• The Election Sign By-Law Must Be Consistent and Fair

    You don’t have to love election signs, but they are an important part of our election process. They are a relatively low cost way to let the public know who is running in their area, and especially important for those running against an established incumbent.

    Incumbent Councillors, MPPs, and MPs start campaigns with name recognition that most challengers simply don’t have. Sitting Councillors, MPPs, and MPs have a record of bringing forward and/or voting on issues (not always a good record, but a record nonetheless) because they’ve usually held office for at least 4 years. During that time those incumbents have had the opportunity to get their names in the newspaper or on radio or TV, as different issues have come up.

    AND, they’ve had public resources at their disposal to advertise themselves in various ways.

    I wouldn’t argue that they shouldn’t be able to do so either, after all I expect our elected officials to keep us up to date on what they are doing. I read their newsletters, and follow their social media feeds, and attend townhall meetings, and I recognize those things do come with some expenses attached.  Nonetheless, it gives them an advantage.

    So it was a real concern for me, with 14 years of campaign experience at all 3 levels of government in our city, to learn that City Council was looking at passing a by-law that would greatly restrict the ability of challengers to get their names out there. Effectively the proposed by-law would have banned roadside signs with restrictions that were so prohibitive that in some areas of the city there would be no place for candidates to put signs other than on people’s lawns where they had permission.

    A height restrictions of 0.9m would have prevented anything but the small lawn signs from going up (most 48″ x 32″ signs are erected on 6ft posts, or a height of 1.8m). A further restriction of a setback of 5m from the roadway (16.5 ft), would have put most signs so far back as to not be visible by passersby.

    Other restrictions limit the timeframe municipal candidates candidates can put up signs. These are the same candidates who usually have the hardest time with name recognition because city campaigns (other than for mayor) don’t get the media coverage that provincial and federal campaigns get, nor do they have the political party support that can spend big dollars on TV and radio ads.

    When it comes right down to it. Council was about to vote in a sign by-law that was going to make it easier for all them to seek re-election.

    WORSE, the proposed sign by-law was not going to be consistent with the rules enforced on other signs that private business, or the City of London itself puts up. From signs advertising sales to the City’s own “Change of Use” signs, there are locations all around the city far closer to the road than 5m (not to mention bus shelters with advertisements, utility boxes, etc).

    Shawn’s nephew Ethan stands beside a City of London sign measuring 1.73m high, 2.66m from the road.

    While staff argued that the 0.9m and 5m restrictions were for safety reasons, the argument simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

    The City’s own “Possible Change of Land Use” signs measured in at 68″ or 1.73m, while many locations are 3m or less from the roadway. And, if a sign that’s up for 8-12 weeks isn’t safe, why is a bus shelter (complete with ads) safe all year around?

    Thankfully, Council’s Corporate Services Committee allowed me to come and speak to them about the proposed by-law and after my presentation, a motion from Mayor Brown, seconded by Councillor Harold Usher, and supported by Councillor Josh Morgan passed, amending the height to 1.8m and the setback distance to 3m. This, consistent with the City’s own signage and private business signs is fair.

    Council still has to pass this amended by-law. We already have changes that cut the length of time for municipal elections almost in half, the campaigning doesn’t start until May now instead of January. And one thing the city did get right is the requirement for candidates to have a 10m separation between their own sign locations. In other words, no more putting 20 signs up at a single corner and just creating sign pollution, they have to be spaced out.

    But, citizens should pay attention to this vote, because any council member that tries to push it back to 0.9m and 5m, is just working to stack the deck in their own favour in 2018’s City Council election.

     

     

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