An election that won’t solve anything

The local elections are soon 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.

Then the debates started and it went all downhill. There have been dozens of them, and the only takeaway was 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 or 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 even 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, absent from the District Plan. This 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.

I found, listening very carefully, the following little points of differentiation: Yes, Paul Eagle is more reserved on 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 a couple of weeks before votes are closed, I am still unsure if and for whom I will vote. If I didn’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 wished to see a strong display of professionalism, an absolute discipline in not attacking. I had wished for an unequivocal determination to take ownership of the three main reasons 88% of Wellingtonians  said they were dissatisfied with the council, and to put forward a plan of attack to restore trust. Proposing a transparent mechanism that everyonecould 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 posts helping readers to understand local issues, here I can only share my own confusion, like so many undecided voters. How come can one hope, that eventually, residents will be taken on the journey, with so few variations in the different visions, and the core issue around democracy not even touched on? What will it take for local politicians to truly listen?