13 Apr 2010

Democracy 'dented' by demise of regional council

8:49 pm on 13 April 2010

New Zealand's reputation as a bastion of democracy has been dealt a blow by the sacking of the Canterbury Regional Council, according to former chair Sir Kerry Burke.

The councillors will be replaced by a government-appointed commission at the end of April following a string of complaints and a damning report on the council's management of fresh water.

The panel of commissioners, led by Dame Margaret Bazley, will govern for at least three years. It has been given the task of resolving management issues over water - a move applauded by the area's 10 district and city councils.

Canterbury regional councillors voted on Tuesday to formally oppose legislation that has removed them from power.

Sir Kerry Burke, who made a valedictory speech at the meeting, told his colleagues that the removal of the council was outrageous.

"New Zealand has the oldest, continuous democratic parliament in the world and this process which we've endured recently dents its reputation in a major way, in my view."

Council deputy chair Jo Kane also gave a valedictory speech and believes the sacking was motivated by the greed of a small group of mayors and stakeholders.

"I'm truly saddened at how easily the political and democratic rights of the community can so easily be manipulated, so easily dismissed and so easily disguised in agenda that I think is about greed, it's about egos, it's about power and we keep being told it's about water."

Ms Kane said council staff did not deserve the attacks on their integrity and the people of Canterbury deserved better than to have their elected council removed.

The regional council will meet for the last time in May.