Brampton's election 'sign wars' lead councillor to suggest all-out ban

Brampton city councillor Rowena Santos says election signage is wasteful, expensive, and unfair.

Rowena Santos put forward motion to look into banning election signs on private property

An intersection in Surrey, B.C, where election signs were banned in May. Coun. Rowena Santos says scenes like these aggravate voters and cost candidates, arguing that a complete ban is the only way to sidestep the problem. (Facebook)

Brampton city councillor Rowena Santos has a laundry list of reasons why she doesn't like election signs. 

They're a "huge annoyance" for the public. They're an example of wasteful single-use plastics. And they cost a lot, both for candidates to buy and for the city to regulate, she says.

"The sign wars in Brampton are ridiculous," Santos said on CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Monday, describing fences along roads and front lawns plastered with dozens of signs for different candidates. 

Last month, Santos put forward a motion to look into banning signs on private property, something she says the city is allowed to do because municipal bylaws regulate signage.

That's one step further than other communities, like Surrey, B.C., and Kingston, Ont., have gone in recent months, with both cities opting to ban signs on public property only. 

Santos says that Brampton already forbids election signs on public property, and that the rule is routinely violated. 

"If you have a rule to allow some election signs, that's going to be completely broken. So with election signs in Brampton … you should either have them or not have them," she said.

Incumbent advantage? 

In Kingston, councillors against the public property sign ban argued that it gave too much of an advantage to incumbents, who already enjoy name recognition and don't necessarily need signs to help their campaigns.

Santos, a former campaign manager herself, disagrees, arguing that the cost of signs actually present a barrier to new candidates.

Besides, she added, sharing an old expression from her campaigning days: "lawn signs do not vote." 

Another thing they don't do, Santos said, is get more voters to the polls.

Despite a "proliferation of signs everywhere" in Brampton during the last municipal election, voter turnout decreased, she said. A study led by Columbia University researchers that examined four American elections found similar results, Santos added. 

Further, it cost Brampton $165,000 to enforce municipal election sign bylaws during the 2018 election, Santos said.

"Do you know how much money the city actually recuperated?" she asked. Answering her own question, she said "$6,500 in fines."

Brampton will use the upcoming federal election as a test case and city staff will submit a report in January looking at how much sign bylaw enforcement costs the city. 


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