New bloods vie for Christchurch East

Labour and National candidates in November's Christchurch East - Poto Williams and Matthew Doocey - are newcomers and virtually unknown locally.

Canterbury university political scientist Bronwyn Haywood describes them both as new blood.

The wild card is this week’s Statistics NZ revelation that the traditional Labour strnghold has lost 10,000 people.

Many will be middle class voters from Avondale, Burwood, and Bexley, where many of the city’s 7000 red zoned homes are being demolished, but also from more expensive beachside suburbs such as Southshore.

Whoever wins will replace MP Lianne Dalziel, who is resigning and is frontrunner to take the Christchurch mayoralty.

In the last general election Ms Dalizel won the candidate vote with 15,559 (55%) against National's Aaron Gilmore on 10,225 (36%).

Labour's new candidate is Poto Williams (51) who offers “rejuvenation”, while National’s Matthew Doocey (41) offers an opportunity for his party to “reconnect” with the electorate after the departure of disgraced list MP Mr Gilmore, Ms Haywood says.

Mr Doocey lived in the UK until returning to his home town Christchurch, earlier this year where he lives in Redwood .

He works at the Canterbury District Health Board as a manager in the surgical division.

Like several other MPs – Peter Dunne, Gerry Brownlee, Damien O’Connor, Clayton Cosgrove - he attended St Bede’s (Catholic) College in Papanui before obtaining degrees in social policy and healthcare management.

Labour’s Ms Williams, of Cook island descent, lived in Auckland for 10 years until moving to Christchurch six months ago.

She holds an MBA from Southern Cross University and now lives in one of the most earthquake-damaged suburbs of the Christchurch East electorate, New Brighton.

She is the regional manager of St John of God Hauora Trust, managing the Community, Youth and Child Service (Southern Region), in the adjacent neighbourhood, Wainoni. Ms Williams sings in a choir and runs daily,  is married with three grown-up children, but relatively little had been written about her until her selection a couple of weeks ago.

She faces the task of capturing the hearts of locals who have given their loyalty in the past to better known Christchurch people – Ms Dalziel and before her the late Larry Sutherland.

The favoured Labour contender locally for Christchurch East was Tina Lomax who has lived in Christchurch for many years and has a sound reputation in the local electorate and as principal of Kingslea School for teenagers who have fallen off the tracks.

Another unsuccessful possibility was James Caygill, son of former Labour MP David Caygill, who was viewed as less suited to Christchurch East than a more middle class electorate.

Word has it he thinks he is suited to Ruth Dyson’s wealthier Banks Peninsula/ Port Hills seat, not that she is retiring at this stage.

Ms Haywood says the fact that the Greens stood a candidate at all was interesting because its catchment is arguably the more liberal, middle class areas.

The Greens candidate David Moorhouse seems very aware of the need to lift enrolments, especially of younger voters, she says. 

Mr Moorhouse (49) is a software engineer living in neighbouring Christchurch Central who wants to abandon the “current fixation with growth” and focus on quality of life.

He advocates cycling, has built an “eco home” and enjoys homegrown organic food.

He supported the late Greens co-leader Rod Donald during his campaigns and stood for the Greens in Christchurch Central against National’s Nicky Wagner and then Labour's Brendon Burns in 2011. (Ms Wagner won the seat from Mr Burns on 47 special votes, stunning many Labour supporters as the seat has been Labour since it was created in 1946.)

About 66% of 18 to 24 year olds are enrolled in the electorate compared with 86% of people over 70 years of age.

“One thing I can’t understand is why National has failed to pick up on lessons Christchurch Central MP Nicky Wagner has to teach about engaging with the urban liberal electorate,” Ms Hayward says.

“Nicky Wagner’s work has been underestimated. She sees it from a peripheral viewpoint both as a list and electorate MP. Christchurch was important for John Key in the last national election when the party vote swung about 10% John Key’s way.

“In a by-election people can slap the established parties and Christchurch East has gone through a period of severe homeowner disruption with a lot of changes of address.

As a party, Labour underestimated last time how they had to reconnect with people.

And as a candidate, National’s Aaron Gilmore was unable to capitalise on that. So I think there is a lot of healing to do with that community that will still be resentful at having him foisted upon it. Doocey looks to be more of a fit.”

Ms Haywood favours Ms Williams to win.

But she says the fascinating longer term trend she will be considering is how the by-election will affect the party vote in the general election next year, noting that there is no party vote in a by-election.

“Christchurch is in a state of flux, it’s very volatile emotionally and electorally. I’m not sure either party really understands Christchurch,” Ms Haywood says.

According to long-time Labour supporter and former mayor Garry Moore the local Labour Party “gene pool has been shaken up a little.”

“Christchurch East is probably not as strong a Labour seat as it used to be,” Mr Moore says.  

He claims that even National supporters are going cold on their party, although this view is not supported by a recent Press opinion poll.

Mr Moore says significant earthquake damage starts properly at Fendalton in the city’s north west where about 500 new homes alone will be built, and extends all the way to the sea and along the coast.

In the 2011 general election post-earthquakes, Christchurch voters opted narrowly for the security of National in Christchurch Central. In Christchurch East it won the electorate but lost on party votes.

Is the picture for constituents different two to three years later?

The caring, sharing post-quake days are gone and divisions are stark.

Hekia Parata’s education amalgamations have sent shock waves through the area with parents and teachers told to embrace the super school idea centred on Aranui.

But after months of panic and submissions, high decile, popular Chisnallwood Intermediate in Avondale was granted a reprieve and left out of that equation, potentially salving some more well-heeled voters.

Southshore has been able to continue also despite its position in tsunami land near the South Brighton spit.

The school has life jackets handy in case of evacuation.

In lower and mixed decile areas, children in New Brighton, Burwood and Freeville Schools will have to move to other schools. The east appears to have suffered most in the education shake ups than any other area.

In terms of earthquake damage, residents of west Christchurch received the first earthquake repairs because damage was minimal in most areas which were largely classified TC1 or 2 or not significantly affected by liquefaction and lateral spread from rivers and streams.

Many parts of the east are still in clean up and demolition mode with rough roads, and still littered with decrepit properties. EQC and its repairers have tightened criteria and owners of damaged homes are locked in arguments.

There are still 70,000 of the biggest insurance claims yet to be settled by EQC.

This means EQC has yet to evaluate and offer these homeowners either cash or placement in a queue for repairs. The drive to New Brighton reveals a very different city to neighbourhoods in the west. Badly damaged Baker St, New Brighton,is a hot spot for “as is where is” houses that are uninsurable but a punt for entrepreneurial landlords.

These are the natural constituents of Poto Williams.

Yet there are longer term changes. Previously Christchurch East’s population comprised mainly from Aranui, Woolston, Bexley, Wainoni, Bromley, New Brighton and Dallington – the older suburbs.

But now new middle class developments have matured over the past 10 years ago - Waimairi Beach/ Northshore homes, Tumara Park, Waitikiri, and the huge Prestons suburb, which is under construction, didn’t exist.

The biggest populations now are to the north of North New Brighton in Parklands, characterised by large McMansions, rather than Aranui, with its weather board homes and state houses.

These new neighbourhoods will be the most challenging for Ms Williams and may be easy pickings for Mr Doocey. Labour represents constituents in six of the 16 South Island general seats, making it imperative that the party maintains its presence. The seats it holds are all in urban areas.  

The electoral rolls for the November Christchurch East electorate rolls have closed for printing and final nominations will close on November 5 for any hopeful latecomers.

Advance voting begins on November 13 and close on November 29 with preliminary results declared the next day and the final official tally published on December 11.

c.hutch@clear.net.nz