Here is a link to a story by Rachael Williams from the Milton Canadian Champion about the ever present sign mess that has happened over the last few election campaigns.
Election signs have been a part of democracy for as long as I can remember. As a child I remembered my father waiting to hear from all the candidates before he decided to choose which sign would be placed on our lawn for the duration of the campaign.
As the article states, there seems to be a movement to ban them from public roadways and only being able to be placed on private property.
While the site of endless signs adorn our roadways and lawns, I feel that trying to ban them is a knee jerk reaction that will end up putting a muzzle on democracy.
As someone who has had many signs with his name on them for the last 3 municipal election campaigns, I can tell you they do serve a purpose. They are there to communicate to the public who is running in their area and for what position.
Election signs increase the name recognition of those running and for someone like me who previously has held no public office, they go a long way.
Sadly over the last few campaigns in Milton (provincial, municipal and now federal) the sign teams for the candidates have taken liberty on where they place them.
We can go back to the municipal campaign of 2014 in Milton where we had over 60 candidates vying for many positions. Signs were placed along the roadways, intersections and side streets like it was going out of style. During that campaign, myself and other candidates were asked why do we need so many of them.
Derry Road was a great example of over doing the signs. A majority of the 60 candidates were running in wards 1,6,7 & 8 and driving or walking along Derry was a challenge with literally hundreds of signs. It was a mess to say the least. It didn’t get better as the campaign wore on.
It got so bad that Councillor Zeeshan Hamid and I actually removed many of our signs along that and other routes because it was getting way too cluttered. The signs defeated the purpose of name recognition and it turned into sign wars.
Some candidates signs were targeted, removed, slashed or simply destroyed which added to an even further mess. Many candidates took liberty with the rules and began to place them on the “town portion” of people’s lawns without the home owners consent.
If you were a home owner with a corner lot, signs were placed strategically so that there was a presumption of support from the home owner, leaving them with the question “Can I take these down?”
I along with many councillors have received phone calls and emails to inquire as to what can be done seeing how signs are a municipal responsibility it is up to us to make changes to that bylaw.
For me, an outright ban isn’t the answer and it seems that’s the direction were headed. Recently Halton Region passed a bylaw banning election signs on regional roads like Derry, Steeles, and James Snow Parkway. Mind you, the previous council passed this bylaw one meeting before the new council was sworn in. At that point the outgoing regional council unanimously approved it.
If this bylaw had waited one more meeting, as I was a newly elected member of Halton Regional council, it wouldn’t have been unanimous.
Do we need a better sign bylaw for election signs? I think so. An outright ban? Nope.
Here are some of my ideas for a new sign bylaw:
* minimum distance between signs be 500 m at the least – What benefit is there to seeing a candidates name 20 times as you drive along Bronte St along every light pole.
* sign friendly zones – We have some intersections where there is enough room to have space for signs where each candidate is limited to one sign in these zones.
* stronger penalties for violations for candidates – Sadly the onus is on our town staff to collect the signs that violate the bylaw. These are resources we shouldn’t have to use if the candidates teams simply read and understood the rules. Will there be some errors? Quite likely. But we are running into situations where signs get removed, candidates teams are informed as to why and then a day later, the sign returns in the same spot. Penalties for this need to be increased.
* clarification of the “town portion” of the roadway – People in residential areas shouldn’t have to be inconvenienced by having signs placed on their property without their consent because the sign is on the town portion.
* signs placed in the area you’re running in – The last municipal election is a perfect example of this. Many of the candidates had signs in wards they weren’t running in. We had candidates running in wards 2,3,4 & 5 and who had signs in ward 1 & 6. I had numerous calls from people asking why I was running against Clr Colin Best because his opponent had signs in my area. This leads to confusion for voters and inevitably can lead to them not bothering to vote. Your signs should go in the area you are running in and nowhere else.
These are just some of the recommendations I would bring forward in an updated bylaw for election signs.
As a past & future candidate I ask of my colleagues to do their best to help stop this mess that’s happening. It’s your name on those signs and now people are getting upset. Don’t let them be upset at you.
Don’t just leave the signs to the sign team and forget about them and just to let you know, I have never had someone come to me and say “I voted for you because you had the most signs out there”
If we ban them, we’re also making it difficult for future candidates to run for election and in turn giving incumbents more power to keep their positions. We should always be doing what we can to help democracy when we can. And this is coming from someone who would benefit from a sign ban.
Campaigns need to step up. If you can put them up, you can keep them fixed and then take them down. Don’t expect town staff to collect them for you or expect a hefty bill.
We all love our town and we want to keep it clean. Walk the talk and make sure signs are placed legally and with some common sense in mind.
Let’s hope we remember this as we inevitably will enter into yet another discussion of banning signs. Let’s work together to make some common sense rules that will benefit everyone and keep democracy alive.