Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

A few weeks ago I received a letter to the editor from a reader frustrated about election signs popping up on public lands lining roadways, a frustration I certainly share.

During every election cycle I gripe at some point about election signs, particularly those plunked down along roadsides on slivers of land that are technically public, though not always, much to the frustration of some property owners.

This provincial election has been no different than others with roadsides and street corners cluttered with a number of election signs, sometimes a couple of dozen of them in just a hundred foot stretch.

Each and every election I wonder if we will ever grow tired of the silliness of election signs. Have you ever been convinced to vote for any candidate because you saw some signs cluttering up the roadsides? I certainly haven’t.

Election signs on private property expressing support for a candidate is one thing, but two dozen signs lining a hundred feet of public easement on both sides of a road is unsightly and could even be a potential hazard.

In previous elections I have questioned the need for election lawn signs at all. We live in an increasingly technological era, and election signs are pretty archaic, a throwback to an era before television even, but are they still of value today, or are they simply an environmentally irresponsible waste of time and money?

Griping about election signs is not new for me. Even when I ran for council in Barrie myself I refused to use lawn signs, and I made a point of sharing my views on the wasteful practice; that was in 1994, nearly 30 years ago. I didn’t win that election, but for a candidate in his early 20s who refused to use lawn signs and finished a solid third of six candidates demonstrates that the value of election signs is not as great as some might think.

Clearly my own views on election signs matter not, but what does matter are the issues that impact people’s daily lives, and no amount of election signs cluttering our roadsides do anything to solve real issues.

What matters to many Ontarians in this election are issues like affordable housing, or healthcare. What matters to those who will be voting in this provincial election is not who can place the most election signs throughout a riding, but rather who has some plans to make real improvements in people’s lives.

This election will be interesting, given that it is taking place after more than two years of pandemic frustration, and politicians generally are not overly popular with the electorate these days.

Every day people are concerned about paying the ever increasing bills, they are concerned about earning a living wage, they are concerned about skyrocketing housing prices, they are concerned about public transportation, and affordable daycare. Nobody cares about your unsightly collection of roadside election signs, they care about real issues, not wasteful election traditions.

Election signs don’t speak to any issues; they instead are intended to create a buzz, to create an impression that a candidate has significant support. The election signs could just as easily be asking you to pick your favourite colour, and in an era where social media is much further-reaching than roadside signs, it is fair to wonder why the election sign practice is still with us.

I doubt that we will ever see the end of election signs, but I would like to see some changes. I would love for all municipalities and counties to ban election signs along their roadways, and the use of election signs be limited to private properties at the request of the property owner.

To have dozens of election signs littering the roadside is not only unsightly, they could also pose a hazard for motorists, and they can certainly attract vandals.

Candidates will tell you that their signs are made of recyclable materials, or that they are reused in the next election, neither of which is completely true. But if we were to accept that the materials are recyclable, I would suggest that they are still unnecessary and a waste of resources. Those ‘recyclable’ materials could have been used for something useful, something of value, not to attempt to win a popularity contest by blanketing communities with unsightly placards.

When Ontarians head to the polls on June 2, I would suggest that roadside signs play virtually no role in determining who we decide to entrust with our vote. Instead, voters will rely on any debates they were able to watch or attend, they will consider the party platforms, and the candidates themselves. So let’s stop the election sign silliness, and move into the twenty-first century.

Again, if an individual desires to display an election sign on their lawn in support of a party or candidates, fine, I still think it is silly, but at least there is just one sign, perhaps 100 metres or more from the next one, but let’s end the free-for-all placement of election signs along our roads and highways.


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