Eugenie Sage

Mourning local democracy in Canterbury

by Eugenie Sage

National’s distaste for democracy and intolerance of dissenting views is increasing. Pre ‘quakes Cathedral Square was the heart of Christchurch. Two years later the public are still fenced out and kept behind the cordon.

Further negotiations with a CERA staffer but the answer was still “NO” for the group to access the Square.

The Government’s Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) decides who can get access beyond the Army guards and security fence. CERA allows chaperoned Red Zone bus tours which include the Square and a portable pie cart.  It allows car parking but not free speech.

Yesterday CERA CEO Roger Sutton withdrew permission for myself and Green MP Mojo Mathers, Labour MP Ruth Dyson and 10 members of Canterbury’s OurWaterOurVote to visit a cairn of riverstones in the Square.

We had finalised the meeting point and time with CERA. We were liaising over the number of hard hats and high vis vests required when Mr Sutton rang to say the permission was withdrawn unless his Minister, Gerry Brownlee agreed.

Our access the Square was cancelled once CERA learnt that we wanted to lay a wreath on the cairn to commemorate the ineptly titled Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2012 becoming law this week. The Act removes Cantabrians’ right to vote and elect regional councillors to represent them for another three years.

The cairn is on public land in the Square owned by Christchurch City Council. But CERA’s sweeping powers means it can decide what happens in this most symbolic of public spaces. CERA allows and facilitates VIP and tourist bus tours to the Square but it disallows any criticism of Government policy which media may cover.

The Cairn – in the distance.

Thousands of people helped  build the cairn in 2010 after Government passed the original ECan Act which dismissed regional councillors and weakened water conservation orders as they apply to Canterbury rivers and lakes.

The cairn has survived more than11,500 earthquakes. It is potent and silent symbol of the power of the people and public unease about our loss of democracy and mismanagement of our rivers and aquifers.



Published in Justice & Democracy by Eugenie Sage on Fri, March 8th, 2013   

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