City councillor tries to banish 'annoying' election campaign signs

Election signs in Toronto. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

As the whirlwind of federal election time approaches, one city councillor has a particular nuisance she’s hoping to banish. Brampton, Ont., councillor Rowena Santos has put forward a motion to completely ban election campaign signs in the city by the next municipal election.

“One of the most annoying things about a campaign as an organizer is dealing with campaign signs,” Santos told Yahoo Canada. “They are not that effective, they use up resources of volunteers, they’re bad for the environment...and if you don’t win, they get tossed into the landfill.”

According to Santos, campaign signs can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 or more. A candidate in her office spent $20,000 on 4,300 signs for the 2018 municipal election, and still lost. A 2016 study from Columbia University, which the city councillor is quoting in her fight for the ban, found that campaigns signs had no impact on increasing voter turnout and only about one per cent impact on increasing a candidate's vote share in the U.S.

“This whole concept of signs vote is completely false. What matters in campaigns is talking to voters, what matters in campaigns is informing the voters,” Santos said

“If you can’t do that, whether you’re a new candidate or an incumbent, then you’re not going to win. Getting rid of signs will level the playing field because costs associated with them are a barrier to entry for new candidates.”

Currently, these election signs are banned in public spaces in the city of Brampton, but Santos has found that enforcing this bylaw is particularly difficult. In the last municipal election, the overall cost to the city to enforce the election signs bylaw was $165,000. The actual recuperation of costs through fines from candidates was only $6,500.

“The minute you start putting rules around campaign signs, where they could be, how big they are, where they can be located, who’s allows to give permission, people are going to break them,” she said.

With Canada’s federal election coming up in October, the city councillor says that she will be observing and tracking the election signs in the area to better understand the costs associated with enforcing the bylaw throughout the campaign.

“In provincial and federal elections, even though the city has to enforce the breaking of rules and complaints around campaign signs, the provincial and federal government don’t give the city any money when it comes to paying for the cost of bylaw officer and paperwork...and time that is needed to enforce those bylaws,” Santos explained.

The Brampton councillor argues that these signs are distractions during elections, taking the focus away from the issues being debated and the candidates in the running. Instead of signs, Santos says other tools like social media, websites and flyers do a better job at actually bringing information to voters, helping to inform their election decision.

“Signs...become this white noise in the background that nobody really pays attention to and in fact, more people just end up complaining about [them] because after the election is over, regardless of who wins, somebody has to clean up all of these signs,” Santos says.

More election annoyances

In addition to Santos’ war on election campaign signs ahead of the federal election, there have already been other election-related communications that have bothered voters.

Canadians have been receiving text messages from someone named “Sarah” asking if they are planning on voting for the Conservative Party in the fall election. The party has also sent Canadians unsolicited messages about Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax.

There have also been complaints about political advertisements, a form of marketing that have consistently infuriated Canadians during election times.

This year, these “attack ads” have included an anti-Trudeau video from Shaping Canada’s Future that talks about the prime minister’s “broken promises” and an ad paid for by Engage Canada, which features Andrew Scheer as a bobble-head and describes him as a “Yes Man to the 1%.”

So what annoys you the most during election times in Canada? Vote in the poll above and leave your thoughts in the comments below.