ECan plan ‘favours farmers’
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.