John MacDonald: Will the real Phil Mauger please stand up

Christchurch Mayor Phil Mauger. Photo: George Heard / NZH
Christchurch Mayor Phil Mauger. Photo: George Heard / NZH
OPINION: Prior to the weekend, I was confused about what Phil Mauger's priorities actually were.

And, since he won the Christchurch mayoralty over the weekend, I'm even more confused.

A few weeks ago, I asked him what he thought the greatest challenges facing Christchurch were.

Top of his list were climate change and inflation. But then, in the next breath, he said he wanted to pull the plug on cycleways.

And he's gone further than that over the weekend since winning the mayoral race, and he's said that he wants to rip up the draft transport plan and do away with any idea of congestion charges, road tolls and fining companies that provide car parks for their staff.

Now I think they're daft ideas too because we don't have major traffic congestion problems in Christchurch - so a "congestion charge" would be nothing more than a tax in sheep's clothing - and penalising outfits that provide parking for their employees is typical of the big stick approach that councils seem to love.

You don't get a lot of carrot, it's all big stick - especially, it seems, when it comes to climate change-related matters.

So Phil Mauger's worried about climate change but doesn't like cycleways and he wants a transport plan that makes "everybody happy". His words, not mine. Which is a recipe for failure because, as we know, if you try to keep everyone happy - no one is happy.

So big contradictions on how he's going to address climate change.

The other big challenge Phil Mauger said Christchurch needs to address was inflation. And here comes another contradiction that's got me scratching my head.

One of the big financial challenges facing the new council is the new stadium, Te Kaha, and how it's going to be paid for since the cost blow-out earlier this year.

And after all the talk about leveraging council assets and selling-off council-owned land, it seems the new mayor wants to introduce a regional tax to help pay for the stadium.

I was reading this last night in the notes from the meeting Phil and councillors Sam MacDonald and James Gough had pre-election with city council chief executive Dawn Baxendale.

The notes from that meeting say Phil wants to explore the idea of a regional tax to help pay for the stadium. How wanting a new tax on ratepayers is consistent with tackling inflation, I'll never know.

Which is why, as far as I'm concerned - now that he's mayor - the first thing Phil Mauger needs to do is to decide what he actually stands for and be open and honest about it.

You can't say you're concerned about climate change and then pull the plug on measures to try and get people to use their cars less.

Yes, I think some of the ideas in the Draft Transport Plan are dumb and not relevant in Christchurch. And yes, I think some of the cycleways around the place are way over the top and over-engineered. But if Phil Mauger was really worried about climate change, he wouldn't be coming out swinging five minutes after winning the election and declaring war on cycleways and congestion charges.

Just like you can't say inflation is a major challenge you want to address because life's getting too expensive for all of us, and then want to introduce a new tax to pay for a new stadium.

I see in the notes from his pre-election meeting with the council's chief executive that he wants to limit rates increase to 3 or 4 per cent. Which sounds fine and dandy, but is probably unachievable and would be completely negated by his new stadium tax.

Which is why I'm saying: Will the real Phil Mauger please stand up.

-By John MacDonald, Canterbury Mornings host on Newstalk ZB Christchurch