Westland election results victory for 'Trumpism', ousted councillor says

6:12 pm on 10 October 2022
Debra Magner has likened the direction of council to 'Trumpism'; Allan Birchfield, and Stuart Challenger.

Debra Magner has likened the direction of council to 'Trumpism'; Allan Birchfield, and Stuart Challenger. Photo: Supplied

Westland members for the West Coast Regional Council have been rolled in the preliminary election results, and one of the losers says it reflects a move towards a type of "Trumpism".

However, Allan Birchfield, the chairman for the last term, and re-elected on Saturday with a strong vote, said the people had spoken and "they got rid of the greenies".

One-term councillor Debra Magner and Stuart Challenger, who had been seeking a fourth term, were both soundly beaten with 1216, and 1285 votes respectively.

Andy Campbell, a Hari Hari dairy farmer, and Greymouth businessman Peter Haddock, romped in on Saturday, with 1518 and 1416 votes respectively, after being encouraged by Birchfield to provide competition to the Westland incumbents.

Magner said she was disappointed as she feared significant work by the council "to modernise" its approach could go backwards.

"I'm quite concerned that some of the changes or the progress we've made in terms of modernising the council will be undone."

This included steps to bolster financial reporting and internal accountability.

"I would assume that Allan is going to get the chair as the two that got the Westland seats were supported by him," Magner said.

She was surprised "that the Coast supports that type of politics" and characterised the politics as "Trumpism".

"That's effectively what people are supporting. I don't know if they know that. I think it's a return to the past.

"I think there's an anti-Government feeling and that's come out.

"People are worried about all the environmental legislation - that plus misinformation about Stuart and I being left-leaning or even green. It is misinformation."

Challenger was philosophical about his loss, noting it would free him up considerably in his professional capacity, as an environmental engineer.

"It is what it is. It'll be interesting what happens now that Allan has a majority - he'll be able to run things the way he wants to. He will be doing what he believes is best. The unfortunate thing is what he believes and what I believe is not the same."

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Divergent philosophies over governance and management at the council table saw Challenger attempt to roll Birchfield from the chairmanship last term. He believed that had culminated in a campaign against him.

"I felt [Birchfield] encouraging Peter Haddock, who doesn't live in Westland, to stand in Westland was a bit of a dirty tactic. Peter will see eventually what happens at the council," Challenger said.

"I felt we did make some progress - I'm hoping that progress doesn't go backwards."

That included climate change being accounted for at the council.

"Allan having his majority, he could change things. I suspect there will be nowhere near as much given to climate change any more - it's a short term view, I believe.

"The fact is it is changing. He does have the governance [role] which he has to follow, and I think he will dig his heels in over some things. That's his prerogative."

Birchfield said the result, bringing in two new councillors from outside Hokitika, was "remarkable".

"Normally you have to be known in the main centre to get the votes."

Birchfield said talk of "Trumpism" was "sour grapes".

"The voters have spoken - they obviously weren't happy with Debra and Stuart."

The way the losing candidates had previously voted for things that mattered to the region had not been lost on the voters.

"Obviously it hasn't been lost on the voters. I did get a lot of feedback from down there [Hokitika]. Also [Challenger] voted against the flood protection for Hokitika and the seawall, plus the Franz Josef scheme."

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