Election Sign Debate 2021

Milton ends up 21 of 32 municipalities listed on a recent Municipal Democracy Index

By: Laura Steiner
Council is debating the merits of a ban on election signs on public property. It’s the third time an outright ban has been before Milton Council; it has failed in 2014, and 2018.
The Region banned roadside election signs in 2018. The motion argues that among other things a ban would:

  • End sign wars, which would give unfair advantage to wealthier candidates, and help incumbents.
  • Cut the waste,
  • And is what the public overwhelmingly wants.  The motion cites online polls saying 90% of respondents who favour outright bans, or prohibition on election signs.

The last point is a little precious. Online polls lend themselves to yes or no/ this or that options. The questions can be manipulated to suit the party who’s conducting the poll. There is a whole spectrum of opinion in between that only talking to people in person would reveal. That’s a councilor’s job.
If you ask people right after an election if they want signs banned of course they’re going to say yes because they’re sick of politics. With this federal election , voters have been through a five-week campaign that achieved little, and highlighted growing divisions among Canadians.  So the idea they want little to remind them of that is no surprise.  It’s like asking someone who’s eaten too much ice cream if they want to go back for more.  The answer is going to be no.
It is undemocratic, and it risks setting that up as the final impression voters take away from this council. In 2016 they voted to go against a staff report recommending an increase in wards for the 2018 municipal campaign.  They went from 11 councilors to nine.  When you add a potential sign ban it makes getting a name out there challenging, if not impossible.  In doing this, it limits the candidate pool; and that doesn’t benefit anyone.
Fortunately there were some compromises on the table, including one on the establishment of sign zones in each of the four wards.  This one passed combined with a request for legal advice on if a ban on election signs would violate the Charter in a recorded vote 7-2.  A report is due at next week’s council meeting.