Kitchener-Waterloo·CBC Explains

What you need to know about election signs

Election signs are subject to rules not only in the Canada Elections Act, but also local municipal regulations.

Candidates required to follow rules from both Canada Elections Act and municipalities

These election signs in Vancouver are an example of what's not allowed in Waterloo region. The local bylaw states the top of the sign cannot be more than 0.9 metres off the ground. So that means no stands to make them taller. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

With the federal election well underway, election signs are popping up along roads, public spaces and yards.

Candidates have several rules they have to follow when it comes to putting up those signs. They include not only the directives laid out in the Canada Elections Act, but also local bylaws. 

In Waterloo region, there's an additional layer of requirement from the regional government in addition to local bylaws of the municipality they're in, whether that's a city, township or both.

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo has received a few questions and comments about signs. Here are some answers to common concerns.

For more coverage of the federal election in Waterloo region and vicinity, see our Waterloo Region Votes 2019 page.

How do I get a sign?

If there is a candidate you want to support in this federal election, chances are they're going to be very happy to give you a sign for your property. 

To get one, contact the campaign office of the candidate you want to support and arrange with people there to get a sign for your lawn or window. The process can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days. 

What can be on a sign?

The topic of what can be on a sign made headlines this week after a Kitchener Centre candidate used signs from the 2015 election that said "re-elect" even though he's not the incumbent in that race.

While some people have expressed concern that the signs are misleading, the Canada Elections Act doesn't regulate the content of campaign signs.

Elections Canada notes all partisan and election advertising, including signs, must contain a tagline stating who has authorized the message. That is usually the line that says something like "authorized by the official agent" for the candidate.

If you wish to make a complaint about the content of a sign, you can do so by writing the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections. 

What to do about an unwanted sign on my property?

CBC K-W received an email from someone saying they found a sign on their front lawn right after the election got underway, but they had not asked for the sign.

If you don't want it there, Elections Canada says you can remove it if it's on your private, residential property.

"You may wish to contact the candidate or registered party whose sign it is to tell them you did not request the sign and to ask them to remove it," the Elections Canada website says.

Bottom line: It's not illegal to remove an unwanted election sign from your own residential property.

Someone took my sign or destroyed it. Now what?

You can notify police, because that is considered destruction of private property and it is a criminal offence, Elections Canada says.

You can also send a complaint to the Officer of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, but there's not much more that can be done except order a repalcement from the candidate you support.

I live in an apartment/condo. Am I allowed to display a sign?

Elections Canada says yes, you can.

"Property owners do not have the right to prevent tenants from putting up election signs on the premises they lease in an apartment building during an election period," the website says. "Condominium corporations do not have the right to prevent condo owners from putting up election signs on the units they own during an election period."

A sign in your window is OK. But, you should also know property owners and condo corporations do have the right "to set reasonable conditions" on the size and type of sign. They can also prohibit signs in common areas, both indoors or out.

How big can a sign be?

The region's sign bylaw states the maximum height is 0.8 metres and the max width is 1.2 metres for signs placed on public property.

Some signs might be on stakes, raising them off the ground. In these cases, the sign cannot go above 0.9 metres. 

There are no rules against candidates buying larger billboards that are located on private property.

How close can a sign be to other signs?

The region's bylaw says candidates can't put signs right beside or in front of another candidate's sign: There must be at least one metre between signs. 

The Region of Waterloo's regulations state:

"No person shall place or permit to be placed on a regional road any election sign except for an election sign that is a ground-mounted, moveable or wire-mounted sign."

The region also offers information and guidance in a PDF

Where can signs go on public property?

Where signs can go is a municipal issue.

The Region of Waterloo changed its election sign bylaw in March 2018 so the rules are new for this federal election, but were in place for the provincial and municipal elections last year. 

The regional bylaw notes:

  • Just one sign is permitted between intersecting roads. 
  • Signs cannot interfere or obstruct the visibility of drivers, cyclists or pedestrians.
  • Signs cannot interfere or obstruct a roadway, shoulder of the road, median or planting bed.
  • They must be at least 0.5 metres from a sidewalk, the curb or the shoulder of the road, or three metres from the edge of a road with no curb or shoulder.
  • On any other regional roads, they must be one metre away.
  • Signs cannot be within three metres of a fire hydrant.
  • Signs on public property cannot be within five metres of a driveway.
  • Signs cannot be within 100 metres of a roundabout and they must be 30 metres from a traffic control signal, crosswalk, bus stop sign or school bus loading zone.
  • Signs must be 30 metres from the shoulder of an intersection (or 30 metres from the edge of the road at an intersection where there is no shoulder).

The region, cities and townships can also remove signs that go are in contravention of the bylaw, and they don't have to give those signs back to the candidate. This is not considered illegal tampering with a sign.

Each municipality in the region also has their own sign bylaws that candidates have to abide by, but for the most part, those bylaws don't differ much from the regional bylaw. 

How long do candidates have to remove their signs at the end of the election?

The regional bylaw says candidates have 72 hours after voting day to remove their signs.

In Wilmot Township, candidates have seven days to remove campaign signs.

Election day is Monday, Oct. 21.

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