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by Chris Tobin

The most startling result in the recent local body elections in South Canterbury was the election of environmentalist Liz McKenzie, of Fairlie, to Environment Canterbury.

Dr McKenzie came from nowhere to beat out strong traditional farmer opposition and gain one of the region’s two seats on ECan and top the poll.

A newcomer to politics and the region, the former Auckland-based scientist and environmentalist relocated to Fairlie only in June to be nearer family after her father died around Christmas.

She didn’t have a big budget either, and was up against campaigns that included billboards around the region and advertising in newspapers and on radio.

“I didn’t have any billboards and spent only $630 and a donation of $575, which I used on radio,” she said.

She relied on pamphlets in letterboxes, several candidates’ meetings and standing outside supermarkets to chat with the public.

In preliminary voting, Dr McKenzie received 8823 votes, comprehensively beating ECan deputy chairman and Kerrytown farmer Peter Scott (6868), Waitaki farmer Jared Ross (6571), former Waimate deputy mayor and farmer Peter McIlraith (5852), farmer and Silver Fern Farms director Herstall Ulrich (5648) and environmentalist Phil Driver (5557).

Her success was because of “a number of things”.

“The traditional farming vote was split with four candidates and although I have no proof, I suspect that a significant feature was women voted for me even though they don’t share all my views.”

Dr McKenzie, whose area of expertise is analytical chemistry, geochemistry and forensic science, said she believed climate change would impact significantly in South Canterbury.

She has advocated for a climate change emergency adaptation plan for South Canterbury.

“There are a variety of risks arising through climate change, some gradually, others are more dramatic.”

She believed all climate data had to be considered and was pessimistic about the possibility of reversing warming.

“So the emphasis must be on adaptation rather than mitigation.”

She predicted parts of Timaru as well as Temuka and Waimate could be under water in the next 80 years because of higher sea levels.

“I wouldn’t advocate investments on the flat in Timaru or anything below 20 metres of current sea levels.

“It will be a major for the town. It’s going to change.”

She supported the Government’s freshwater proposals.

“I think they’re very good. That said, the Government needs to be mindful to provide funding and to implement it.

“I don’t think farmers and ratepayers should bear the brunt since it was government policy which has brought us to intense farming.

“ECan will do a lot of work but the Government has to give support.”

New Zealand’s cow numbers would also have to be reduced, she said.

“In certain areas of the country, dairying is appropriate and in other areas where you have to use a lot of irrigation it isn’t.”

Further diversification was an option.

“I have a colleague in France who has developed high-protein edible food from crop waste .. That’s happening in France because there’s no funding in New Zealand for it.

“It was originally developed in New Zealand, but like a lot of innovations made here, was not invested in locally,” she said.

“I’m planning on having them come to speak to the fruit and wine-growers, as I think it is a great opportunity for New Zealand food systems, given the growing demand for non-animal-derived protein.”

She did not support dairying in the Mackenzie district.

“It’s excellent merino sheep country and in the future there will be an issue regarding water supply, as the glaciers are getting smaller.

“We need to have more storage of rainfall and we need more rainwater tanks.”

As far as forests were concerned, she did not support monoculture, which led to “deserts”.

“We need some pines but we need to look at other things. I’m not one to say, plant only natives – there’s no need to be a purist.

“There is a place for exotics alongside natives.”