mayor.

The Christchurch representation disparity must be fixed this year, the Local Government Commission advises, as it has gone on long enough – since Bob Parker’s city amalgamation time, in 2006.[3] The 13 councillors we now have must therefore become a different number, somehow – unless the ward number changes – and population shifts post-earthquake, east to west, add significantly to the change dynamic. So we are deciding now on what framework the 2016 elections will have, that will remedy the system imbalance Sir Bob put and left in place. But how?

Everything in Thursday’s council report has been steered to reach a conclusion of 19 councillors in 2016, as a better representative number. The whys and wherefores of this particular number I shall not go into, understanding that most of Christchurch do not want it, from knowing especially that we cannot afford it. Others can try to justify 19, when the Local Government Commission has already shown inclination to knock large numbers back. If we want our proposal accepted by central government, it has to make sense; or we will lose our say in election mapping entirely. But a particular political bloc sees advantage and easier work for themselves in using their influence to put 19 seats (it might win more of, back) in place. Is this agenda good for Christchurch? Patently not, when more rational alternatives are looked at.

19 councillors would require 19 separate wards to be created, out of the current seven. A transformation of the Christchurch political landscape, and the question is why?

Dividing historic communities, like Addington and Spreydon into multiple wards by this means, would be to create fiefdoms for empowered and more numerous local representatives – at the local community’s expense (in terms of suburb broken unity and inflated rates). Lording it over subject suburbs?

A more practical and respectful solution would be to retain the current ward total of seven, with adjusted boundaries, or even reduce it to six – with two councillors per ward, continued. This presents a choice of changing the councillor number to either 14 or 12; with the mayor’s vote added, a deadlocked council is more easily avoided than if the councillor number is odd. So this is the choice I would like to recommend, if heard.

There is a case for decreasing both the ward geographic and population sizes meaningfully, to decrease the representation ratio for fairness comparative to other cities, by choosing seven wards, on adjusted boundaries, to elect 14 councillors. One extra councillor to share the city’s workload, usefully. Potentially there could soon be four city councillors with responsibility for servicing parts of Banks Peninsula, that would do a much better job than just the present one.

So what does the six or seven ward remedy look like, on the ground, as a choice? – Most like the system we have now, only fairer (the boundaries illustrated are to be fine-tuned):

CCC 2015 Representation Review 6-ward proposal

CCC 2015 Representation Review 6-ward proposal

CCC 2015 Representation Review 7-ward proposal

CCC 2015 Representation Review 7-ward proposal

The elegance of these solutions is that the south-west of the city joins up with that part of Banks Peninsula, as does the south-east. Boundary-shift and community disruption are kept to a minimum. Riccarton-Wigram becomes a two-community-board ward by adding Akaroa-Waiwera, as does Hagley-Ferrymead by adding Lyttelton-Mt Herbert.

The real debate is whether a new, central-city-east, seventh ward needs to be created, with its community board space at Smith Street council depot in Linwood or the 53 Hereford Street council offices. But this is what we would call improving democracy – realistically.

Thursday’s council agenda shows clearly how decision-makers are being shepherded towards a conclusion of 19 councillors and 19 wards, through dull exclusion of more reasonable proposals:

CCC agenda, Representation Review report, 14-05-2015 p.267

CCC agenda, Representation Review report, 14-05-2015 p.267

I have already documented the ethical breaches and political manipulation experienced on a Labour-led community board, that fed into the above conclusions, here: NZLabour Party corruption: Paul McMahon, Christchurch New Zealand Labour politician of prejudice.[4] I have asked for council staff support to resolve the constant bullying on McMahon’s board, from Democracy Services, and received precisely none.

[1] http://www.ccc.govt.nz/repreview

[2] http://resources.ccc.govt.nz/files/TheCouncil/meetingsminutes/agendas/2015/May/Council14May2015FULLOpenAgenda.pdf pp.221-274

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Parker_(mayor)

[4] https://riktindall.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/nzlabour-party-corruption-paul-mcmahon-christchurch-ccc-newzealand-labour-politician-of-prejudice-nz/

As a community organiser, starting four years ago, I have in that time become increasingly perplexed as to why community organising was so difficult – so surprisingly, in a strong Labour area. But the answer is plain in the discourse above. As petit-bourgeois administrators, Labour’s interest is in their own bureaucratic power to divide and rule, to brook no recourse from the communities they dominate, who should otherwise be telling Labour what to do in office. That is not the way that Labour likes it!

In finding direction and well-being outcomes, communities I know are thus quite frustrated. That has to change, with the new electoral boundaries.

Kia ora. Kua mutu.

Postscript 15/5/15:

As much as #Christchurch City Council is Labour-led, it is inept, indecisive, absent staff ‘direction’

Though there is the momentous Long-Term Plan 2015-2025 claiming their attention currently, Christchurch city councillors showed an apprentice rating this week. With a first vote locked-up, council staff were sent away to reword their question rather than be given the clear choice, how to hasten the pace, that they had asked for. The broad decision on 2016 electoral representation must therefore be revisited, with no sign that Council has understood the major dynamic so loud in its face; that they must show competence, quickly, or they are gone!

Press poll on Christchurch councillor number 15May2015

Press poll on Christchurch councillor number 15May2015

Windmills are being tilted at, blithely, in this Labour-led representation review. Where public opinion is plain to see, and central government say on it brutal and final, the city’s right to design its electoral patchwork is foolishly being sacrificed – on the alter of contentious ideology.

A basic error has been made in putting a minority interest ahead of the majority – to keep Banks Peninsula whole ‘as one community of interest’, which arguably it is not, while dividing many much larger urban communities to achieve that through multiplication of smaller wards, to supply more councillor power bases.

Bold injustice is being prepared for proposal to Christchurch voters – to retain Bob Parker’s expired skewing of the vote, by another means.

We can do better! And we will.

19/5/15: Lianne Dalziel wants local boards for Christchurch