Academics, journalists and politicians bemoan every three years how little interest there is in the local body elections in New Zealand. The narrative being that if more people voted, then local government would be "better" and people being more "engaged" would result in bette Councillors, better decisions, better cities, towns and districts.
It's utter nonsense. There's a reason why most people aren't engaged with local government, because by and large, the things it tends to do adequately are taken for granted (local roads, footpaths, rubbish collection), and people have busy lives getting on with making a living, looking after their families, their homes, and living their lives.
Local government has little to do with many issues, such as healthcare, education, justice, policing, but it DOES have a lot to do with areas that are in crisis, such as:
- Water, fresh, waste and storm. You may not agree with the Three Waters prescription of the Ardern Government, but local government in most of the country has mismanaged water infrastructure for decades. Why? Because local government is dominated by socialists who don't believe in user pays, don't believe in running ANYTHING like a business and don't get excited about infrastructure that is largely out of sight. It's no wonder central government is, essentially, taking water off them.
- Housing. Councils stop housing being built, whether low, medium or high density. When it gets approved, it adds costs to that approval, because it is dominated by central planning types who think they know what's best for other people's land. Councillors think they "build communities", when in fact it is they, facilitated by the Resource Management Act, that mean housing is scarcer and more expensive than it should be. Central Government may have been monetarily incontinent, but the clot on housing supply lies squarely with local government.
- Supermarket competition. Councils stop supermarkets being built. Again they are dominated by socialists who think supermarkets are awfully vulgar places where big companies serve common people who dreadfully arrive by car. As with housing, Councils use the Resource Management Act to constrain supply and even listen to incumbent supermarkets that don't want competition, facilitating higher grocery prices for everyone.
Local government also attracts a particular type of person. More often than not it attracts busybodies, planners, pushy finger-wagging types who think they know what's best, over what people actually indicate according to their willingness to pay. It particularly attracts socialists who see local government as a stepping stone to central government for Labour and Green Party members. They all have a set of principles and views in common, being:
- Rates should go up, beyond inflation, because Councils can always spend your money better than you can.
- Economic development occurs because Councils write plans and set up bureaucracies to enable it, not because people choose to set up businesses in their districts
- Councils should prioritise fighting climate change, because if they don't, then the consequences will be catastrophic
- Recycling of as much as possible is a good thing, regardless of cost and regardless of whether the collected recycling actually gets used
- Driving is a malign, public transport is good, cycling is divine, freight doesn't exist or isn't important
- How much do you want me to pay for (insert expensive promise)?
- Given how poorly Councils have performed in delivering water infrastructure why do you think it is competent in delivering (insert expensive promise)?
- Why wont people pay voluntarily for (insert expensive promise)?
- Do you think Council has hindered the supply of housing and if so, what will you do about it? (if the answer is no, then, if you're in a major city, you know you're talking to an idiot).
- What do you think Council is not good at and shouldn't be involved in?
- What have you learned from your own life and career that causes you are able to make a judgment on how to spend other people's money and regulate use of their land and businesses?
- Do you think your Council should have members on it that are not elected but appointed by local Iwi, because this is the "new democracy"?