by Benoit Pette
The local elections are coming to an end and it would be an understatement to say it has been dull. The only pinch of excitement came with the emergence of a young Māori wahine, carrying progressive values.
When the debates started, it went all downhill. There have been dozens of them, and the only takeaway is that all candidates want a vibrant, inclusive, green city. This set of commonplaces is not helping to differentiate one candidate from another, for example during the conclusion of the Spinoff debate. On the policy front, they all say they’ll achieve their “vision” with better bus services (over which they have zero control) and more housing. And since I want to vote on a vision and its supporting policies, and not for a person, it’s been very hard, listening to the debates and reading candidates’ websites, to feel we have a choice.
On housing, for example:
“My vision is to drive active delivery of more housing and ensure more Wellingtonians can live in vibrant, attractive, walkable neighbourhoods, close to high quality public transport.” – Andy Foster.
“This district plan cycle will shape Wellington’s future. Poor leadership from the current mayor has delayed the changes Wellington needs. Tory Whanau is the only candidate for Mayor who is unequivocally in favour of increasing housing supply through quality density, so that Wellington can grow and thrive.” – – Tory Whanau.
“Wellington needs more homes. There’s no question about that. As Mayor I will work to ensure we build more homes, quickly. There has been a lot of debate over the district plan. This is now with the Independent Hearings Panel. I don’t want to reopen old arguments, I want to open new homes. I will do this by focusing on where we can move quickly and get development going, including through promoting greater density across the city.” – Paul Eagle.
… all the while the District Plan consultation is finally over, begging the question: what influence will the next Mayor and Council have on it anyway? What impact can they have when central government forces NPS-UD and MDRS on big cities? One point of differentiation could have been the level of influence they want to have on housing design, but this is absent from the District Plan. It would have had the merit, as well, of giving worried owners some choices on the kind of new neighbourhood they will see popping next to their homes.
Comparing transport modes, pipes, etc has been equally disappointing: all candidates want to fix the pipes. They also want more buses and to accelerate LGWM (towards what goal, who knows?), etc.
Listening very carefully, I found the following small points of differentiation: Yes, Paul Eagle is more reserved about cycleways (unlike the two others), Andy Foster continues to oppose Shelly Bay (unlike the two others), Tory Whanau opposes the airport expansion (yes, unlike the two others).
So less than a couple of weeks before votes are closed, I am still unsure if and for whom I will vote. If I don’t vote, I would lose my ability to take part in the debate. If I do vote, I would support a system that does not give me any satisfactory propositions for the future of Wellington.
From the campaign, I had hoped to see a strong display of professionalism, an absolute discipline of not attacking. I had hoped for an unequivocal determination to take ownership of the main reasons 88% of Wellingtonians are dissatisfied with the city council, and to put forward a plan to restore trust. Proposing a transparent mechanism that everyone could trust to surface the true vox populi would have been a first step in the right direction.
But none of the candidates has remotely approached the topic.
While I like writing about local issues, here I can only share my own confusion, like so many undecided voters, when there are so few variations in the different visions, and the core issue around democracy is not even touched on? What will it take for local politicians to truly listen?