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Slow return to democracy for Canterbury's regional body

Canterbury’s new look regional council hasn't even met yet but it's already being closely watched.

The region is home to more than half of the country’s irrigated land and hydroelectricity storage.

Canterbury’s new look regional council hasn’t even met yet but it’s already closely being watched. Source: 1 NEWS

And six years on from when it drew protests by sacking the then ECan councillors, the government is returning democracy by instalment.

This year’s local body election was the first time since 2007 Cantabrians were able to vote for their regional council.

There are now seven newly-elected members who will sit alongside six government appointees.

Five of the appointees were previously government-appointed commissioners and, while they are no longer directly accountable to government, the Government definitely still has an agenda.

“The really important issue from the government perspective is to complete the work around improving the management of the water”, Environment Minister Nick Smith told media on the day he announced the appointees.

“We have left the new council with special powers to complete that water work and we would want to see all ten of those zone water rules completed in the next three years.”

But it’s this continued use of appointed councillors and a mandate on water that has some political observers concerned.

"The gerrymandering of the ECan election is not only unfair, but it is really risking bringing the Government into disrepute and making it more difficult, not easier, to manage water," University of Canterbury Head of Politics Bronwyn Hayward said.

"Is it going to choose an experienced chair? Or a chair that has an overwhelming democratic mandate?

"Will they give someone who’s campaigned on their own merit a strong position on the table or are they going to appoint one of the commissioners the Government’s previously known?”

Newly elected Lan Pham campaigned remotely from Raoul Island using Facebook videos and cornered the biggest single vote count in the election. She wants to see an elected chair chosen.

“I’m not gunning for chair myself as I’m completely new to politics, but I absolutely would like to see an elected chair. I think it’s really important for the people of Canterbury, ” she told 1 NEWS.

'Clear targets'

The fresh-water ecologist took her top polling candidate position with more than 55,000 votes. Climate change is top of her agenda.

"I’d like to see local government’s role as setting clear targets with emissions – actually reporting and improving on those," Pham said.

"Climate change should be at the centre of every decision we make and right now that’s not the case."

The council will officially meet for the first time at 10.30am tomorrow.

New look council at a glance:

Seven Elected Members:
Lan Pham
Cynthia Roberts
Rod Cullinane
Steve Lowndes
John Sunckell
Claire McKay
Peter Scott

Six Appointed Members:
Hon David Caygill CNZM
Iaean Cranwell
Elizabeth Cunningham JP
Tom Lambie ONZM
Professor Peter Skelton CNZM
David Bedford