BY SUSAN BOTTING, LOCAL DEMOCRACY REPORTER FOR NORTHLAND
Northland Regional councillors should resign in the wake of the council's controversial Maori constituencies decision, says former member John Bain.
"They have not honoured the Northland Regional Council (NRC) declaration they've signed to represent all Northlanders," Bain, a former NRC and 14-year council veteran said.
NRC councillors had signed a declaration saying they would represent all Northlanders.
But this had been compromised with the council's Maori constituencies decision, he said.
As a result, Bain said the councillors should resign and stand again, and include their position on Maori constituencies in their electioneering. None of the elected councillors campaigned on introducing Maori constituencies in the 2017 local body elections.
But NRC deputy chairman Justin Blaikie said NRC councillors should not be resigning.
He said no councillor had broken his or her oath by making a decision in favour of Maori constituencies.
Bain is, with others, starting Democracy Northland, a new group aimed at demanding a poll challenging NRC's October 20 meeting decision to bring in Maori constituencies.
He said he wanted to restore proper democracy that had one person, one vote rather than a race-based system.
Bain resigned and walked out of NRC's October 20 meeting after losing his bid to instead go out to the community first, polling people further down the track to see what they wanted regarding Maori constituencies. He went before voting took place on Maori constituencies in what Bain labelled "broken democracy".
Democracy Northland's aiming for 6500 registered electors to demand NRC holds a poll on its decision.
Under the Local Electoral Act, 5 per cent – or 6027 – of NRC's 120,548 registered electors must sign the demand for it to be valid.
Bain said his group was aimed at gathering 6500 electors to demand an NRC poll be held.
“These would be people from all walks of life, anybody who understands what democracy actually means," Bain said.
He was aware of similar moves in Whangarei and Kaipara in the wake of Whangarei District Council's November 3 meeting and Kaipara District Council's October 28 meetings deciding in favour of Maori wards.
An NRC poll would cost ratepayers $240,000.
Bain said that equated to only about $2 per rating unit, "a small price to pay for democracy."
He's calling on Northland electors to sign his petition demanding the poll.
"We should be having one person, one vote, not a race-based system," Bain said.
Blaikie said all NRC councillors had made well-informed decisions based on several months of consideration.
A number of speakers presented to NRC as part of deciding on how to vote, including former National Party and Act Party leader Don Brash – who is also leader of Maori wards opponent group Hobson's Pledge – and Meng Foon, New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner.
Blaikie was the sole dissenter in NRC's 7:1 decision in favour of Maori constituencies.
He said councillors had the right to form their own opinion around the constituencies and voice these. He had expressed his in his vote, but the nature of democracy and the way consistent, trustworthy elected local government worked was that he was now comfortable proceeding in line with NRC's majority decision on the matter.
"I respect my fellow councillors' decision supported by the majority," Blaikie said. "That is the nature of democracy."
He said there was no point holding grudges and it was a matter of moving on. Blaikie said he would not be resigning.
Neither would he be having any part in the Democracy Northland campaign.
Bain was no longer a councillor and therefore had the right to act in whatever way he chose as a citizen of Northland, he said.
NRC chairwoman Penny Smart, who moved the motion in favour of NRC having Maori constituencies, did not comment on Bain's call or setting up Democracy Northland to demand a poll.
Bain is a Knight of the Order of St John after more than 40 years' service. He is also a former chair and major contributor to the growth of the Northland Emergency Services Trust's rescue helicopter service.
Northland Regional Council deputy chairman Justin Blaikie said his colleagues do not need to resign after voting for Maori constitutencies.
"We should be having one person, one vote, not a race-based system."
- John Bain