Democracy rebuild

Today, we have officially released our ‘Democracy Rebuild’ policy. This policy sets out our plan for the newly elected Council to oversee a full independent review of ECan as an organisation to ensure its democratic integrity is rebuilt and ready to face the future as a local government organisation that is fully accountable and transparent to its citizens and communities.

It has been nearly a decade since the removal of full democracy at ECan. We consider it highly likely, if not inevitable, that the absence of standard democratic processes, structures, culture, checks and balances over such a long period of time may have resulted in the erosion of some key democratic foundations within ECan. We think that merely reinstating an elected Council is unlikely to redress the full range of ways in which a decade without democracy may have altered the fundamental democratic nature of the organisation. Therefore, the first policy we will action if elected is our ‘Democracy Rebuild’, the focus of which will be a full independent review of Environment Canterbury to reset and reignite its democratic foundations.

Axel Wilke

The aim of this review is to ensure ECan is ready to face the future as a fully functioning, modern, public service agency – accountable and accessible to the people of Canterbury, and prepared to implement the will of the people of Canterbury. While this will inevitably involve some reflection, it’s not about dwelling in ECan’s past – it’s about looking forward and preparing for the future. We want this return to full democracy to be more than just people regaining the right to vote – we want ECan to be a leader in listening to and engaging with citizens, in order to make urgent transformational change for our environment. We know we have some hard work ahead in the face of huge environmental challenges and bringing the people of Canterbury along with us is key in making progress.

Lan Pham

Under our Democracy Rebuild policy, a suitably qualified independent expert will be appointed directly by the new Council, not the CEO, and will report directly to Council. The CEO will be expected to make all ECan staff and any information held by ECan fully available to the independent reviewer at their request, and the review will take priority over any other staff commitments unless an exceptional case is made as to why this isn’t possible. The CEO will be expected to implement any recommendations agreed by Council within a specified timeframe and we will ensure an appropriate framework is in place to monitor this.

We have a number of headline policies which we will be highlighting during our campaign, such as ‘safe, secure drinking water and swimmable rivers’, ‘world class public transport’ (which we’ve already released on our website) and other unreleased policies such as climate, biodiversity, etc. However, there are two key reasons we are releasing our Democracy Rebuild policy first:

  • Firstly, solving many of our environmental problems are complex and often long-term challenges. They will likely involve legislation changes, plan changes, and addressing funding challenges.  In contrast, our Democracy Rebuild can be kicked off as soon as Council is instated. Our aim is to appoint an independent reviewer immediately and we expect the review to be completed and recommendations received by early 2020.
  • Secondly, the democratic integrity of every local authority is the basis from which it derives its mandate for action and its accountability to the people. Until we as a council, and the people of Canterbury, can be sure the democratic functioning of ECan is fit for purpose and appropriate for a modern public service, then we can’t have confidence that ECan is properly set up to tackle the major environmental challenges we face.

It’s critical this review is fully independent of the institution, answers only to the elected Council, and has the skills and mandate to make a full and frank assessment of ECan. Ultimately we want to give the people of Canterbury an assurance that their regional council will be truly answerable to them once again.

Lan Pham

We also really look forward to welcoming the views of the people of Canterbury into this process. The loss of democracy and how entwined that has been with people’s experience of environmental decline in Canterbury has caused a lot of hurt in our communities. People need a chance to share their stories and if we as a Council want to have any credibility as the people’s representatives, then we need to listen and hear those stories. We will set up a process that enables this to happen.

Axel Wilke

Council will publicly discuss and debate the findings of the review and resolve which of the recommendations to adopt. There will be an opportunity for members of the Canterbury community to contribute their views on the review to Council as part of this process.

We value New Zealand’s strongly held democratic traditions and we don’t want to leave it to chance that such traditions will automatically return to ECan. We believe the people of Canterbury deserve a more intentional reconstruction of a functional democratic regional council.

Axel Wilke

This is not an attack on staff or a criticism of ECan as an organisation. As a councillor over this past term I’ve had the privilege of seeing first hand the skill, dedication and genuine passion for our environment of the vast majority of ECan staff. We want to ensure that ECan is set up to enable passionate staff to thrive and deliver their very best for Canterbury’s people and environment. This is simply a recognition that democracy is fragile and needs to be protected, fostered and nurtured, rather than taken for granted. Where democracy has been eroded, we consider that a ‘Democracy Rebuild’ of this nature is more than worthwhile – it’s a necessity.

Councillor Lan Pham

As Axel Wilke points out: “Given ECan’s unique situation with the return of democracy after nearly a decade, the time for ECan’s first Democracy Rebuild is now.”

Our review will include, but not be limited to, the following topics:

  • Institutional culture: is there a good understanding throughout the organisation of, and respect for, the importance of democratic processes, functions and checks and balances; and is this awareness consistently integrated into the professional practice of all staff?
  • Management: Does the management culture and expertise at ECan support robust and open democracy, and foster staff wellbeing and values in keeping with this?
  • Governance: Are Council meetings, workshops, and any other meetings that take place under the umbrella of ECan (such as zone committee meetings) conducted in a manner consistent with a high standard of democratic accountability and robustness? Are appropriate systems and mechanisms in place to ensure this happens consistently and that it will happen into the future as different councils come and go? Are ECan’s standing orders up to scratch and is appropriate governance support in place to ensure proper process is understood and observed? This will also include a review of the system and decision making process for appointing zone committee members and the current make-up of the zone committees (nb: this will not include a review of the merits of the zone committee system itself, which will be explored in a separate review of the CWMS).
  • Transparency: Is there an appropriate level of public visibility of key discussions and decisions of the Council, as well as a high level of open accessibility of public information held by Council? How easy does the organisation make it for the public to engage with this and access this information?
  • Expertise and capacity: Does ECan have the right people in the right roles to deliver a fully functioning democratic local government organisation and the changing priorities of elected Councils now and in the future?
  • Past positive change: The independent reviewer will also be expected to identify any positive developments that have been made at ECan since the removal of the last elected Council in 2010 in terms of its democratic functions (e.g. community engagement, transparency, relationships, internal and external processes, public access to information, etc) that could and should be continued under current and future elected Councils.
  • Staff views: We know that there is a wide range of experience and expertise among staff throughout ECan that will provide an invaluable body of knowledge for this review. The independent reviewer will therefore be expected to gather and consider a full range of views from staff in all areas and at all levels of the organisation. Any staff member who wishes to contribute their views to this review will be welcome to do so, and confidentiality will be assured.
ECan councillors and commissioners in May 2019

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