Election action heating up in Waitaki

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As the build-up to this year’s general election gains momentum, candidates standing in the Waitaki electorate are out talking to people and have a good idea of the issues which will determine the way people will vote on September 20.

The Waitaki electorate takes in the towns of Wanaka, Alexandra, Cromwell, Oamaru, Waimate, Omarama, Twizel and Geraldine and most of the main parties have put forward a candidate to contest the seat.

Candidates include Glenda Alexander (Labour), Jacqui Dean (National), Hessel van Wieren (Democratic), Sue Coutts (Green) and Donald Aubrey (Conservative).

Most of the candidates have been out on the campaign trail over recent weeks, dropping leaflets, door-knocking, and attending meetings. Because of the size of the electorate, some are spending at best one or two days in Oamaru, but will be attending candidate meetings as they arise.

Labour candidate Glenda Alexander lives in Dunedin and said the party established a campaign office in Oamaru in February.

She said she had been moving around the electorate’s 94 towns, hoping to stimulate people to vote.

“We have been trying to get to some of those smaller places,” Ms Alexander said.

“I would really like people to do an informed vote.”

She said she had been hearing positive things both locally and nationally about Labour and believed the election was going to be a closely-fought battle.

The Labour Party’s campaign bus will be in Oamaru on August 30.

While both Ms Alexander and National MP Jacqui Dean agree the main election issues are education, health care, employment, family/homes, the economy and the environment, Green Party candidate Sue Coutts said she had been hearing about two specific issues from people.

Ms Coutts, who works in community-owned business Wanaka Wastebusters, said low incomes and the lowering of minimal flows in the Waitaki River were concerning residents in the electorate.

“A lot of people are concerned about water quality and reducing the minimum flow of the Waitaki River from 150 cumecs, which was the optimal compromise from many different groups when it was decided on.

“Now they’re proposing to reduce that by one third.”

Ms Coutts said in terms of low incomes, many families and older people on fixed incomes said they could not survive on what they are earning. The flip side of the coin, she said, was how did we afford to pay people more?

Having campaigned in 2011, Ms Coutts said she had seen a real change in people and how they viewed the Green Party.

“People know more about the Greens. They can see our leaders are stable and that we are able to work with the left or right parties.”

When asked her thoughts on “dirty politics”, Ms Coutts said the Green Party had a good reputation and track record for sticking to the issues and believed people respected that.

National MP Jacqui Dean also focuses on her own campaign and issues that relate to New Zealanders and doesn’t take any notice of the dirty politics playing out nationally.

Mrs Dean said her campaign was going well, although she took nothing for granted, and was out in the electorate working hard, unfazed by the area she had to cover.

“I have no problem with the size of the electorate – I just get up at the crack of dawn.

“I’ll just keep doing what I always do and that’s being out and about, always happy to talk to people if they want to talk to me.”

Democratic Party candidate Hessel van Wieren lives in Cromwell and will be in Oamaru over the coming weeks, dropping leaflets and talking to people.

Conservative Party candidate Donald Aubrey, a farmer from Geraldine, grew up in the Waitaki Valley and said the Waitaki electorate incorporated “some of the best places to live in New Zealand”.

“Apart from being a past recipient of a North Otago Progress League scholarship, I have family history relating to Pukeuri,” Mr Aubrey said.

“Some readers will recall that both my late grandfather and father were chairmen of the former Waitaki Farmers Freezing Company.”

Chance to meet candidates

Oamaru Grey Power is planning to hold a public meeting with the candidates standing in the Waitaki electorate.

The meeting will be held at the Oamaru RSA on Saturday September 6 from 1.30pm to 3pm. Questions will be addressed to the candidates.

By LINDA MCCARTHY