Saturday afternoon, Cramner Square. A strange scene, that demonstrated the divides in this broken city. At one side of the park, a collection of fences and signs, part of the operation to ferry people through the CBD, to look at the damage, and the empty spaces. In the middle of the square, a colourful rally of people, for the majority of whom there is more than enough damage at home.
The rally was organised by WeCan, an emerging, activist community organisation. While there were speakers from Labour and the Greens (National and CERA were invited to speak, but declined), the heart and soul of the protest was the Reverend Mike Coleman. After speaking to the crowd in the square, he led the short march down to the CERA headquarters in Worcester Boulevard, where we read an open letter to the people of New Zealand. It touched on the number of sections available for displaced people, the inequity of paying out at rateable value, the numerous issues with insurance. Fairness – or the lack of it – was the theme that ran throughout. WeCan called for the establishment of an Independent Advocacy Commission, who could mediate and resolve disputes between property owners, insurance companies and the EQC.
The letter – which he symbolically hammered into a cross, evoking Martin Luther hammering his 95 theses to the church door – was addressed to all New Zealanders. It is a wake-up call, a reminder that just because Christchurch isn’t on the nightly news, that doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. Given the amount of attention the National Party have given to the problem, one might suspect they wish it just would go away. Though they have “Rebuilding Christchurch” on one of their hoardings, that is about as detailed as their policy gets. Would Brownlee continue in his current role? Would they intervene in the property market to ensure people didn’t lose equity? Would they be prepared to introduce an earthquake levy, or raise taxes, to fund the massive investment in infrastructure that is clearly needed?
If National does form a government on Sunday, then we can expect that they will continue with their largely hands-off management of the recovery. This will see the continuing migration from the city, and within the city – the ghettoisation of the eastern suburbs. The divide between those for whom the earthquakes were a curious inconvenience and those who have lost almost everything will only get wider. As Rev. Coleman says in his letter – there is an elephant in the room at this election, and it is Canterbury.