Turning ECan inside out: Creech governance review, exposed?

Is the government's investigation of the performance of Environment Canterbury open to more robust critique than it has been getting?

The worm turns.

In my post last week here on Pundit, I gave vent to some exasperation and befuddlement, about why the Greens keep regurgitating the same old information about Wyatt Creech’s convictions for illegal effluent management, and using this to dispute his standing as chair of the Environment Canterbury (ECan) governance and performance review.

I argued that I did not find this, in itself, at all convincing; certainly I was not prepared to put as much weight upon it as the Greens. As far as I had been able to ascertain to date, ECan was indeed highly dysfunctional. The Press has been reporting in some lurid and frequent detail on how councillors are spending at least as much time scrapping with each other, as running Canterbury. It seemed plausible that in such a toxic political environment, there could well be, as the ECan report had suggested, a need for breathing space and a fresh start. I thought that the Greens' line sounded like a conspiracy theory, and a highly politicised line, that in the end had backfired, provoking Kiwiblog to respond in a fashion not complimentary to the Greens.

Pundit reader Paul McMahon responded on the comments thread. Without having made any attempt myself to verify his views, I have taken the liberty of lifting them up, verbatim, into a fresh post. I have done this because, if correct, it would without doubt cast a fresh and illuminating light on things; it therefore deserves to be given proper priority, with some urgency, given that the government is, as we speak, considering its response to the Creech report.

Here are his views:

Most of the criticsms in the Creech Report focused on historical issues which have largely been resolved and even on consents processing ECan is in the top 20% of regional authorities in NZ. A recently published survey showed that the rate of economic development in Canterbury was among the highest of any region in New Zealand.

When ECan was first setup they failed to deal with water issues then and now it is coming back to haunt them. You are right that there is a lot of emotion in the debate and the politics has been particularly unpleasant - but that's the stuff the media tend to over-report.

ECan is castigated in the Report for the failure to have a "water plan" in place, but the media have failed to mention that the Minutes of ECan meetings show
clearly that in earlier times some ECan Councillors wanted to produce such a plan but it was voted down by non other than the farmer members of the then council.

In short, the Creech Report, the Mayoral Forum, Rodney Hide and Nick Smith have created a strawman of ECan.

Another thing the media don't say much about, for instance, is that Bob Parker and the Mayoral Forum have been trying to put as much pressure on ECan to as they can in an effort to undermine the regional council. (Incidentally, Bob Parker promised during the last elections that he would disclose his donors after the elections and hasn't...)

It is utterly scandalous that those councillors didn't excuse themselves from voting on irrigation issues (though being present at the discussions themselves did not constitute a conflict of interest, imho) and, while they might not be legally obliged to resign, they clearly are ethically obliged to do so (at least, imho) and have not. Their democratic mandate is undermined by their unethical and unjust actions.

ECan has been remarkably functional under the chairmanship of Kerry Burke (despite it being highly partisan and despite the rural gerrymander) and improved markedly under his leadership. The big failure is on water and that is at the root of the acrimony and emotion that is so headbangingly frustrating.

City (70% of ratepayers) and town are divided very strongly on this issue, as we saw with the election of the two Save Our Water candidates last election. The latest representation review of ECan reduced the rural gerrymander enough that it may mean (or have meant) that 2021 and its allies (the largely urban, pro-environment group) could have a majority and the chair after the 2010 elections.

For the irrigators it's now or never to get rid of ECan, or risk an ongoing 2021-led council who is "science-led" rather than "science-informed" and "too focused on the environment", in the words of the Creech report.

By all means, please, discuss.