“There are more candidates than ever before, which is a great news story for democracy, but it’s a bad news story for our landfills.”
Visual clutter, driving distraction and environmental impact are all reasons to reduce the number of election signs posted along public roads, say two Calgary city councillors.
A notice of motion from council members Kourtney Penner and Sonya Sharp for debate at a Tuesday town hall meeting aims to find ways to reduce the number of temporary signs in the city, especially during election periods.
It proposes asking city administrators to return to council early next year with proposed changes to city ordinances to reduce signs, including by potentially rewriting rules around where signs can be placed or the distance between them.
The issue came up in the fall of 2021, when both federal and municipal elections took place, something Sharp said caused confusion and strained the city’s ability to enforce its existing rules about where signs can be placed.
Confusion, enforcement problems with signs
“During my campaign and after, I thought about it, and I actually want to completely remove campaign signs on public land,” said Sharp, the council member for Ward 1.
“The City of Calgary only has so many bylaw officers to go out and enforce, either when signs are on the wrong way or when they are too close to another traffic sign or too close to each other. In administration’s defense, they don’t have enough resources to address it.”
City 311 data showed an increase in complaints during the 2021 federal and municipal election periods. Between September 18 and October 18, 2021, there were 464 complaints to the city, more than three times the 128 complaints recorded between September 15 and October 15, 2022.
Sharp said she’s interested to see what changes city officials propose, and says she’s careful to ensure new rules don’t inadvertently introduce red tape or other problems.
She added that changes to the signing rules could be in place in time for the May 2023 provincial election if they receive council support, but that timeline is not the focus of the debate.
Wasting of election tokens is also a concern
Another significant concern about election signs is waste, Penner of Ward 11 said. Most election signs are made of single-use corrugated plastic that is not recyclable in city facilities, the council members’ notice of motion said.
With more than 100 candidates running for city council last October, that’s a lot of signs, Penner said.
“What you’re definitely seeing at the municipal level is that there are more candidates running than ever, which is a great news story for democracy, but it’s a bad news story for our landfills,” she said. “We’re talking about reducing single-use plastic, which is essentially what election signs are.”
Penner also said the city’s ordinance governing temporary signage has not been amended in 25 years.
“The city has grown, both in size and in the number of people in that time, and our driving behavior patterns have changed during that time, the emphasis and focus on safety while driving has changed,” she said.
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