Start paying attention!

This year’s local council elections seem far off at this point, but the key issues are already shaping up quite clearly. [The voting window is 20 September to 12 October.]

In fact, 2013 will be a defining election year, with decisions looming that will shape the direction of Hawke’s Bay for a long time to come …

  • Will we change our form of governance?
  • Will we make a $600 million dam investment?
  • Will we demand improved water quality throughout the Bay?
  • Will we be properly protected if oil and gas development, including fracking, occurs?
  • Will we adopt a GE Free policy for Hawke’s Bay?
  • Will we protect the quality of our health care in the face of diminishing resources and sharply increasing demand?

And a swirl of more localized, but still very aggravating, issues – from fluoride in Hastings drinking water to truck traffic on Marine Parade to beach/property protection at Haumoana and Westshore.

Only one of these matters, Hastings fluoride, will actually be on a ballot this year, but of course we should be expecting candidates to address all such issues explicitly and with clarity as to where they stand.

Candidates can officially start declaring their intentions to stand on 26 July, and then voters – those paying attention – can begin to establish the links between individuals and issues.

Tom Belford

Some voters won’t pay much attention until they are confronted in September by a postal ballot.

And even then, a large percentage will vote merely on the basis of name recognition and personal familiarity – he’s a cousin, she has a great singing voice, we’re mates from school days, he goes to my church. Criteria increasingly unreliable for picking those to guide us through increasingly difficult public issues and choices.

Another group, unfortunately a majority of eligible voters in Hawke’s Bay, won’t bother to vote at all.

Ambitiously, this edition of BayBuzz is aimed at all of these groups.

We aspire to interest and engage all potential voters in the issues now, and throughout the election window.

As Pollyannaish as it might be, we’d like to see an election driven by issues, with informed voters deciding who will guide the Bay into the future.

So in these pages you’ll find the pros and cons of fluoride reported, two views on whether there’s a place for GE growing in Hawke’s Bay, the latest on where our business leaders would like to take the region, and an update on the Regional Council’s dam scheme, which is becoming worrisome to more and more of the region’s leaders.

Leaders. That’s the key, isn’t it?

As the next months unfold, all voters should be on the watch for leaders … and leadership. As we see critical issues debated, like dams and amalgamation, who is speaking up, taking a stand, informing the discussion, offering wisdom or fresh thinking?

And who is ducking for cover, keeping their head down, ‘keeping their options open’, or just praying that their name recognition will suffice for ‘just one more’ visit to the trough?

Some, looking ahead to the prospect of reorganisation might regard the 2013 elections as insignificant or a distraction, with the main events being a presumed referendum on governance in 2014, followed (if reorganisation is approved) by election of candidates to the new body (ies).

But underestimating the importance of the 2013 elections would be a mistake.

Most obviously, because reorganisation cannot be taken for granted. Those elected in October may shape our future for three very important years.

And second, the October outcome will be regarded, even unofficially, as a referendum on at least two key choices before the region – amalgamation and the dam.

So, I urge you to start paying close attention now. Follow the issues. Get informed.

And don’t fall for this ‘play the ball not the man’ bunkum. True, referenda are about issues. But candidate elections are about people – their values and foresight, where those specific people will take us, and how responsive those specific people will be to us. They’re about connecting candidates to issues.

Hopefully, when October arrives, the choices will be clear to you.

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