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Calgary election sign spat signals gamesmanship starting early

Calgary election signs promoting online events have drawn criticism for exploiting rules leading up to the October vote.

Calgary is still five months away from a municipal election. Under the city’s Temporary Signs on Highways Bylaw, standard election signs are allowed on public property only during the city’s election period. This period is from nomination day to after the polls close.

To promote their respective online events, mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek currently has 80 signs up in Calgary, and councillor candidate Sanjeev Kad has 12.

This has drawn the ire of other Calgary campaigns.

“The City of Calgary should close a bylaw loophole that’s allowing election signs to pop up on public property months before they would normally be allowed,” read a statement from mayoral candidate Brad Field’s campaign team.

“Candidates have been exploiting the ability to place ‘event’ signs up for Facebook Live chats and online town halls for 14 days, potentially exposing Calgarians to election sign pollution for the next five months.”

According to the City of Calgary, until nomination day on Sept. 20, all signs of this nature on public property are captured under the same bylaw.

“The Temporary Signs on Highways Bylaw does not prohibit election signs from being placed on a highway prior to nomination day. The only change that kicks in is that the rules around the placement of election signs change after the writ drop, sizing (moves from 0.6 square metres up to 3 square metres), and candidates can keep their election signs for up to 72 hours after the election.”

“If they do decide to place signs out prior to the election, they have to adhere to the Temporary Signs on Highways Bylaw and need to have their signs removed after 14 days.”

‘Upper hand on advertising’

“The City seems to be allowing candidates to get the upper hand on election advertising, by allowing the spirit of the bylaw preventing sign litter to be exploited,” Field Campaign Manager, Geoff Pradella said.

“The signs are identical to those Calgarians will see once nominations close on Sept. 20, except they have a line advertising an online ‘event’”

Stephen Carter, Gondek’s campaign manager, disagreed with the idea that they are “exploiting” the bylaw.

“We’re following the rules, period. It sounds to me like anybody who would characterize it as such, just simply didn’t understand the rules,” Carter said, noting discrepancies between the webpage for the bylaw and the bylaw itself.

“I spoke to the bylaw officers in charge, and we were able to understand the bylaw. We’re just following the law as it is created and as it was intended by council.” 

However, Field’s campaign team suggested further issues with the event signs.

“Dozens of signs have been erected on public property throughout the City over the past two weeks. Most, if not all, exceed the size allowance for event signs, and lack the phone numbers and addresses required for signs of that nature, as required by ss. 3.2 and 3.5 of the sign bylaw, which applies to all signs on public property outside of an Election Period,” Field’s campaign team said.

Despite these claims from Field’s team, the City of Calgary referred to the outlined rules concerning the legality of temporary signs from their website, which the two candidates obeyed.

“All complaints that are put forward will be investigated by our Officers to ensure compliance with city bylaws, as per any other complaint,” the City of Calgary said in a statement.

Impact of COVID-19

In the past, candidates may have been able to buy billboards or road signs, but with the ongoing pandemic and new funding guidelines campaign teams had to get creative, Carter said.

“This is a less expensive option that does the things that we need to do; that’s to make sure that the Calgarians know that there’s an election going on.”

The signs are designed to ensuring voters are informed on the election and have the opportunity to meet the mayoral candidates. The top reason people don’t vote is that they didn’t know enough about it, Carter said.

Kad’s team had a similar response.

“We want to respect the COVID-19 restrictions and wish to communicate our message to the voters,” Kad’s campaign team said.

“Our campaign for city council in Ward 6 is committed to following the rules. Event signs are permitted up to 14 days in advance and up to 24 hours after the event. Other candidates in the municipal election also have event signs, hopefully, in accordance with the rules.”

Calgary’s municipal election will be held Oct. 18.