The CTV mayoral debate: Why Lianne Dalziel and John Minto could be mates

By Shelley Robinson

Lianne Dalziel and John Minto went head to head last week in the first mayoral debate televised on CTV. Star assistant editor Shelley Robinson took a look from the sideline.
Lianne Dalziel and John Minto agree on more things than they disagree on. Photo / Christchurch Star
Lianne Dalziel and John Minto agree on more things than they disagree on. Photo / Christchurch Star

The different lives of the city's two mayoral candidates was apparent from the moment they walked into the New Zealand Broadcasting School television studio.

John Minto brought his wife Bronwen Summers, who quietly knitted for one of her 10 grand-children in the back of the studio audience, while current Mayor Lianne Dalziel brought her campaign manager who was glued to his cellphone updating his Facebook page with photos of his candidate.

Standing at the lecterns, where the duo would discuss issues facing the city for the next half hour, Lianne, appearing nervous, fidgeted and pulled at her black tailored jacket, reassuringly touching her necklace. John, in a brown jacket reminiscent of a eccentric professor, stood pensive, hands clasped behind his back.

The campaign manager lurked close to Lianne, while Bronwen clicked away with her knitting needles, chatting warmly about the support John had at Hornby High School where he teaches.

"I'll put away my knitting before it starts. I don't want to be on telly knitting," she whispered.

For the sound-check, the apparent gulf widened - the school teacher v the seasoned politican.

"It was a fabulous day at Hornby High School today. We studied the architecture plans for the new buildings to make sure the rebuild goes smoothly," said John.

Sound check Lianne: "Today has been very busy. I greeted the cast and crew of The Changeover including actor Tim Spall and I must admit I am a bit of fan of him."

But it became clear during the debate that Lianne and John, could be great pals. If they joined forces - by crikey Gerry Brownlee and his cronies would have their work cut out for them.

They agree on more things than they disagree on. While you pick yourself up off the floor and dust yourself off I'll explain why. They come from very similar backgrounds of social justice and unions.

Right off the bat, they agreed with one another on the so-called 'rock star economy'.

"Absolute myth" said John.

"If you go through the east of Christchurch through Linwood, Aranui, New Brighton or west of the city to Hornby . . . you will find unemployment is high and families are absolutely struggling . . . we have an economy propped up by Government funding."

This was the moment, where I wondered why the heck Sir Bob Jones labelled him the "screaming skull" - he is a man of the people and makes his points calmly.

Lianne said: "I do agree that the rock star economy is nonsense".

Well okay then. They are just doing a few knee bends and squats - getting warmed up.

Asset sales will surely get them fired up.

John, standing for Keep Our Assets, was very clear that nothing should be sold and savings could be made by renegotiating the time frames for the anchor projects.

And while we are at it, he mused, do you think the city council could maybe stop giving rich-lister property developers $300,000 of ratepayers' money to put in energy efficient systems for their $150 million developments?

Ah, nice one John, we enjoyed that immensely.

He was, of course, referring to the city council giving the money to property developer Antony Gough earlier this year for The Terrace rebuild project.

Lianne, deftly tap danced her way around replying to that - no way was she going to touch that particular bomb.

But she took the wind squarely out of John's KOA sails.

Showing some fire, reminiscent of the Lianne that 72,000 people voted for in 2013, she said, not only had the city council increased its asset base, in fact it did not need to sell anything anymore.

"In terms of asset sales going forward there [is] nothing we need to be doing in order to balance the books," she said.

Erm John?

"I'm delighted to hear it - it's a big change from where the mayor has been leading the programme to sell . . ."

Right then - what about those anchor projects then and that pesky cost-share agreement?

A feisty Lianne was not going to take the blame for that particular balls up. The previous council tied her hands binding her to an agreement that it had to abide to even if the city council didn't get its insurance payout.

What rotters.

But, said John, you are renegotiating it right now, surely you have some influence?

What do you reckon Lianne, could we change the Convention Centre then as it's likely to suck the bone marrow from the tax-payers' coffers?

"I have as much influences as the viewer sitting at home - as much influence," said Lianne throwing up her hands.

"For some reason the previous council decided to leave the entire Convention Centre to the Government," she said.

Free buses then John?

He has copped flak for his free public transport - mostly because the city council can't make that call. Oops.

But he was prepared.

Take $20 million from the New Zealand Transport Agency's $950 million for roading upgrades and put it into the free buses - it's feasible, surely the mayor has influence?

Lianne wasn't having a bar of it - you can't change the bus routes because it is Environment Canterbury's patch and if you do it means city ratepayers will be stumping up the cash for the Waimakariri and Selwyn residents to come in and out of the city.

John was quick to spot a weakness.

"I think that is very small minded comment which gives local government a bad name . . . we have to work with people."

(Dalziel interrupts)

"Why shouldn't they contribute to the cost," she demanded.

"Of course they should and that is a negotiation the new mayor will have to do," said John.

"Which is what I am trying to do," said Lianne, almost under her breath.

That was it. That was the only moment in the night where the two candidates really sparred.

There was no moment more clear that both candidates are similarly aligned on social justice and empowering communities as when they discussed housing and its effect on mental health.

Both want the city council to get involved in rent-to-own schemes.

But when it came to insurance companies and their treatment of residents, John had Lianne in a corner.

"Being a nice guy has failed

. . . the mayor should be saying [to insurance companies] this is not good enough, you get down and make decent offers to these people," he said.

It's complex, said Lianne diplomatically, her top priority was getting the city council's insurance settled so it could begin to rebuild the city.

Cue credits.

Well, after three years of carefully chosen, media managed written comments, it was a welcome relief to see Lianne once again in fine form, showing fire in her belly.

And Sir Bob Jones shame on you, you big bully, John is certainly no screaming skull - he has quiet intelligence and is supreme under pressure.

But to be honest, I like my candidates to really fight for my vote.

In spite of that, I've had to steam open the letter containing my ballot form. Based on the debate I've changed my vote.

I was not expecting that.

- NZ Herald

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