Saanich council sounds off on election sign debate

Plans by Coun. Colin Plant to end ‘sign wars’ receive support but also push-back

Plans by Coun. Colin Plant to reduce election signage received general support from his colleagues, but also some criticism.

Plans presented Monday would limit the size and number of signs displayed on Saanich public property, while still allowing private property owners to display larger signs. The proposals — which staff will now review — also aim to align municipal with provincial regulations around displaying election signs.

RELATED: Saanich councillor wants to stop ‘sign wars’ of past municipal elections

Coun. Ned Taylor said he generally favours measures proposed by Plant to reduce the number of election signs but warned of unintended consequences.

“I’m happy to see this come forward,” he said. “Overall, I think there were too many election signs. I think it would be ideal to have less. However, I think we have to be very careful about how we go about this.” Taylor said election signs were his primary tool for promoting his candidacy. “Honestly, I’m not sure, if I would have been able to do that, if I weren’t able to use signs,” he said. “So it was a huge asset for me, not only as a new candidate, but as a young candidate, who may be doesn’t have as many connections in the community as an incumbent or an older demographic may have.”

Incumbents have the advantage of name recognition and may not need as many signs as non-incumbents, he said. “So I don’t want this council to introduce policy that makes it more difficult for new candidates to get elected.”

Elections signs, he said, also alert the public to elections themselves. “Low voter turn-out is a big issue which we deal with at the municipal level and one of the benefits of having signs is showing people that elections are happening,” he said.

Coun. Zac de Vries echoed Taylor’s criticisms. Signs represent a “very effective and necessary tool” for candidates, especially younger ones, to get their names out, he said.

Coun. Rebecca Mersereau said she “is very supportive” of efforts to reduce the number of election signs for aesthetic, environmental and safety reasons among others, including the need to level the playing field between incumbents and non-incumbents, as well candidates with means and those without.

“I think it is important for us to recognize that any rules that increase the relative importance of signs on private property will inherently advantage older candidates, who are more likely to have property owners amongst their social networks,” she said. “That is a very important consideration in this region, with high housing costs.”

Mersereau said she is also worried about the costs of administering the rules concerning election signs. That needs to be an important lens through which the municipality needs to consider any future changes, she said, adding that she would support staff offer a more “holistic” set of policies.

Responding to the concerns, Plant welcomed the discussion, adding nothing in his proposals aims to undermine younger candidates. Plant said his proposals generally aim to level the playing field when it comes to using Saanich’s public land

RELATED: Saanich municipal candidate plays politics by a different tune

“That is where it is prudent to limit how many [signs] there are,” he said. “Nobody is suggesting that we are removing them by any stretch. Let’s us make that super-clear.”

If Saanich, by way of example, were to identify 50 public locations were signs were permissible, candidates would have 50 signs each, he said. “That would be fair and equal,” he said. “It may not be fair that someone of us have access to people, who own private lands. I acknowledge that.”

But that issue lies outside council’s responsibility, he said. “The fact that I know 20 land-owners, who own houses, that is a societal inequity. But I don’t think we should prevent them from having a sign on their property,” said Plant, adding that he looks forward to seeing staff’s review.

Plant received support from Coun. Judy Brownoff, who said that limiting the number of signs could actually level the financial playing field, as well as members of the public. She also agreed with plans to better coordinate with provincial authorities concerning the permissible locations and duration of election signage.

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