12 Sep 2016

Christchurch rebuilds his electoral map

8:27 am on 12 September 2016

This year's Christchurch City Council elections could see some surprises after a radical redrawing of the city's electoral boundries.

Christchurch city council

Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

The old system split the city into six sprawling wards represented by two councillors each, while the new one involves 16 communities represented by one councillor each.

Another three wards have also been added, which could change the balance of power on the council after the election.

Adding to the uncertainty about th epolticial map of the city was the fact that entire neighbourhoods had been uprooted by the Canterbury earthquakes, said Bronwyn Hayward, the head of politics at Canterbury University.

"A lot of the neighbourhoods that tended to vote to the left have been very disrupted, and it's not really that the city is turning blue, it's that communities who are struggling financially are having a hard time getting themselves organised to also think about issues like who to vote for and where to vote."

Councillors in four wards were standing unopposed and veteran activist John Minto was the only candidate with an obvious chance of taking on mayor Lianne Dalziel.

Unlike the last election, where there was a major clean out on the back of widespread dissatisfaction, this time around voters were more likely to play it safe, said Professor Hayward.

"As voters, we don't like a lot of conflict, so when somebody is an incumbent candidate who appears to work well, especially in a local community, people are reluctant to engage in high conflict, and they're happy to support an incumbent candidate."

The Labour-aligned Peoples Choice was standing candidates in 10 of the 16 wards, but Prof Hayward said there was unlikely to be a left-wing take-over.

"People voting at local community level also want to know that their candidates will compromise, that they will work in the interests of their neighbourhood, not just in the interests of a political philosophy."

Community advocate Reverend Mike Coleman was picking a tight race for the Coastal ward where incumbent David East was taking on high profile community leader Jo Kane and Peoples Choice nominee Dean Lester.

He said the eastern part of the city was in desperate need of a strong advocate on the council.

"The roads are still really poor and I know many, many people are still fighting EQC to get either their repairs done or re-repairs done, so there's a lot at stake for the east and they really need to get out and start voting."

After the rebuild, the next biggest issue in this election will be the council's scaled-back $600 million asset sales programme.

Roading and maintenance company City Care was the first company on the block, but failed to attract a willing buyer and very little had been heard on the issue since.

Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend was sure the issue was not a dead one.

"Of course we go into a period now where the Council won't make any radical decisions prior to the election, because it will be seen to be interfering with the election process.

"So we'll have to wait until after the election to see how that is going to play out. It doesn't take away the fact that he council still has some serious challenges ahead of it."

Voting packs will be mailed out around the country from the end of next week and the results for most council elections declared on 8 October.

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