With the provincial election less than two months away, every piece of empty land across B.C. will soon be filled with election signs.
That’s except if you live in Quesnel. The city was in the middle of completely rebranding itself last July when officials decided to tackle the unsightly lawn signs for last fall’s federal election.
“There was a candidate who put up signs about 18 inches apart with a story that he was telling about why you should vote for him,” said Mayor Bob Simpson. City hall was flooded with complaints.
“Everybody is regulated (on the use of lawn signs) except for politicians,” said Simpson. “People can’t use public space to promote their businesses, to promote their garage sales, etc., without restrictions.”
— joan russow (@drjoanrussow) October 29, 2014
So the city of just under 10,000 people got to work.
“Council believes that six double-sided signs, strategically placed, in the city is sufficient to get the word out,” said Simpson.
The restrictions in Quesnel only apply to public property: As long as a resident allows it, candidates are allowed to place as many signs as they like on private property.
To Simpson, that puts the focus on candidates connecting with people and not on how many signs they can afford.
“I think this allows campaigns to concentrate on the things that matter: door-knocking and policy instead of having sign wars with each other and complaining that so-and-so is vandalizing so-and-so’s sign.”
Quesnel isn’t the only city to limit the number of signs.
Terrace, with just over 11,000 people, limited candidates to 30 signs each about a year ago.
“During previous elections, there was a proliferation of election signs in public parks, along roadways, and they were becoming a visual distraction,” said Terrace senior city planner Ken Newman. “We don’t limit the number of signs on private property. If you’re a resident of 1234 Apple St., you can put up 10 signs on your property if you want.”
Some municipalities, meanwhile, have allowed for more election signs than fewer over the years. During B.C.’s 2014 municipal election, Port Alberni decided to relax its sign bylaws to allow signs on boulevards “as long as the signs do not create a safety concern.”
In the Lower Mainland, cities are leaving it up to the candidates.
City of Surrey spokesman Oliver Lum said it hasn’t been a topic of much discussion.
“It’s just certain areas that the signs just get illegally set up,” said Lum. “Boulevards with a left-turn lane and the approach to Pattullo Bridge… obviously you can’t have them there.”
Surrey, like most cities, does restrict the size and placement of election signs, citing safety concerns.
Perhaps with good reason: large, inappropriately placed election signs were the suspected cause of a 2014 accident in Abbotsford where a pedestrian suffered life-threatening injuries after being struck by a car.
Chilliwack councillors, who debated the issue back in 2013, also chose not to curb signs.
“We have 100 square miles of community and it’s very hard if we limit it too greatly,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz. She thinks common sense from candidates, and how voters react, will keep the landscape fairly clear.
“Most savvy politicians depends on other means, social media and traditional media, to get the word out,” she said.