On Wednesday, Calgary city councillors will debate proposed changes to rules around election signs in an effort to cut down on clutter in public spaces and boulevards. But some councillors feel the proposal doesn’t go far enough.
The amendments to the city’s temporary sign bylaw follow a motion from two councillors last year that raised concerns with the number of signs in public spaces along city streets during election campaigns.
The notice of motion from Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner and Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp asked city administration to look into the issue ahead of an election period while considering the environmental and driver safety impacts of the signs.
The proposed amendments include increasing the minimum distance between signs by the same party or candidate to 30 meters, 10 meters more than the current rules. The proposal would also prohibit signs within two metres of a driveway crossing.
Administration said it is also reviewing locations with high complaint numbers to consider adding to the list of prohibited roadways for sign placement.
City administration’s proposed amendments would also increase the minimum fines to $100, up from $75, while tickets worth $125 would change to $200.
“At first glance, I’ll be honest, I was actually underwhelmed,” Penner told reporters.
Penner said the proposed changes don’t go far enough and added she would be bringing forward a motion to send the amendments back to city administration for further work.
“What’s proposed isn’t going to dissuade bad behaviour,” Penner said. “I think we need to be more strict, more thoughtful, and really reach for something that is lofty and tries to actually achieve minimizing waste.”
Penner noted Calgarians wouldn’t notice a difference in sign volume if the bylaw changes were in effect for the upcoming provincial election.
According to city administration, complaints to 311 about temporary signs increase by an average of 27 per cent in years when an election is held, despite being a common complaint during campaign periods.
Campaign strategists say election signs are critical to garner their candidate some name recognition amongst voters, especially if their candidate isn’t an incumbent.
“There’s a big demographic that’s not on social media,” said Sarah Biggs, a partner at Olsen+Biggs Public Affairs. “So getting your name recognition out there and really getting people to see who you are is the most important thing for them.”
Biggs said she understands complaints about the “visual pollution” of a large volume of election signs, especially in municipal races with several candidates running in the same area.
However, Biggs said she expects issues with enforcement given the minor change to minimum distances between signs.
“It is important to try to clean up the landscape a little bit, but I don’t think that it’s a realistic goal,” Biggs told Global News. “Do we have enough bylaw enforcement? The bylaws are already stretched thin, resources are stretched thin.”
Sign manufacturers and printers are ready and waiting for the calls to roll in as Alberta approaches its upcoming election scheduled for May 29.
George Brookman, with Western Canadian Digital Imaging (WCD), said he expects calls from candidates to start coming around April.
“Election time is very busy and we get lots of calls from lots of candidates,” Brookman said. “When you drive down Elbow Drive or drive up Northmount Drive, there will be signs everywhere and they all need to be printed, put out and collected again, so it’s a busy time.”
But Brookman said he understands the city’s desire to make changes to its bylaw around temporary signs.
“When you get a nice boulevard that’s just covered with signs, even if its only for two or three weeks, I find it very annoying myself,” he said. “That’s part of the game, I suppose.”
On Wednesday, the executive committee voted to have the proposed changes get another revision by city administration, to come back to committee in Q3 2023.
“What I would hope is that administration heard today (is) one of our key concerns around the temporary signed by law is enforcement,” Penner said Wednesday.
“While I recognize that does nothing at this moment to potentially reduce signage for the provincial election, I think it gives us also another opportunity, though, at data collection and a go at enforcement.”
–with files from Adam Toy, Global News