PUTTING PEOPLE BEFORE PROFITS
Minto For Mayor In 2019
- John Minto
KOA (Keep Our Assets Canterbury) decided to contest the Christchurch mayoralty again In 2019 with myself as candidate. I stood in 2016 against the incumbent Lianne Dalziel and gained 14% of the vote (you can read John's article on his 2016 campaign in Watchdog 143, December 2016. Ed.) That year there were just three candidates (myself, Dalziel and Tubby Hansen) but this year more than a dozen candidates lined up.
Asset Sales Back On Agenda
Early on it seemed asset sales would not be high on the political agenda but that changed when a business candidate, Darryll Park, entered the race late in the piece. Park was keen to "assess and evaluate our assets" and either sell or restructure underperforming assets. The Rightwing can never take their eyes off assets - like a kid with a lolly jar they are mesmerised with the private profits to be made by wealthy investors like themselves.
In particular Christchurch City Council has made the decision to build a half a billion-dollar multi-purpose rugby stadium of which at least $250 million will be borrowed. Dalziel, who looks after big business interests in the city centre, is driving this development and by the time it is built the cries for selling assets to pay back debt will reach a cacophonous corporate chorus. In the previous 2016 election Dalziel was trying to sell up to $600 million in city assets. She is a typical neo-liberal Labour Party politician with a long history of supporting asset sales.
For example, as Minister of Commerce under Helen Clark she was a corporate acolyte. As well as outright refusing to regulate loan sharks she set up a group to advise on how to future-protect the economy from another global financial crisis. She appointed Rob Cameron as chair of the committee. Readers might recall Cameron was the person who advised the 1984-90 Labour government on the sale of Telecom and a few months later advised the buyers of Telecom, Michael Fay and David Richwhite, on how to screw the best deal from the Government. It was a disaster for the country.
At the time of the 2016 election Dalziel had tried, and failed, to sell the City Council's works department - City Care. She failed because a determined KOA campaign to protect City Care succeeded. KOA's campaign position on asset sales in 2019 was "why would we sell assets which bring in income and help keep rates down in favour of an asset (the rugby stadium) which would be a constant drain on ratepayers?"
I Stood On Seven Positive, Progressive Policies
The personal statement which was printed in the campaign booklet summarises the thrust of the campaign:
I am standing as a KOA (Keep Our Assets Canterbury) candidate for Mayor because we want a future for Christchurch which makes sense. The city faces three big challenges: a climate emergency, a water supply threatened by contaminants and many people struggling on poverty incomes without dignity or self-respect.
Our policies are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with free and frequent public transport; provide a local zone for Canterbury businesses and cooperatives in the city centre; rebuild the 400 Council rental homes destroyed in the earthquakes; future-proof our water supply and develop a plan for swimmable rivers; rate increases kept to the rate of inflation and a minimum of the living wage for all Council work.
As well as significantly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, fare-free public transport will create a more cohesive, less divided city as people mix and mingle on modern, low-emission buses with free wifi. It will also save families approximately four weeks' pay per year in transport costs which will be spent in the local economy giving a boost to local businesses and cooperatives. This policy will not increase rates because it will be paid for from existing Government budgets by rebalancing transport funding away from new roads in favour of public transport. These policies will improve our lives while saving the Council money. More details are at.
Chamber Of Commerce's Role
The beginning of the campaign was an exercise in local business influence to screw the scrum in favour of their candidate. The local Chamber of Commerce, which was backing Darryll Park to the hilt, produced a glossy report on what business wanted to see from the new Council. It was a neo-liberal blueprint - sell assets, increase subsidies for businesses etc. They released the report on a Monday afternoon and got the front page headline the following morning in the Press and this helped set the scene for the first Mayoral debate of the campaign that same evening which was organised by - yes, you guessed it - the Chamber of Commerce!
Despite all this, their candidate didn't do so well in the campaign. He was badly briefed on lots of issues and made some bad gaffes (when Radio NZ put him on the spot to give an example of where he would save $100 million to meet his zero rates policy target, he said cut community barbecues! - saving a miniscule amount of money for an activity which is very popular across the city). The policies we put forward were well received and had the contest been myself versus Dalziel I think I would have dramatically improved my share of the vote to seriously challenge her position. However, the opposite happened with Park in the mix.
Early in the campaign Dalziel's campaign faltered with the news she had failed to deal with serious allegations made against a sitting councillor, Deon Swiggs. Dalziel had known since May 2019 of these allegations but had done nothing for three months and then palmed it off onto others to deal with. This was not fair on the complainants and not fair on Swiggs. And then in typical gutless, political fashion she refused to be interviewed about it - effectively stalling the whole campaign debate for a week and a half.
I Got 9.6% Of Vote
The irony was that when Dalziel's campaign faltered over the Swiggs issue - I lost votes! Progressive voters suddenly worried that Park might win so shifted their votes to Dalziel because they didn't think I could beat Park. It was a sentiment which came to dominate my campaign. We spent about $15,000 compared to $24,000 in 2016 (the maximum allowed to be spent was $70,000). In the end I got 9.6% of the vote.
Highlighted Shocking State Of Council Rental Housing
I challenged the main candidates (in public during a radio debate) to come and look at some rundown Council rental units, which are still tenanted, bordering Sydenham Park. The media turned up in force and the outcome was that an embarrassed Dalziel said the Council units needing refurbishment would be refurbished and that the Council units destroyed in the 2010/11 earthquakes - nearly 500 - would finally be rebuilt. Without our campaign these two commitments would never have been given. Dalziel had already been Mayor for six years but spent all that time sucking up to business.
For example, while refusing to spend a single ratepayer dollar on Council rental housing, Dalziel had approved over $8 million in ratepayer handouts (from 2013 to 2018) to wealthy property developers in the inner city. In the east of Christchurch Dalziel's popularity has been hammered. She is widely seen to have abandoned the east where this hardest hit part of the city still has munted roads and buggered footpaths. In reality she abandoned the east long ago and has now moved to the inner city where her heart has been since her first election as Mayor. In the end the east of Christchurch voted out their two City Councillors, Glenn Livingstone and David East, in favour of newcomers.
Never Say Never!
Overall the campaign went well. We had very positive feedback for the free public transport policy - amongst young people particularly and the other policies were also broadly supported. On the publicity side we tried advertising on buses and this we decided was a good use of limited finance. Standing again in 2022? Never say never!
As with John's 2016 Mayoral campaign, CAFCA was heavily involved in his 2019 one. CAFCA provided the single biggest donation - $2,500 - and CAFCA people were very actively involved in all aspects of the campaign. You can read about CAFCA's 2016 campaign involvement in Watchdog 143, December 2016 Ed.