© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2019

Lianne Dalziel has 'unfinished business'

Ursula Keay
dalziel photo
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel speaks to media after the March 15 mosque attacks. Jasmine Ng

Lianne Dalziel planned to come into the mayoralty to fix things and then leave. But six years later, she’s running for a third term in office. She’s been called the "hardest working person ever elected" by fellow city councillor Tim Scandrett. And, as she says, she has "unfinished business".

Dalziel was born in Christchurch in 1960 and is a proud Cantabrian. She graduated as a lawyer before working in the trade union movement as the union’s secretary. When she saw the incoming national government was going to undermine industrial relations, she made her move into central government where she stayed for 23 years.

"I didn’t predict how bad it would be. The 1991 budget is something I will never forget."

She has built a reputation as being "for the people" and worked hard for people who had not had their houses fixed after the earthquakes. She is known for her empathy and says the council is working through delegation issues so that community boards will have more responsibility this coming term.

"In my time as mayor I hope the council will be seen as a partner with communities and businesses with a can-do attitude of 'how can we do this?' rather than 'computer says no'."

This next term she plans to prioritise drinking water and will fight to impose any further attempts at mandatory chlorination on the city. The council will remove well heads 'as soon as they possibly can', but she believes there is still a misunderstanding with the public.

"We were forced to chlorinate. If we had not made the decision ourselves to chlorinate, we would have been ordered to chlorinate."

During her mayoralty, the council was responsible for opening Tūranga, the $92 million modern central city library, housing 160,000 books, a seven-metre $1.245 million touchscreen wall, and music and video studios. At the time Dalziel said it was an "incredible milestone".

But then on March 15, the unthinkable happened. Dalziel says nothing makes her prouder than the way Christchurch responded.

"It was a very human response. It was a powerful message that went right across the world."

She says she felt an incredible sense of responsibility to make sure the messages being given were ones of reassurance, unity and coming together.

But the role has not been without controversy. In March, a media storm ensued after it was suspected her husband had an interest in water bottler Cloud Ocean Water.

Dalziel says the public misunderstood her husband’s links to Cloud Ocean Water saying his law firm "does legal work for Cloud Ocean on industrial relations only. That's all they do". She points out that the council does not have responsibility for allocating water. The regional council, Environment Canterbury, does.

When asked about the recent controversy over the council chief executive's salary, Dalziel says the market set the salary and the new chief will be getting paid less than what she was on at her previous job.