ECan plan ‘favours farm­ers’

The Press - - News - Colin Wil­lis­croft

For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Sir Ge­of­frey Palmer has slated En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury’s pro­posed rep­re­sen­ta­tion for next year’s elec­tion, say­ing it is ‘‘ger­ry­man­der­ing’’ and gives farm­ers more say than ur­ban vot­ers.

The first fully demo­cratic En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury (ECan) elec­tions in a decade, to be held next year, are al­ready em­broiled in con­tro­versy, with the author­ity ac­cused of bow­ing to pres­sure from ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and giv­ing them a greater voice than their ur­ban coun­ter­parts.

The dis­pute has cen­tred on the num­ber of coun­cil­lors for South Can­ter­bury. ECan had pro­posed hav­ing 13 coun­cil­lors in next year’s elec­tion, with just one from South Can­ter­bury, but mod­i­fied its struc­ture after sub­mis­sions from the Ti­maru, Waitaki, Wai­mate and Macken­zie district coun­cils, and Ran­gi­tata MP An­drew Fal­loon, ask­ing for an ex­tra seat.

ECan changed its pro­posal in Au­gust to in­clude 14 coun­cil­lors, two from South Can­ter­bury. In a sub­mis­sion to the Lo­cal Govern­ment Com­mis­sion, Palmer said the pro­posal was a clear case of ger­ry­man­der­ing as it val­ued ur­ban res­i­dents less than ru­ral.

On av­er­age, ur­ban ar­eas would have one coun­cil­lor for about 47,000 vot­ers, while ru­ral ar­eas would have one coun­cil­lor for ev­ery 38,000 vot­ers, Palmer said.

The sit­u­a­tion was even worse when com­par­ing the value of a South Can­ter­bury cit­i­zen’s vote to that of a Christchurch Cen­tral cit­i­zen’s, Green­peace and the Con­cerned Can­ter­bury Cit­i­zens for Fair Rep­re­sen­ta­tion group said. South Can­ter­bury votes carry about 40 per cent more weight than those in Christchurch Cen­tral.

Palmer said all Can­ter­bury cit­i­zens had an in­ter­est in the en­vi­ron­ment and the de­ci­sions made by ECan, whether they lived in a city, town or in the coun­try. How­ever, the pro­posal meant ru­ral res­i­dents would be over-rep­re­sented and ur­ban un­der-rep­re­sented, which was in­con­sis­tent with the prin­ci­ple of fair rep­re­sen­ta­tion that un­der­pinned New Zealand’s democ­racy and was re­quired by the Elec­toral Act, he said. The pro­posal took de­ci­sions away from the prin­ci­ple of one per­son, one vote and sub­sti­tuted what amounted to a coun­try quota.

ECan chair­man Steve Lown­des de­nied the pro­posal was changed to sup­port ru­ral ar­eas over ur­ban ones.

Fed­er­ated Farm­ers South Can­ter­bury pres­i­dent Ja­son Grant said the area de­served to be rep­re­sented by two coun­cil­lors. The Elec­toral Act said rep­re­sen­ta­tion should take into ac­count com­mu­ni­ties of in­ter­est and ter­ri­to­rial boundaries, and be guided by a rule that the ra­tio of elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives to pop­u­la­tion in each con­stituency should be within plus or mi­nus 10 per cent of the re­gional av­er­age, he said.

One coun­cil­lor for South Can­ter­bury’s pop­u­la­tion of 61,320 equated to a 30.2 per cent de­vi­a­tion from the av­er­age. Two coun­cil­lors was a de­vi­a­tion of mi­nus 29.9 per cent, but South Can­ter­bury’s cir­cum­stances war­ranted it, he said.

The Lo­cal Govern­ment Com­mis­sion must make a de­ci­sion on ECan’s pro­posal by April 11.

It is likely hear­ings will be held in Fe­bru­ary and March, a com­mis­sion spokesman said.

Ge­of­frey Palmer

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