1 Apr 2010

Parties fear changes to council threat to democracy

6:57 am on 1 April 2010

Opposition parties fear Wednesday's sacking of the Environment Canterbury councillors Opposition parties fear moves to change Environment Canterbury may spell the end of regional councils in the area and threaten democracy.

Parliament sat under urgency on Wednesday to pass a new law placing the judicial and democratic oversight of the Canterbury Regional Council with a panel of commissioners.

The Government on Tuesday appointed the commissioners after a stream of complaints and a highly critical report by former National Cabinet minister Wyatt Creech.

The 14 regional councillors have been told their roles as democratically elected councillors will end on 1 May. They will be replaced by a panel of commissioners for at least three years.

The Government was keen to progress the Environment Canterbury Bill to allow the appointment of the panel, led by Dame Margaret Bazley.

The bill drew staunch opposition from the Labour Party and the Greens, who believe removing the councillors is a mistake.

Green Party MP Sue Kedgley told Parliament on Wednesday the bill signals the end of a regional council in Canterbury.

"People of Canterbury need to wake up - it is Rogernomics part two, it is the agenda to wipe out layers of local democracy. It is a coup d'etat, an unconstitutional getting rid of a government by a small group of people."

But Environment Minister Nick Smith dismissed claims of a conspiracy by the Labour and Green parties that the Government had engineered groups to be against the regional council to enable the bill to be passed.

"The issue is very simple - we have a problem with water management in Canterbury. It is time for leadership and that is what is provided for appropriately in this bill," he told the House.