Some municipal candidates choosing social media over lawn signs

Voters across the northeast are seeing election signs for would-be mayors, councillors and school trustees. But some candidates say they are focusing instead on social media to reach voters during this campaign.

No signs yet in Timmins, where a city bylaw forbids them 30 days before election day

A pedestrian runs by the signs of some of the candidates running in the municipal election in Greater Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC )

Election signs are popping up on front lawns and along road allowances across northern Ontario this fall.

But you won't see any with the name Robert Kirwan on them.

"Personally when I look at signs I feel that very few people even notice them. Unless you're actually a candidate," says the city councillor in Greater Sudbury's Ward 5 who is running for re-election.

"When you put up a sign and say 'Vote for me' you're really not saying anything. You're basically turning it into a high school king and queen contest."

Kirwan says instead he's focusing on social media, especially the very popular Valley East Facebook page that he runs. 

"There's 14,000 people on that site. Every time I post something I'm knocking on a door," he says.

"I can get a sense of what is important from the people who are posting, but I also discover a lot from the people who don't post."

Ward 5 Greater Sudbury city councillor Robert Kirwan is running for a second term and once again says he isn't posting any election signs. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Tamara Small, who teaches political science at the University of Guelph specializing in digital politics, says she would advise candidates to spend their campaign budgets on signs instead of social media.

"I think they're really important. Maybe not effective, but important," says Small.

She argues that unlike provincial and federal elections where people are familiar with the political parties and where they generally stand, there is a lot more homework for voters in a municipal election. 

"And it's helpful if that information is provided in situations I don't have to seek out: I'm driving my car, I'm walking my dog, I'm taking my kids to school and this information is provided to me," Small says. 

"Social media on the other hand requires me to know in advance who Karen Jones is, then go onto my computer at my house, then Google her, then find her Facebook page and read her stuff. I can't see why if I'm not all that interested in politics, I'm doing any of that activity."

Every election signs pop up on lawns along this busy section of Barrydowne Road in Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC )

Election campaigns spend thousands of dollars on signs, which means good times for companies like Cliffe Printing in Sault Ste. Marie.

General Manager Mark Pavoni says the orders go up every municipal election, when part of his job is coaching candidates on design, colour and font for their signs. 

"I'm sure there are people out there unfortunately that say 'Geez, I like the colour of that person's signs, so I'm going to vote for them,"

Pavoni says a new trend is candidates who want their photograph on lawn signs, but he says it does cost about 30 per cent more and isn't always worth it.

"Unless you're walking by a lawn sign, you're not going to see the picture that well," he says.

Temiskaming Shores council candidate Rory Moore and his granddaughter post one of the signs he recycled from his failed mayoral campaign in 2014. (Rory Moore)

Rory Moore spent about $1,000 on signs last election when he was running for mayor of Temiskaming Shores. 

This time he's seeking a seat on city council instead, but says his team bought some stickers so he could use the signs again.

"I have my own limitations. The fact that I had the signs already made, I'm kind of a Scottish person, so I'm kind of averaging down my losses, since I'm getting to use my signs twice, right?" says Moore.

One place in the north where the landscape isn't littered with signs yet is Timmins, where a city bylaw prohibits them from being posted more than 30 days before election day.

"You know I have seen elections, not just municipal but provincial and federal elections, and it can get a little messy," says veteran Timmins city councillor Michael Doody.

Doody, who has been on council for 35 years, is running for another term, but doesn't put up many campaign signs any more.

"I would say that if people don't know who I am by now, I am in trouble," he says. 

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury, Ont. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca